Recent polls carried out by Maravi Post this week and Nation Publications Limited (NPL) months ago have caused excitement among Malawians for various reasons.
A lot has already been said from many camps and as Malawi Civil Forum we beg for
some space so as to probe into this particular matter and all opinion polls
that will come leading to the 2014 Presidential Elections.
We believe that there is a better way of how Malawians can spot the difference
between a poll that is reliable and one that is not.
We are not here to discredit any organization for their investment in any
project but allow us to microscope on the gray areas that need proper
In this case, one pertinent issue is whether the polling organization has taken the necessary burden to
explain its procedures to the public so that all Malawians can resolve whether the
practices followed are reliable? Is the organization willing to tender its data
to impartial analysis?
Pollsters world over are viewed on the basis of their underlying special interests.
Therefore, if the poll is conducted by a private organization, does it depend
for its existence on special interests?
Does the publishing house have a proper track record in conducting credible
polls in regards to Presidential elections? Polls can maintain public
confidence only so long as the pollster has a track record of accuracy in
Malawi Civil Forum is also asking if there was any audit or check up of results
before the findings were put in the public domain.
We are not an interested party in issues to do with opinion polls but we
still wonder why the methodology of such an endeavor involves people voting through phone messages and the social media
which has the potential of duplicity of accounts.
Is there any limitation of how many messages one can send using different simcards? Similarly, how can we ignore the words of founder Mark Zuckerberg saying currently
there are 83 million fake Facebook accounts?
Malawi Civil Forum would like to know what the margin of error for this particular poll is. The results of a poll may tell one story without the margin
of error, and another with it. A small lead can turn into no lead at all if the
margin of error is too large.
So, was the population of Malawi sampled fairly?
How were statistical assumptions made on phone messages and social media posts that
had to only indicate a name of a politician?
Coming to the demographics of the people approached, how many of these
people could be labeled as “likely voters”? Polls that deal with election
matters should always hint on the likelihood of those approached making it to
the polling booth.
Malawians also need to know how many of the sampled people voted in the 2009
elections. And among the previous voting bloc do we surely know how many have
changed their minds in their voting pattern for the past three years in
relation to the survey? We need this information because there is need to read
trends not just focusing on the single week within which the poll was taken.
By the way how many out of the sampled population will be new voters in 2014.
There is also need to look at issues of convenience when the survey questions
were being asked. Let Maravi Post and NPL furnish Malawians with the information because every
poll will have some people who were too busy to get involved in such an
exercise. How many of these were there?
We have had flawed opinion polls that disregarded the necessary procedures to
deal with dubious views. Both in 1999 and 2004 phone-in radio programs always
favoured those who ended up losing the real elections.
Remember how Gwanda Chakuamba made so many people believe that he was going
to take the Presidency due to these flawed polls. No wonder when he lost, his sympathizers resorted to
violence in frustration, in the process claiming lives.
Another area that needs highlighting is how far did the poll attempt to go
beyond simple yes-no questions? One of these questions might be “Are we sure that people feel intensely
bound about voting for a President right now or there are other issues that
occupy their minds?”
Malawi Civil Forum concurs with University of Malawi’s political analyst Simbalashe
Mungoshi who rightly points out that it is too early for Malawians to make
their concrete poll choices in regards to 2014.
The tables will shift a lot in the coming months and when they do, we would
appreciate if the two media houses keep us informed as well.
When all is said and done, polls will come and go but the power to determine
Malawi’s next President lies in the hands of the majority of Malawians who will
vote in May, 2014.
We just plead that endorsements should remain as such without crossing paths
with popular opinion.