Election opinion polls are currently making waves with the 2023 general election approaching. A number of them have begun to publish their reports. They did not just start in this election circle. They have been around.
They have three roles to play: forecasting election outcomes, understating voter behaviour, and planning campaign strategy, according to Sunshine Hillygus, associate professor of political science and director of the Initiative on Survey Methodology at Duke University, Durham, United States of America.
“Since the introduction of scientific polling in the 1936 election, technology has altered the way polls are used by the media, public, candidates, and scholars. Today, polls and surveys remain vital to electoral behaviour and our understanding of it, but they are being increasingly supplemented or replaced by alternate measures and methods”, Hillygus said in her report “The Evolution of Election Polling in the United States” published in the Public Opinion Quarterly in 2011.
Election polling in recent times has evolved significantly, from the use of telephones to live interviews, surveys, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), internet polls, among others. In addition, the dissemination of polling results has equally changed. Initially it was by traditional newspapers, nowadays, blogs and social media platforms have provided other effective mediums of disseminating results of polls.
In the last few weeks, the Nigerian electorate has seen a number of opinion polls on the forthcoming general elections. While expecting more opinion polls to be published which are meant to gauge the effectiveness of political campaigns, the two published polls thus far on the 2023 general elections were by ANAP Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The ANAP Foundation’s poll, which was conducted by NIO Poll, predicted that Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, would win the 2023 presidential election. The poll gave Peter Obi a 21 percent chance of winning against Atiku and Tinubu, candidates of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) respectively, who each got a 13 percent chance of winning the presidential election. Rabiu Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) got only 3 percent chance of winning the election.
A caveat on the above ANAP Poll results is that 32 percent of the respondents are still undecided voters while 15 percent did not reveal their candidates, which means the poll could still shift in any candidate’s favour.
Another prediction, which rested heavily on the political dynamics in Nigeria, was published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research and analysis division of the Economist Group. EIU predicted that Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of APC would win the 2023 presidential election. The firm has one of the largest and most experienced analysts in the world with over 190 full-time country experts.
Arriving at its decision, EIU anchored its prediction on the internal wrangling in PDP and Obi’s emergence, which would eat into PDP strongholds in the south east and south-south.
The ANAP Poll results support the assertion that election poll results are for planning campaign strategy. For instance, ANAP Poll predicted that Peter Obi would get 4 percent of the presidential election votes in the north east, 16 percent in the north central, 8 percent in North West, 68 percent in south east, 46 percent in south-south, and 12 percent in south west.
Compared this against the predictions for Atiku Abubakar of PDP, ANAP said Atiku would get 28 percent in north east, 9 percent in north central, 20 percent in north west, 1 percent in south east, 4 percent in south west and 6 percent in south-south.
The political strategists in Labour Party and PDP will now be interested in providing answers to questions such as: What unique programmes could PDP offer south west to get more votes? How could Labour Party increase its fortune in places such as north east and north west? How can each party retain its dominance in a region it showed strong lead?
ANAP also projected that APC presidential candidate would get zero votes in south east. Then APC should be interested in finding out the unique needs of the zone that would convince the electorate in the zone to vote for its presidential candidate.
Across the world, a household name that comes to mind whenever election opinion poll is being discussed is the Gallup Poll which was founded by American George Gallup. Gallup’s method engages a randomly selected sample from the respondents and its first poll was conducted in 1932. Ever since, Gallup has become a global leader when it comes to election polling.
Gallup Poll is not the only institutes involved in predicting US election results, only that it usually produces one of the most credible poll results. Another institute that was involved, but which is now defunct was Literary Digest. Its demise was attributed to the prediction disaster in the United States 1936 presidential election.
Polling institutes make use of different software. These include Dialogloop, Zonka Feedback, SurveyLegend, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, Survio, Zoho Survey, Alchemer, and Nextiva, just to mention a few.
The reliability of election poll results or any poll at all, according to Hillygus, depends on sampling and non-sampling errors, coverage errors, non-coverage errors, measurement errors, processing errors as well as adjustment errors. Sampling error relates to non-selection of the individuals that are representative of the entire population about to be studied.
Non-sampling errors relate to the collection of wrong information on the chosen individuals or objects, which causes the answers derivable from such exercise to significantly deviate from ideal results such an exercise ought to produce.
Bloomberg has joined other polling institutes to forecast how the pendulum of Nigeria’s forthcoming presidential election will swing. In its latest poll, Peter Obi, the candidate of Labour Party has a clear lead of 72 percent of winning the 2023 election, ahead of Bola Tinubu of APC who garnered 16 percent while Atiku Abubakar of PDP received 9 percent votes.
The Bloomberg Poll cited factors such as economy and jobs, corruption, national security and food prices as the factors that influenced the decisions of the respondents. Topmost on the minds of the respondents in the Bloomberg Poll were the economy and jobs which were selected by 41 percent of the respondents. 31 percent selected corruption; 16 percent selected national security; 7 percent chose food prices while 3 percent chose crime as the factors that influenced the choices.
From 1999 to date, opinion polls on elections have always been published to show the sentiments of the electorate. Results of election opinion polls are not cast in stone, however, they provide an avenue to appraise the sentiments of the electorate which politicians and other stakeholders could utilise to change political sentiments in their favour by gaining more ground in opposition’s strongholds.
Kenyan presidential election and opinion polls
The Kenya presidential election was held a few weeks ago. A number of polls made different predictions as per who would win that election. Ipsos, one of the leading global polling firms, predicted that Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement would win.
“With less than a week until the August 9 Election, Raila Amolo Odinga is the candidate most voters would choose. The latest opinion poll by Ipsos in Kenya shows the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate would win 47percent of the total votes if elections were held on the day the interviews were conducted,” Ipsos said in a statement.
Another polling firm, Tifa, indicated that William Ruto would win. In that poll, Ruto led by 38 percent while Odinga followed by 23 percent. The other two candidates enjoyed 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.
After the exit polls were counted, Wlliam Ruto, the immediate past deputy president and candidate of the United Democratic Alliance won the election. He polled 1.795 million votes representing 51.24 percent while Raila Odinga polled 1.685 million votes representing 48.11 percent.
In the 2019 presidential election in Nigeria, ANAP Foundation predicted that the incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari would be re-elected. After the poll, president Buhari was truly re-elected.
As the political campaigns kicked off late September, the electorate will have more time to interact with the contestants for different positions. There is a high likelihood that the initial poll results could change.