Recent Kenya polling points to concern on voter registration, other issues

Most recently, a new Gallup poll indicates that most Kenyans who are identifying themselves as “registered voters” do not in fact have the required new voting cards.  This raises several concerns: a lack of “civic education” as to what is going to be required in order to vote and confusion as to who is eligible; a big job ahead to get voters registered for the upcoming election; questions about the reliability of the opinion polling in distinguishing “registered voters” from other respondents.  New Gallup release: “In Kenya: Most Registered Voters Lack Required Voting Card”.

The other significant development is continued campaign progress by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, indicted by the ICC on “crimes against humanity” charges and facing trial scheduled shortly after the first round of voting.  The latest Synovate poll, as others have for months, show Prime Minister Odinga with a significant plurality lead, but Kenyatta continues to significantly outpace any rivals in second place.  See Tom Maliti’s reporting at ICC Kenya Monitor: “Poll: Kenyatta Makes Biggest Gains in Kenya Presidential Race”.  Kenyatta is now shown as running ahead of Odinga in a runoff.  A few months ago, Odinga’s runoff standing looked difficult in some match-ups; his numbers have risen and then now fallen back.

The election is months away and it doesn’t make sense to get too excited about each new poll that comes out, but there are points of significance here.  For one thing the polls continue to show that it is very difficult for any of the less established or “newer” candidates to get traction nationwide in a crowded field, leaving the scions of Kenya’s founding fathers who have previously run nationally and been national figures for many years as the primary contestants seen as viable.  For another, while polls continue to show majority support for the ICC process, large numbers of Kenyans are simply not put off by the charges against Kenyatta, and the fact and nature of the charges themselves seem to work to some degree in his favor in establishing him as the dominant candidate from the Central Province/Mt. Kenya area and among his fellow Kikuyu.

Odinga, on the other hand, seems to be having some difficulty in generating new momentum.  He’s been “the man to beat” since the last election so anyone who wants to bust open the race has to target him. The ethnic coalition that Odinga put together through his “Pentagon” that allowed him to poll the most votes nationally in 2007 (according to the exit poll and accounting for misconduct at the ECK) has proven itself to be for the most part a one-off campaign vehicle, like the competing ethnic coalition in Kibaki’s PNU.  Odinga has limited power as Prime Minister but is hamstrung in running as an opposition/reformist candidate–always his milieu in the past–as a “principal” of the “Government of National Unity”.

In a one-on-one runoff, a hypothetical Kikuyu candidate with a strong ethnic base starts with a big advantage over a hypothetical Luo candidate with a strong ethnic base.  Aside from the fact that there are nearly twice as many Kikuyu as Luo, the usual “tribal arithmetic” adds up more quickly from there for the Kikuyu. But neither Kenyatta nor Odinga is in the least bit “hypothetical”–they are unique individuals with strongly identifiable and well know strengths and weaknesses. “Tribalism” will matter and be a part of the campaigns, but it is not the only important factor. With the election five months away, there are many, many deals to be made and many of those to be broken or reconfigured before we really see what the lay of the land is in the presidential race.

It is not a bit too early, however, for the United States and other Western nations who have been much involved with Kenya these last few years to make some decisions about policy in terms of the interaction between the Kenyan presidential race and the ICC process.    In the U.S., this may quickly fall in the lap of a new administration.

Kibaki’s PNU seeks Government Control over Political Opinion Polls [Updated]

From the Star, “Ban Opinion Polls — PNU”:

President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity is now planning to control opinion polls. A team of PNU lawyers working with MPs Jamleck Kamau (Kigumo) and John Muthutho (Naivasha) are drafting a Bill to control opinion polls conducted by research companies and even media houses.

Kamau yesterday filed a party motion in Parliament calling for regulation of opinion polls. The Bill will create an Opinion Polls Control Board to regulate the conduct of surveys.

One clause under consideration is a requirement that the Board approves all questionnaires in advance and authorise results of surveys before they are released to the public. The Bill is intended to end political opinion polls altogether, according to inside sources.

Yesterday Kamau, the PNU vice chairman, confirmed the upcoming crackdown. “Mututho and I are working on a Bill that will put discipline and restore professionalism in the operations of research so far as opinion polls are concerned. This will be in the House in a matter of weeks,” said Kamau.

In April Synovate said that Prime Minister Raila Odinga was the preferred 2012 candidate was for 38% of Kenyans; Uhuru 18%, Kalonzo 13% and Ruto 8%. PNU politicians, including Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, have been criticising political opinion polls in recent months. Kalonzo accused research companies, especially the market leader Synovate, of doctoring opinion polls in favour of Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

.  .  .  .

Yesterday the Managing Director of the Synovate Kenya George Waititu said that the research industry will suffer severely if the two MPs and the PNU succeeded in pushing government into regulating the industry. “This is actually war on the freedom of expression and an attempt by the two MPs to gag the media because it is the media that publishes those polls,” Waititu said.

He explained that opinion polls should be allowed to flourish as it allows citizens to express their opinions on matters relating to governance and other fundamental issues. “The proposed legislation will only introduce bureaucracies that will keep marketing research companies out of business,” he said.

Waititu said ethics and ‘push-polling’ were matters of concern, but government involvement will only undermine the democratic practices. Waititu said research companies in Kenya operate under the Market and Social Research Association that has rules governing their operations. Other researchers in Kenya include Infotrak, Consumer Insight and Strategic Research.

In the months before the 2007 election the Government proposed draconian regulation of the media.  Now, with elections coming again, there are those in power who seek control over polling.  No big surprise as long as it is appreciated how the last election went.

The performance and professionalism of the polling industry in Kenya compares quite favorably to that of Parliament and certainly of any Kenyan government regulatory authority I encountered.  As IRI director, I continued a successful relationship with Strategic and also used Synovate for a key pre-election poll.

In general terms, the development of polling in Kenya is a success story–and it is for that reason that it threatens politicians who want to have the unilateral power to tell the public, through a docile media, what “the facts on the ground” are.

[IRI played a role over a period of years in the development of polling, through its USAID funded survey program, including the exit polls in the 2002 election and the 2005 referendum.  This is part of why I was offended at the decision of IRI’s Washington office to denigrate the quality of the 2007 exit poll to justify not releasing it in January and February 2008.  IRI corrected itself in August 2008 and released the exit poll results at that time after they were released by the University of California, San Diego team in Washington.  Obviously a Government of Kenya “Control Board” would have made sure that the exit poll showing the opposition winning never saw the light of day.]

Update:  The Daily Nation, “MP’s plan to regulate opinion polls opposed”:

Synovate and Strategic Research demanded involvement in the drafting of a Bill on the polls should the Party of National Unity’s MPs go ahead with a motion that was filed in the House on Wednesday.

Mr George Waititu of Synovate and Mr Caesar Handa of Strategic Research termed the attempt by MPs Jamleck Kamau and John Mututho as a step backwards.

“We are operating in a political market in which there is a lot of information in the public domain. One would hate to go back to the dark days when only politicians could give out information,” said Mr Waititu.