Why Azimio, Kenya Kwanza have embraced opinion polls
When the history of this year’s General Election is written, the role played by opinion polls to influence key decisions by political figures will merit a chapter.
In a show of growing trust in the polls, political parties commissioned hundreds of them to guide on who to pick as candidates for various seats.
This is a deviation from the tradition of holding competitive party primaries, many of which turn chaotic or are bitterly contested.
For example, the main coalitions, Kenya Kwanza led by Deputy President William Ruto and Azimo-One Kenya of Raila Odinga, used opinion polls to pick governor candidates in Nairobi and Mombasa.
In Nairobi, Kenya Kwanza settled on Senator Johnson Sakaja while in Mombasa Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir was picked by Azimio.
With 33 days to voting day, the coalitions are waiting to establish if the opinion polls gamble will pay off.
Trends and Insights for Africa (Tifa) Chief Executive Maggie Ireri yesterday said parties had embraced polls in this year’s election than previously.
She said pollsters had been involved in not only picking candidates but also in developing election manifestos.
“Polls have been used by political parties to determine the leading candidates instead of going for nominations. They have been used to identify issues that are most important to voters. And these are captured in the current manifestos,” Ireri told People Daily.
Raila’s ODM was the first to express readiness to adopt opinion polls as one of the ways to pick candidates, partly to avoid the chaos and confusion that have been the hallmark of party nominations and partly to cut costs.
In Homa Bay, ODM gave Woman Rep Gladys Wanga the ticket to run for governor after an opinion poll showed she was the most popular.
National Elections Board chairperson Catherine Mumma acknowledged the party had used surveys to pick some of their candidates in the August 9 General Election.
“They are scientific and they tell us what’s happening on the ground. We use opinion polls to inform aspirants about their rating. In some instances, we have used the polls to tell those who are not doing well to step down,” Mumma said in an earlier interview.
The party, however, faced resistance from those who found themselves on the wrong side of the surveys.
Although Ruto’s UDA held nationwide nominations in April, there were no primaries in some areas, including in Nairobi, where opinion polls were used to pick candidates.
Ruto brokered a deal for Sakaja to run for governor following internal opinion polls that showed he was the most popular.
His main competitor Margaret Wanjiru was prevailed upon to run for Senate.
Following violence in the Starehe constituency nominations, the party handed the ticket to Simon Mbugua after conducting an opinion poll.
Political strategist Kinoti Kaburu says opinion polls had gained acceptance among parties in this year’s elections.
“It is the right thing to do for parties. They are good for competitive analysis and assessment against competitors,” he said.
Kaburu, who is also Party for Peace and Democracy secretary general, said scientific data was critical in improving accuracy in making political decisions.
“Any serious candidate who does not embrace polls would be at a greater risk of getting into trouble,” he added.
In the presidential race, it is not only a battle over the size of crowds at campaign rallies but also who is ahead in the opinion polls.
Pollsters Tifa and Infotrak Research and Consulting have put Raila ahead in the recent polls, attracting fierce criticism from Ruto and his allies. They had, however, remained indifferent to the polls when the DP was leading.
Top government officials have also claimed that Raila is leading in opinion polls purportedly done by the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Ruto has also dismissed the claims.
Ireri says polls will continue to shape the country’s politics and influence policy decisions.
“I would like to see the next President using polls to feel the pulse of the country and to inform policy,” she said.