Public opinion on the union question: from Scotland to Zanzibar

Cartoon from Nipashe, April 2011

“Happy birthday to the Union, 47 years old” – Cartoon from Nipashe newspaper, April 2011

A referendum is coming up next year in Scotland, with a simple question proposed: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

And in Tanzania, a referendum on constitutional reforms is also imminent. After a long public consultation process, a draft new constitution for Tanzania was published in June. It will be revised further, and then probably some more, but eventually Tanzanian citizens will decide whether or not to adopt the new constitution.

It’s a complicated debate with a lot of different issues at stake, but the biggest question has something in common with what’s going on in the UK and Scotland: what form should the relationship between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania take?

But there’s one huge difference between the two situations: since the start of 2013, there have been at least 24 separate public opinion surveys asking voters in Scotland which way they intend to vote.

Politicians, commentators, the media, business, and citizens in the UK all have a good idea which way the vote will go. Political campaigners can see which way the wind is blowing, which messages work and which don’t, and can adjust their campaigns in response. As a result, though I’m sure it won’t be a perfect process, it will be one in which the voices of the people are heard.

In Tanzania, in contrast, until this week not even one credible opinion poll had been published on the constitutional review. There was no reliable data on what people think of the draft, or whether they are likely to vote for or against it. Until this week.

Now, finally, with the release of the latest round of Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi (Citizens’ Voices) public opinion surveys, we have some quality data on Tanzanians’ views on the draft constitution*. The data was collected from a representative sample of 1,708 households in mainland Tanzania, in July this year.


And the results are fascinating. Let’s start by looking at three hot topics in the constitutional reform debate:

Two thirds of mainland Tanzanians support idea of independent parliamentary and presidential candidates:


There will be disappointment for Zitto Kabwe and his supporters: 84% of mainland Tanzanians support the draft constitution’s provision that presidential candidates should be at least 40 years old. (In 2015, Zitto will be 39, though January Makamba will be 41):

age of presidents

There’s clear support for Ministers and Deputy Ministers being drawn from outside parliament, with 70% supporting the idea:

minister MPs

In other words, in all three cases above, the measures proposed in the first draft new constitution have strong popular support.

But what about the biggest proposal in the new constitution – the “three governments” idea?

In this proposal, Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania will each have their own governments, along with a Union government that links the two and has responsibility for a handful of matters (including defence, foreign affairs, immigration and currency). It’s a radical shift, though it has been talked about for many years. It may placate independence-minded Zanzibaris who dislike the current arrangements, but there are those who see it as an unnecessarily top-heavy structure.

So what did people on the mainland say about the proposal?

Well, public opinion is divided almost exactly down the middle. A quarter of mainland Tanzanians “strongly agree” with the draft constitutions proposal of three governments, another quarter just “agree”, a quarter “disagree” and a quarter “strongly disagree”.

three govts

Add this together, and only a tiny majority (51% vs 48%) support the proposal in the draft constitution. In statistics, that’s effectively a draw.

But the survey looked at the same issue from another angle as well. An Afrobarometer survey 18 months ago – well before the draft constitution was published – asked respondents in Tanzania what changes, if any, they wanted to the union arrangements. So Twaweza asked the very same question, to see whether things had changed.

  • 18 months ago, just under half of mainland Tanzanians (47%) said they supported “no change”. This has dropped to just 26%.
  • Last year, 21% supported the “three governments” option, which has not changed much – it’s now 19%.
  • And last year, just 8% supported the “more autonomy for Zanzibar” compromise option. In the more recent survey, support for this option has shot up to 32%

the union question

In other words, there is no more support on the mainland for the “three governments” idea now than there was last year. It’s not popular. But there is a lot more support for the idea of Zanzibar having more autonomy.

That poses a problem for the folks writing the second draft. Do they keep the “three governments” idea in place, and hope that support on the mainland will grow? If so, they risk upsetting folks on Zanzibar whose hopes have been raised by including three governments in the first draft. If not, the draft may not get enough support from the mainland to pass a referendum.

Another problem is that this data was collected only from mainland Tanzania, not Zanzibar, the writers of the second draft don’t know what Zanzibaris think. I hear there’s an initiative not unlike Sauti za Wananchi in Zanzibar – perhaps they could be persuaded to ask the same questions?

But back on the mainland, the final issue is perhaps the most significant of them all: would the proposed constitution – the first draft – get the support of citizens?

There’s still a long way to go before any referendums, so a lot can still change. At the moment, however, there’s a strong majority on the mainland who say they would vote in favour of the current draft: 46%, against only 22% who say they would vote against:

SzW fig6 - voting intentions

That leaves a lot of uncertainty: 20% who are not yet sure, and 12% who say they won’t vote. A yes vote looks likely, but it could still go either way.

One thing is certain, though. This kind of data gives us a much better window on the public mood than political speeches and newspaper columns by the great and the good. What matters is what the public think. And now we know.

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Further reading:

There’s also some coverage of the survey in The Guardian (Tanzania), The Citizen, and Tanzania Daima. (If you only have time for one, go for The Citizen).

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* Full disclosure: I work for Twaweza as a consultant, though I had no involvement in this survey.

2 thoughts on “Public opinion on the union question: from Scotland to Zanzibar

  1. Pingback: On the shooting, or otherwise, of messengers. Plus some cartoons | mtega

  2. Pingback: What do Tanzanians really think of the three governments idea? | mtega

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