Wycliffe Muga: Why Raila poll may not be accurate - The Star

The results of the Infotrak Harris polls released late last week had quite an effect on the dedicated supporters of various politicians.

The partisans of the Prime Minister Raila Odinga rejoiced to find that their hero is the most trusted political leader by a very wide margin. Those who have a preference for other politicians seem to have been outraged by this poll.

And indeed, when you find Raila trusted by 31 per cent of those polled, while President Kibaki is supposedly only trusted by 11 per cent - and other substantial figures like Agriculture minister William Ruto only trusted by 5 per cent and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka barely raising his head at 3 per cent, it should be clear enough that there is something not quite right about this poll.

I am not suggesting those who conducted the poll did not know what they were doing.

Rather, I consider it highly likely that the respondents did not really know what was being asked of them, and mostly answered a rather different question from the one they were asked.

This tendency to answer the question you think you have been asked, rather than the one you have actually been asked, is not at all unusual. We all do it, all the time.

For example, if a parent seeking his child's exam results goes to a school's reception room and, finding another parent already waiting there, asks him or her, "Is there anyone in the office?", the other parent might readily answer "No", even though they know very well that there is a cleaner sweeping that office at that very moment.

The point is that this parent understands that the person who has just walked in is looking for a school official who can release exam results to them, and also that the cleaner cannot do this. So they will answer that there is nobody in the office, meaning, "There is nobody of the kind that you are looking for."

So my suspicion is that when these presumably "ordinary Kenyans" were asked whom they trusted the most, they took this to mean, "Whom would you trust to guide the future of this country, to the extent that you would vote for him or her in the next election?"

This, to me, is what explains Kibaki's poor showing. If we consider the results of the four presidential races he has previously been involved in, it is impossible to argue that only 11 per cent of Kenyans trust this man. He cannot have less than 25 per cent of Kenyans who, even to this day, trust him implicitly.

But if my argument that the responders were thinking about the next election is applied, then it's obvious that many who do trust President Kibaki knew he would not be a candidate in the next election, and assumed that he was not an option. And so they placed their "trust" - by which they really meant, "their future likely vote" - in Peter Kenneth or Martha Karua or Uhuru Kenyatta and so on.

But that is not the only insight that can be gleaned from this poll.

For those with election campaigns yet in their future, these polls carry with them evil tidings, for just about each and every one.

For Kalonzo, that 3 per cent cannot be good news: this was a man who used to routinely lead both the current President and Prime Minister in poll after poll during much of 2007.

That he has now fallen so low suggests that his high tide is long past, and that he is not likely to ever end up as a frontrunner in any presidential election again.

For Ruto, this poll seems to suggest that he may yet prove to be one of those politicians who are very effective at dominating media headlines, and whom the press quickly labels as a giant: but who - when votes in a presidential election are counted - is found not to be a giant at all.

And for the PM too, this poll is bad news. Our recent political history (the 2002 and 2007 elections specifically) shows that when one political leader seems to enjoy some clear electoral advantage, it actually makes it easier for his opponents to unite against him.

If there is doubt about the likely outcome, there will be hesitation and confusion, and everyone will want to be President.

But if it is clear that the way seems open for a Raila landslide victory, then those who have reason to fear his ascension to power will promptly postpone their own ambitions for the greater goal of keeping him out of office.

Muga comments on topical issues.

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