Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Can pre-election polls affect the outcome of elections?

28.08.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The rise in democracy, increased interest and public participation in good governance in the continent has today paved the way for public opinions and interest in contributing to policy development. The phenomenon of public opinion is now gaining grounds in Africa, especially in the political domain. A lot of people are looking for avenues to make their voices heard as a means of contributing to the change process. Hence, organizations are taking advantage of this zeal to carry out surveys to gather public opinion. This has been integrated into the electoral process in several countries. The role these pre-elections polls have on the democratic process is not certain but some analyst posits that if not well represented in the media, it affects voter choices during elections.

In most countries with liberal democracies, the electoral process has a variety of ways that citizens can participate or are informed. Pre-elections opinions feature as one of the most effective means of public contribution. Researchers and analysts have asserted the importance of public opinions in promoting democracy and good governance. Many have equally noted that pre-polls provide an opportunity for people to voice their concerns and influence the political processes of the country. Such opinions can influence interest groups who can capitalize on this to clamor for changes in society.

It measures not only support for political parties and candidates but also public opinion on a wide range of social, economic and political issues. According to ESOMAR / WAPOR, the World Association of Opinion and Marketing Research Professionals, a properly conducted and disseminated opinion survey gives the general public an opportunity for its voice to be heard. It went further to note that through opinion polls the public, politicians, the media and other interested groups have access to concrete measures of public attitudes.

The socio-political landscape around the world has since the 90’s made extensive use of public opinion polls. In Africa for instance, Kenya’s history of opinion polling dates back to the first independence era during which a 261-sample survey of electorates in Central Nyanza produced a result similar to the final result. Again, the 2007 General Election in Kenya recorded the highest number of opinion polls in the country. These polls played an important role in the run-up to the Kenyan elections of December 2007 as some research institutes published results on the presidential candidates which gained much attention.

Also, South Africa which has a high level of democratic awareness also witnesses a rise in the use of political surveys to predict election outcomes. Research and media organizations in South Africa such as the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Ipsos Markinor have since the early ‘90s conducted pre-election surveys to find out voting intentions and people’s attitudes to democracy.

However, it is feared that during the elections period, opinion polls can influence the outcome of elections and can also be relatively distorting. This is because publishing opinion polls adds an element of potential influence. Therefore, many see it as providing a clue to undecided voters to formulate vote preferences. However, many persons have expressed doubts whether it could affect voters choice.

Reliability of pre-elections surveys

Sometimes, pre-election surveys have produced inconsistent results due to the fact that such surveys, in general, depend on the honesty of the respondents. Even research organizations themselves have produced different outcomes on research carried out on the same citizens in a country. It has been argued that though some use accurate representative samples that present a valid picture of the population and its demographic variability, others are not able to make an accurate representation of the sample size and population. For instance, in South Africa, some researchers committed the error of over-representing people from the middle class and those with access to telephones, while neglecting the majority.

It has been noted that inaccuracies in the results may come as a result of the fact that some polls failed to take note of the changes in the political landscape that may have affected the attitudes and opinions.

In Kenya for example, the results of the 2007 electoral poll indicated that Raila Odinga was on the lead but after the actual voting, his contester Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. This followed in the 2013 electoral opinion poll results which showed that Raila Odinga will win the elections but Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Coalition emerged the winner.

In December 2018, an opinion poll for the presidential election in the DRC indicated that opposition candidate Martin Fayulu was likely to win against Felix Tshisekedi and the Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. A similar poll carried out by a New York-based research group showed Fayulu leading with 44 percent support, ahead of the Tshisekedi who was on 23 percent, and Shadary on 18 percent. Similarly, research by Congo’s BERCI and France’s IPSOS for the Congo Research Group (CRG) in December, as well as data collected by some 40,000 observers from the Catholic Episcopal Commission (CENCO), revealed a victory by Fayulu. But the outcome of the elections proved different with Tshisekedi securing the win. Such inconsistencies have been the major reason why many politicians have turned to question the validity of opinion polls.

None the less, some results have shown that these polls can be fairly accurate. Pre-election polls ahead of the 2019 elections in South Africa by two marketing and research companies  MarkData and Ipsos indicated that the ANC will win about 60% of the vote, while a poll by the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) noted that the ANC will win by 51%. Again, the surveys noted a fall in ANC support, after the party won just over 62% in the 2014 elections. This was, however, a fair representation of the outcome of the May 2019 elections with the ANC winning 58% of the vote, ahead of the Democratic Alliance (DA) on 21% and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on 11%.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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