June 16, 2024

What You Should Know About Opinion Polls

Mvita Member of Parliament Abdulswamad Nassir 9Photo/ courtesy)

By Mwakera Mwajefa

Email, thecoastnewspaper@gmail.com

People should know the good, the bad and the ugly of polling and public opinion.

If you take a public opinion poll about polls, odds are that a majority would offer unfavourable views of pollsters and their work. Yet if you ask whether politicians, business leaders and journalists should pay attention to people’s voices, almost everybody will say yes.

People of all kinds, professionals, educationists, activists and ordinary citizens alike, regularly cite polls, especially those that find them in the majority.

However, the same will be deeply skeptical of polls, especially when opinion moves in the ‘wrong’ direction.

Such skepticists will doubt the pollsters methods on whether they asked the right questions or manipulated the wording of questions or whom did they interview.

Some of the doubts are wrapped up in a _mistrust_ of the political parties, marketers or media giants that paid for the polls.

Respondents of opinion polls, in most cases answer the pollsters’ questions just to be polite that gives them (pollsters) a lot of running room to ‘manufacture’ opinion, especially on issues of narrow rather than wide concern.

Human beings are complicated and so are their opinions, especially when they have strong views which a single polling question rarely captures those views well.

We must be very careful on how we deal with the political polls that camouflage respondents’ views with soothing, symbol-laden and misleading rhetoric which may frustrate democratic deliberations. 

In most democracies, people are typically more concerned with some matters than others and most of them are not continuously engaged in public affairs.

Therefore, polling that does not deal with these basic facts of democratic life is producing something other than real information.

Kenyans should be wary of quick and cheap poll surveys, and focus groups used by marketers or campaign managers who need information fast and know its limit based on its simpler methodological concerns.

Public opinion is an illusive commodity and attempts to measure it, as Samuel Popkin argues in _The Reasoning_ _Voter,_ will perforce reveal inconsistency and change.

With the public lacking fixed preferences on many issues, the media’s portrayal of opinion polls should not be guised but explicitly state representative sample of respondents’ stand on an issue.

In Kenya, polling organisations often take snapshots of the opinion on election issues and these results are disseminated to the larger public by the news media with screaming headlines!

Whether we like it or not, in election campaigns, polls constitute a significantly larger portion of news media coverage that scholars, and pundits term as _horse-race_ coverage.

These portrayals prioritise candidates’ relative popularity over their policy issue stances, thus depicting politics as a dirty game of chess!

This norm of coverage is dictated by journalists, not the candidates or parties; in fact in Kenya’s context, mainstream media have shown to be relatively unreceptive to covering substantive messages.

Should you praise or bury polling? The answer lies on your perception gap but we can rely on Ronald Reagan’s _trust_ _and_ _verify_ rule when dealing with opinion polls in the future.

Don’t be prey to manipulation of your WILL as the dwindling _trust_ in media raises concerns ahead of the August 9th elections. #Mndwamrombo

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