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Yet Another Opinion Poll in Kenya, but Should Polls Be Banned?

It’s exactly one month and one day before Kenyans go to the polls on December 27 to choose their next president. The election has been preceded by an unprecedented number of opinion polls, to the extent that one local newspaper wrote that Kenyans could know who their next president will be even before polls close on December 27.

The latest poll was released over the weekend. George Waititu is managing Director of the Steadman Group, one of the leading polling agencies in Kenya, which conducted the latest poll. He told VOA the latest poll results show incumbent President Mwai Kibaki gaining ground on opposition candidate Raila Odinga.

“The latest results show very close call between the two leading contenders, that’s President Kibaki and Raila Odinga. We have 43.3 percent for Kibaki and 43.6 percent for Raila. So it’s very close really,” he said.

Waititu denied news reports that his researchers had a meeting with officials of President Kibaki’s party before the recent poll results were released.

“First of all, no such meeting took place. But I think politicians are picking at anything that they can imagine to try and discredit the results that we are publishing. We are a professional body. We carry out our research within the confines and dictates of professional ethics and standards,” he said.

A recent opinion article in a Kenya newspaper asked whether Kenya should consider regulating the publication of pre-election public opinion polls because of their potential for the manipulation of public opinion.

Waititu disagreed. He said public opinion polls are part of the democratic process.

“First all, I think there is really no proof that exists around the world that polls do influence the way people vote or otherwise. The claim that polls influence public opinion or polls influence the way people vote, to me I find that not true because if that were the case then poll results would never change. But like I said in the past, poll results change because of the changes in the political activities, poll results change because of changes in the political arena. So for that reason, I am not for banning of polls. I think the more we encourage polling, the more we promote democracy, the more we promote the freedom of expression, and the more we inform the electoral process. As a matter of fact polls also reduce the possibility of rigging an election,” Waititu said.

He also disagreed that opinion polls might be misleading to people in rural Africa who tend to be mostly illiterate.

“I agree with you it’s quite a big challenge that first all we have huge rate of illiteracy in Africa. That’s one thing. Number two, even while illiteracy exists, the science of polling is still fairly new on the continent. But that being the case, it means that polls can be misused by politicians to mislead the general public. And I think it’s upon the researchers to exercise care that such manipulation does occur. The other thin is that the fact that people are illiterate or even those who are illiterate are not literate fully on the subject of polling, I think the challenge lies upon the media and researchers to educate the general public in as far what the science means and what it is all about,” Waititu said.