The truth about skewed opinion polls

Results of some opinion polls have been criticised as favouring funders. [iStockphoto]

Pollsters who arbitrarily conduct opinion polls risk stepping on political landmines for failing to meet some of the requirements spelled out in the law.

In recent months, different institutions have conducted opinion polls, many focusing on the presidential race, in an attempt to paint a picture of what Kenyans can expect ahead of the August polls.

According to the Electoral Opinion Polls Act, 2012, pollsters are required to, among other things, publish the name of the sponsor of the opinion poll, the name of the person or organisation that conducted the poll, the date or period during which the opinion poll was conducted, the population from which the sample of respondents was drawn, methodology used, the education of the participants and margin of error in respect of the data obtained.

The results of the opinion polls have attracted a backlash from some politicians and their supporters, who cite misrepresentation of facts.

Recent opinion polls released by Trends and Insights Africa (TIFA) and Centre for African Progress (CAP), placed United Democratic Alliance presidential candidate William Ruto second after his main opponent Azimio la Umoja One Kenya's Raila Odinga, which triggered backlash from Kenya Kwanza supporters who accused pollsters of being funded to manipulate the results.

Some of the issues that have been raised concern the ownership of the research firms and the sponsorship of the polls.

Tuesday, Intel Research Solutions placed Ruto ahead of Raila and indicated that he will win the election in the first round.

According to the data released on Monday, the DP's popularity increased from 50.5 per cent to 53.1 per cent, while Raila dropped from 44.2 per cent to 42.7 per cent. 

IRS opinion poll showed that Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua had maintained their lead in the past four rankings, as opposed to the Raila-Martha Karua duo in a survey conducted between Saturday, July 23 to Thursday July 28, from a sample size of 29,857 across the 47 counties. 

Roots Party presidential candidate George Wajackoyah came third with 1.2 percent followed by Agano party's Waihiga Mwaure at 0.2 per cent. 

Raila maintained the lead in the Coast region, with 51.7 per cent against Ruto's 42.5 per cent. In Northern Kenya, the DP is ahead with 53.7 per cent, and Raila 43.2 per cent.

In 2017, CAP’s opinion polls predict that Jubilee would win the election with 53 per cent, while the National Super Alliance would garner 42 per cent, inclusive of a margin of error. Uhuru would later win with 54.17 per cent while Raila came second at 44.94 per cent.

UDA presidential candidate Ruto has gone on record claiming that opinion polls are manipulated in favour of Azimio. "They are only left with opinion polls. They have gotten a certain white man to manipulate the polls, putting one candidate ahead of the other," the DP said last month at a rally in Matungu, Kakamega County.

TIFA boss Dr Tom Wolf has rubbished claims that they are being influenced or funded to conduct opinion polls. Dr Wolf says funds used to conduct the opinion polls come from revenue earned from other clients who load specific questions that the firm later does research on.

“There is no sponsor of these particular polls. We do the polls on our own. Most of our clients who load specific questions are academics who come from the USA or the UK,” he said.

Politicians have been working hard to disparage the credibility of political opinion polls despite pollsters having historical credibility in predicting the outcome of an election.

However, survey firms that belong to the Market Survey Research Association of Kenya must adhere to the association’s laid down procedures, particularly with regard to polls that relate to an election. The procedures require the firms to be politically neutral to avoid situations that create the perception of being partisan.

A spot-check by The Standard shows that the recent opinion polls done by TIFA and CAP adhered to all of the legal requirements under the Opinion Polls Act, 2012.

A person who commits an offence under the Act is liable to a fine not exceeding Sh1 million or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both.