Credibility challenges dog opinion polls despite strict rules

Predatory sounders sit behind the keyboards. [iStockphoto]

They are loved and hated in equal measure. Adopted and rejected depending on the outcome, opinion polls have become a mainstay of Kenyan politics.

As time is running out for the August 9 general election, opinion polls are piling up.

After initially leading early polls, recent popularity polls have shown that Vice President William Ruto has been overtaken by his rival Raila Odinga in a two-horse race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.

However, another opinion poll released last week by Intel Research Solutions (IRS) showed Raila trailing Ruto.

Raila was unhappy with a recent poll that portrayed him as losing Bungoma’s grip. “An opinion poll taken last week shows Raila trailing Ruto at Bungoma. Ruto is almost 60% and Raila 40%. Shame on you. I feel offended because they are my people” , did he declare. .

Pollsters say the candidates’ dismal opinion poll results are a campaign tactic and a charade, as most politicians have commissioned their own polls to gauge their popularity and are aware of the facts.

Political opinion polls have come under criticism for politicians and have often been dismissed as inaccurate and irrelevant to competition. Some of the issues that have been raised relate to ownership of research companies and sponsorship of surveys.

For example, DP Ruto has always rejected opinion polls as a campaign tool for his opponents. The United Democratic Alliance candidate says the polls were concocted to show he was lagging behind.

However, polling companies that belong to the Market Survey Research Association of Kenya (MSRA) must adhere to the procedures laid down by the association, especially when it comes to election-related polls.

Procedures require firms to be politically neutral to avoid situations that give the appearance of being partisan.

Maggie Ireri, CEO of research firm TIFA, said polling firms that conduct political opinion polls are required to ensure that the questions they ask have a minimum of bias and ambiguity, so to avoid any misinterpretation by respondents.

The wording and positioning of the questions should be balanced so as not to influence the answers. The association recommends questions such as “If presidential elections were held today, who would you vote for if this person were a candidate?” or “If you have decided, who do you intend to vote for as president and vice-president in the next election?”

But the industry is faced with the problem of research enterprises that, from the outside, appear designed to solve political problems. “There are others that have emerged and there is a general suspicion that they have emerged at election time and they seem to be publishing opinion polls left, right and centre,” she said. declared.

All opinion poll samples must be statistically representative and proportionate to the population recorded in the census or a published voters list.

The MSRA recommends a minimum sample size of 1,500 respondents for a national election-related survey and a margin of error of +/- 2.5%.

To ensure transparency, the association requires that public publications of opinion polls include details on the sampling method used (for example, whether it was random and, if not, on what basis), the basis for determining sample size, sample obtained, geographic distribution, margin of error and level of confidence, demographic details of respondents, method of interview and dates of work on the ground.

The association further requires the identity of the sponsor of any election-related survey when the sponsor is a single customer, the percentage of respondents who declined to respond, and the percentage of those (registered to vote) who did not respond. intention to vote in the election.

There were concerns about the credibility of opinion polls and some pollsters. There are surveys that can be flawed because those who undertake them lack the technical capacity for proper methodology and to present the data.

But a darker concern exists over polls that are deliberately falsified either because of political ethnic bias on the part of the business owner or for financial gain.

In some polls, criticism has been that the methodology used in sampling voters can skew the outcome of the ballot.

For example, a sample used by pollsters might over-represent supporters of one particular coalition and under-represent another. Politicians have consistently attacked unfavorable opinion polls, helping to create skepticism about them

Tom Wolf, said when appearing for an interview with KTN News that because the level of understanding of polling science is less familiar in Kenya, it encourages those who were particularly unhappy with the results to make personal attacks.

Social media opinion polls are a different ball game, however. Social media polls by political analysts and opinion leaders have also emerged as a method of determining the popularity of presidential candidates.

Twitter polls have been a staple and often feed into the social media strategy used by candidates. Infotrak was forced to quit and delete a poll it was conducting on Twitter after it discovered that some of the engagement was not organic.

The use of a stand-alone program on a social media site that interacts with users (bot) and (puppet accounts) whose actions are controlled by another user is widespread and could be used to deliberately distort survey results .

“When we did this poll on Twitter, we realized there were bots and decided to take it down,” Infotrak CEO Angela Ambitho said.

She said that although a Twitter poll was unscientific, it could gauge the opinion of users of the social media site.

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