Double-edged sword of opinion poll politics as coalitions differ on rating

Infotrak CEO Angela Ambitho

Infotrak CEO Angela Ambitho releasing results of the latest opinion poll. Despite routinely trashing opinion polls when not captured in a favourable light, the campaigns of both William Ruto and Raila Odinga now concede they use polls to assess their strengths and weaknesses and to shape their strategies and messaging.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Despite routinely trashing opinion polls when not captured in a favourable light, the campaigns of both Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga now concede they use polls to assess their strengths and weaknesses and to shape their strategies and messaging.

They pay close attention to polls released independently by research firms and those commissioned by media groups, which they then compare to numbers generated by their own contracted pollsters. The latest poll, whose results were released on Wednesday by Infotrak Research & Consulting, for instance, is being closely analysed on its identification of battlegrounds, 11 closely fought counties where the vote could swing either way and determine the outcome of the presidential election.

The counties identified are Tana River, Kwale and Lamu in the Coast region; Turkana, Samburu, Nakuru and West Pokot in the North Rift; Narok and Kajiado in the South Rift; and Bungoma and Trans Nzoia in Western.

They have a total of 4.4 million votes and tally closely, with a few variations, with the findings of internal polls by the campaigns of the main presidential runners.

Internal assessments

But according to Dr Ruto’s team, this analysis falls short of their own internal assessments, which, they say, showed that they had eaten into Mr Odinga’s previous strongholds of Coast, Western and Nairobi. The Infotrak poll says Mr Odinga will lead in 20 counties from Coast, Northern, Lower Eastern, Western, Nyanza and Nairobi at 9.3 million votes; while 16 counties from Northern, Mount Kenya and Rift Valley will cast their lot with Dr Ruto, translating into 8.4 million votes.

But while Infotrak gives an assessment of where the numbers are and what has been won or lost for the two candidates, the two camps have also embarked on carrying out their own to help them identify key areas where they need to put more emphasis going into the August 9 election.

The Nation has established that Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition have hired experts from universities and research firms to conduct polls on a weekly basis.

Differs slightly

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, the chair of Mr Odinga’s presidential campaign board, says the Infotrak poll differs from their own—but just slightly. He points out that counties like Nakuru, with slightly over one million voters, should not be a battleground as, according to him, Mr Odinga leads Dr Ruto.

“Mostly, they (external polls) follow the same pattern, but not 100 per cent. In certain regions, Infotrak corresponds with our polls. In an area like Nakuru, the Infotrak poll is wrong because our own shows we are doing way better.”

Yesterday, a confident Muriithi said they are currently banking on both their own polls and data released by other firms to decide on which kind of strategy to deploy in certain regions.

“We are regularly polling, the polls can be detailed and sometimes they are limited in terms of geography or subject coverage, but they are very useful tools in running campaigns,” he said.

“It is a way of trying to understand the people’s feelings and what they are thinking. What is their emotion? We look at all data available, but also in our own polls, you must be very careful on how you interpret polls. Just like any tool, it has its limitations.”

‘Numbers are erroneous’

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, now running for governor on a UDA ticket, says that contrary to Infotrak predictions, their own data shows their presidential candidate leading in five regions, while they are on a par with Mr Odinga in North-Eastern and Lower Eastern.

“Infotrak numbers are erroneous, by our own polls we are leading in five regions—Mt Kenya, Rift, Coast, Western and Nairobi. It is a 50:50 case in the northern belt. We have lots of ground to cover in Nyanza. Lower Eastern is also 50:50,” said Mr Kang’ata.

He says they have even been banking on polls to pick nominees for elective seats, hence research remains instrumental to their campaigns. The lawmaker says they do polls weekly to help them plan where to visit and what to say in those areas.

“Our campaigns are scientific and logical. We pick candidates whom we are sure can win based on polls, where universal suffrage did not happen. For example, in Nairobi, polls helped us pick Johnson Sakaja. In national politics, they help us map our campaigns. We conduct them weekly. Those released by media houses help us to triangulate, but most are biased and not credible. Other external polls are credible, though at times we can differ on scientific methods applied, including sample size,” he said.

