Considering that in 2014 Peter Mutharika and the DPP were in the forefront of discrediting any political survey that suggested that then incumbent president Joyce Banda was the most popular presidential candidate and destined to win the 2014 elections, I would have thought that the DPP would today warn anyone against taking political polls seriously.
Incredibly, now that the tables have turned and the DPP is desperate to boost up a rapidly dwindling morale, suddenly foreign political surveys are the thing to be promoted and spread about on MBC radio and television, especially because for some reason, the survey claims that Peter Mutharika is popular and is likely to win the election 2019.
Back in 2014, there was a very good argument why any political survey promoting the popularity of Joyce Banda was not to be taken seriously. As a matter of fact, the facts that were obtaining on the ground then regarding Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP) and her short presidency are the very same facts that are obtaining presently with regard to Peter Mutharika’s presidency and the DPP. By 2014, the Joyce Banda euphoria had waned and Malawians had become disillusioned with a presidency that was steeped in corruption and with its eyes fixed firmly on looting the public coffers to fund a looming election. The very same facts are true today. We have a presidency that has steadily become hugely unpopular because of sheer failure to demonstrate any kind of performance and competence, and a party determined only to press forward personal and political interests instead of national ones.
Such were the facts that made any serious Malawian political commentator back in 2014 to strongly disagree with any survey that tried to popularise Joyce Banda. All Malawians knew that as far as Malawian were concerned, “Amayi” was not popular and that any survey suggesting the opposite was quite simply an insult to Malawian intelligence.
The results of the elections were the proverbial eating that was the proof of the pudding. Joyce Banda was not even the second most popular candidate in 2014. She was third.
Fast-forward to 2018, and a desperate DPP is trying to repeat history. It is now the DPP seeking to cheat Malawian public opinion by offering results of political surveys apparently conducted by foreign institutes.
But there are very good reasons why no Malawian should take such paid for popularity stunts seriously.
Of course it is not wrong to seek to portray public opinion with political surveys as long as they are conducted using accountable statistical methods to meet the needs of a party’s or a candidate’s internal needs. The problem is, the surveys Malawian incumbent parties try to rely on are often done sloppily. Samples are obtained recklessly, with results being rigged accordingly to the order paid. This is intolerable.
They deliberately want to deceive the public.
Our politicians today are employing this despicable method to gain popularity. They hire survey institutes for billions of Kwachas to jack up their electability. There is a saying in politics that “With money, you can be popular”. This is the motto of these political survey tactics.
It is a shame that the DPP, having deplored the Joyce Banda regime in 2014 for the same tricks, it is itself deploying the very same tactics ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
For my fellow Malawians wondering how to tell whether to take a political survey seriously or not, and whether to truly rely on the results, the following can be a helpful checklist:
- First and foremost, does it seem professional? That may seem too basic, but it works surprisingly well. Is a pollster’s press release riddled with typos? Reputable pollsters are run by publicly identified people, and if they’re putting their professional reputations on the line, they probably want to make a good first impression. Spelling simple words wrong or misspelling the candidates’ names is often a sign that either a pollster doesn’t know what it’s doing or isn’t on the level. Small mistakes usually come with big mistakes.
- Who? Who conducted the poll? Does the pollster have a long track record? Check out the polling firm’s website — are there real people with expertise in Malawian politics listed there? Does the pollster even have a website and not just a Twitter account? (Websites are pretty easy to create, but some fake pollsters don’t even do that.) If a pollster does not reveal the people working for the company, doubt its results.
- How? How was the survey conducted (e.g., via automated phone, live telephone interview or on the internet)? If it was on the internet, see how the pollster was getting people to participate in its polls (e.g., via its own panel or Google Surveys). If it was on the phone, find out which phone bank was doing the calling. If a pollster does not reveal its methodology, do not trust it. Legitimate, professional pollsters prize transparency.
- What? What questions were asked? If it is a survey about an election, legitimate pollsters will typically ask respondents more than simply who they prefer, Candidate A versus Candidate B. The pollsters will want to find out why people are saying they will vote the way they say (what issues matter to them, for example, or how favorably respondents view the candidates). At a minimum, pollsters will ask demographic questions in order to weight their data properly. If a pollster does not reveal this data and how it is being weighted, be suspicious.
- When? This works two ways. First, when was the poll itself conducted? And how many people did it reach? Those are crucial, standard details every on-the-level pollster releases. Second, when was the polling company founded? If there is no answer, be suspicious. If it was only very recently, treat its results with caution until it has a body of work to judge.
- Why? Polls cost money; so most pollsters are not conducting them on a whim. Academic institutions often poll to increase their name recognition, or to provide students an educational opportunity. Most professional pollsters conduct surveys to make money. If there is nothing on the website that tells you why the pollster is conducting the poll, something is probably up.
- Where? Find out where the company is located. Has the surveyor ever set foot in Malawi to conduct the poll? Do they have an office here that keeps tabs on local political opinions? If not, better trust The Sunday Times!
It goes without saying that faced with fierce competition from an MCP that actually came very close to winning in the last elections, and now also from the hugely popular Saulos Chilima movement, the DPP is clutching at straws to try and maintain morale and boost up its popularity.
It seems the DPP failed to learn the lesson from Joyce Banda, who wasted so much time and money buying popularity and yet lost the election.
Perhaps the real concern we should have about surveys that claim that Mutharika is popular is not so much the claims they make but rather the fact that such useless efforts are paid for by the taxpayer.
This nonsense must stop.