Good Polls, Bad Polls and Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election

Good Polls, Bad Polls and Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election

Do polls really count in elections in Nigeria? A couple of polls have been conducted since the countdown to the 2023 elections began earlier in the year. Ostensibly, the polls raised some dust as they tried to serve as guide to the 2023 presidential election. Did they succeed in tuning the mind of the voters

Do polls really count in elections in Nigeria? A couple of polls have been conducted since the countdown to the 2023 elections began earlier in the year. Ostensibly, the polls raised some dust as they tried to serve as guide to the 2023 presidential election. Did they succeed in tuning the mind of the voters in any direction; to influence how he or she may vote? May be, maybe not. But they ruffled still waters and generated controversies. Like whirlwinds, they created their impressions but how far reaching and impactful were they? Without mincing words, opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion.

In Nigeria, most political polls are treated with disbelief and have sometimes showed a wide gap between perception and reality. People can hardly relate their outcomes with the reality on the ground. The outcomes have been greeted with skepticism and divergent reactions. To those they favour it is a feeling of deja vu but to those they may have been against, condemnation.

Polls are good especially in environments where governments are quick to deceive the ruled with bogus statistics about their well-being, forgetting that he who feels it knows it. They represent alternative facts. Good polls when conducted carefully without preconceived agenda could help present the citizens’ views on major issues of the day especially on the economy, climate change or flooding, abortion, responsible governance, performance of government et al. But political polls are never without preconceived agenda. If they failed to fulfill such agenda, they may not see the light of day.

Do the polls bring out the issues that would determine the outcome of an election? Do they ask their respondents the right questions? Do they like the media help to set the right agenda for the candidates? For instance, what are the top five issues that will help to determine the outcome of the 2023 election? All said and done, polls could be ambivalent swords that could be used either way. A friendly poll conducted towards the 1993 presidential election saw Chief M.K.O. thriving on all issues of acceptability but to be seen as being balanced also identified too many women in his life as his weakness. While those in his presidential support played up the good sides in the poll, those against him highlighted the weakness of too many women in his life and regarded that as a likely distraction to the office of the President of the country with a heavy workload.

Do political polls work? Historically, have they worked in Nigeria? Would the polls’ predictions help the candidates? How effective are the polls in a country with low literacy level; where millions can neither read nor write? There are loads of questions to be answered. But trust the Nigerian politicians, there’s nothing they cannot engineer or create to boost their cause.

There is no denying ascendancy in the use of polls in Nigeria whereas in the United States observers are beginning to question whether polling is still up to the task of producing accurate information on elections. Since the 2016 presidential election, in which all the polls gave Hillary Clinton an overwhelming chance of winning went awry, polls seem to have diminished in importance. The victory of Donald Trump in that election came as a shock to many, as none of the pollsters, political journalists, or pundits, including those in Trump’s campaign, ever predicted his victory.

It was the same story when the United Kingdom conducted a referendum whether to leave European Union or not, commonly referred to as the Brexit referendum, which took place on 23 June 2016 in the United Kingdom (UK), most of the polls results predicted a stay in EU. But that was proven wrong. The British electorate voted to opt out.

Again, in the just concluded midterm elections in the United States, the polls were proven wrong. It was widely believed and supported by polls outcome that Republicans would sweep the polls. But the Democrats’ defied that political gravity to deliver a surprisingly strong midterm showing. The Cable News Network (CNN) exit polls have shown that 49% of voters who said they somewhat disapprove of President Biden eventually voted for Democrats while 45% backed Republicans; of the 38% of voters who said the condition of the economy is “not so good,” 62% of them voted for Democrats compared to 35% for the Republicans. Such is the nature of political polls.

When sometimes polls are stage-managed, the pollsters believe when they say a particular candidate is likely to win election that people may decide to vote for such a candidate. Far from the truth. In fact, on the contrary, when the polls say a candidate is extremely likely to win, some people may be less likely to vote, leading to voter apathy, because in their mind, their vote would not make a difference since the polls have said someone is “extremely likely” to win.

The Significance of Polls

Polls, without doubt, help voters (elites) research information about each of the candidates participating in an election. Polls tell voters what issues candidates support. Polls identify the top candidates, and that makes the media go after them for interviews. By providing information about voting intentions, public opinion polls could sometimes influence the behaviour of voters. But there are other factors that also affect political participation, such as education, gender, age, and family. Yes, the family could be an important factor.

There are 18 presidential candidates running in the 2023 elections but only three of them are being projected as the frontrunners. Why is this so? It could be the outcome of some public opinion polls or general perceptions.

What Have the Polls Said So Far?

So far, only two polls have been published on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. One was by ANAP foundation, a non-profit organisation that is committed to promoting good governance and the other was by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The ANAP Foundation, has a reputation. In the run-up to the April 2011 general elections, ANAP commissioned NOI Polls Limited to carry out a nationwide poll on the Presidential elections and a state-wide poll for the Lagos State Governorship elections. The results of these polls predicted landslide victories for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Governor Raji Fashola respectively and eventual election results were very much in line with the findings of its polls. The 2011 elections are, however, easier, and not as complicated as the 2023 elections.

ANAP in its first polls on the 2023 election has predicted that of the three topmost presidential candidates Obi is favoured to win by 51%; Atiku is ranked second with 25%; and Tinubu is rated third with 19%. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research and analysis division of the Economist Group does not agree with the ANAP/NOI poll’s findings as it has predicted in its survey that Asiwaju 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.

Transparency in how the polls were conducted will speak more to their accuracy. The size of the sample of about a thousand respondents, for instance, in a country of over 200 million people raises some eyebrows and puts some question marks on the veracity of findings. Additionally, the method of sampling which was through technology using the telephone also suggests that the coverage area may have been restricted and there is empirical evidence that more Nigerians live in the rural areas (where there is limited access to telephones) than live in the metropolis and urban areas.

More Polls to Come but Voters Will Ultimately Decide
Without doubt, Nigerians should watch out as there’s a likelihood of a proliferation of polls in the weeks and days to the 2023 elections. Good polls, bad polls; timing is important. The Abiola 1993 poll result was not released until 48/72 hours to the election which handicapped and reduced the mischief value and use of its findings by his political opponents. While good and favourable polls could raise hope; bad polls would dampen the spirit and lower supporters’ morale. But the question is: Do polls count? Would they matter in the 2023 election? Time will tell.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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