Not ‘borne enough fruit’

A source in DP Ruto’s camp told the Nation Thursday that despite the DP having snatched Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula, their forays in the Western Kenya region, which has been voting overwhelmingly for Mr Odinga since 2007, has not “borne enough fruit”.

“Although we have managed to make Kakamega County a battlefield, we still have a serious nightmare making inroads in Busia despite visiting the county several times,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity.

However, the Infotrak poll shows Dr Ruto overtaking Mr Odinga in Ford Kenya territory of Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties, which might make Mr Wetang’ula more valuable than Mr Mudavadi, though he is seen as the junior partner. The latter has been promised the post of Prime Cabinet Secretary in a Ruto administration, while the former has settled for Senate Speaker.

Lower Eastern

The source also agreed that in Lower Eastern, despite having United Democratic Alliance (UDA) chairman Johnson Muthama, Maendeleo Chap Chap leader Alfred Mutua and former Nairobi deputy governor Jonathan Mueke, they had not quite marshalled the kind of votes Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and governors Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and Charity Ngilu (Kitui) take to Azimio.

Kitui, Makueni and Machakos, which form Mr Musyoka’s political base, gave Mr Odinga 900,405 out of 1,068,684 votes in 2013.

Jubilee Party Secretary General and Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni says opinion polls help them identify areas where they are weak and how their opponents are doing before initiating counter-measures.

“An opinion poll is key because it informs what to do, where to do it and when to do, also the amount of emphasis to place at every given point. We conduct opinion polls regularly and they are the ones informing us in terms of where we put more resources, energy, personnel. They also help us know how our opponents are doing,” he explained.

In establishing whether the choice of Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as running mates of Mr Odinga and DP Ruto respectively, had an impact, the Infotrak poll gave the former 38 per cent of female votes and the latter 37 per cent. This is a turnaround compared to 41 and 43 per cent respectively, among women voters in the May Infotrak poll conducted before the unveiling of running mates.

Tifa poll

A Trends & Insights for Africa (Tifa) poll conducted on May 18, just after the two presidential candidates named their running mates, gave Mr Odinga 35 per cent of the women vote to Dr Ruto’s 32 per cent.

Thursday, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro told the Nation that Dr Ruto’s Hustler Movement started doing their own polls in 2018. More polls have been conducted in regions that used to be Mr Odinga’s strongholds, which he now describes as battlefields.

“We always conduct our own polls. We have been doing that for the last four years. They have actually been very accurate in all the by-elections—Juja, Kiambaa and all others. We are now leading with over eight per cent ahead of our competitors.”

The range is similar to the one quoted by Dr Ruto in claiming to have National Intelligence Service data, disputing claims by Interior PS Karanja Kibicho that the spy agency projected a clear win for Mr Odinga. Mr Nyoro added: “We are leading in areas that previously supported the other side—Western, Coast and many others like Turkana.”

Battlegrounds

The lawmaker said their own statistics indicate that they are leading in the counties marked as battlegrounds by Infotrak.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya says the polls help them understand the political terrain and inform their decision on the campaign trail. He, however, dismissing some polls as skewed. “Our pollsters go to the depth of the villages and every corner of the country with proper sampling. Those with or without phones are sampled. The problem with media house polls is that they have a skewed sample. They use phone banking and their sampling and stratification has a huge scientific error. They are not reliable and verifiable,” said Mr Baya.

He claimed that media houses and poll companies are being manipulated. “We, as Kenya Kwanza, are acutely aware of the patterns on the ground through verifiable polls.”

Prof Masibo Lumala of Moi University argues that although political parties would want to conduct their own polls, likelihood of bias is high. “People will tell you what you want to hear. If it is Azimio, those interviewed will want to say what Azimio wants to hear, the same to Kenya Kwanza. The objectivity of the poll will be unfortunately impossible,” Prof Lumala argued.

“The other problem is that the polls have a tendency to make people become overconfident. Because the results are showing that you are ahead by 60 per cent, the tendency of a person that we have won this election is very high and makes the camp relax.”


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