Can opinion polls translate to reality for Obi?

Several opinion polls for the February 25 presidential election have predicted victory for the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Mr. Peter Obi. Are they mere smokescreen or reality? Asks ONYEKACHI EZE

Fifteen days to the February 25 presidential election, Blomberg News, in an opinion survey conducted on its behalf by Premise Data Corp. rated Labour Party (LP) candidate Mr. Peter Obi above the other 17 presidential candidates seeking to succeed Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria President on May 29. The result of the polls was released penultimate Friday.

This came on the heels of previous opinion polls which equally favoured the LP candidate to win the election. Penultimate week, Patrick O. Okigbo III, Nextier founding partner, in a statement on February 6 expressed the view that this month’s presidential election is likely to be one of the most keenly contested in recent times.

Nextier is an opinion poll consulting firm, which has so far conducted the second presidential poll for this year’s presidential election. In its second opinion poll conducted on January 27 this year, the firm projected a likely run-off election. Although it rated the LP presidential candidate higher than the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Nextier said Obi might not get outright win.

“Although the Labour Party secured the highest voter preference, it is unlikely to secure an outright first-round victory. None of the presidential candidates met both criteria for victory in the first round: a majority of votes cast and 25 per cent in two-thirds of the states,” Nextier said in its survey. In the opinion poll, the pollster said the LP candidate secured voters’ preference of 37 per cent of the survey respondents while the PDP got 27 per cent. The APC and NNPP candidates scored 24 and six per cent respectively. “The team used a sample size of 3,000 respondents and generated a margin of error of two per cent at a 95 per cent confidence interval.

The survey sample represented the age and gender demographics in Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. “The survey results show that the Labour Party can achieve 25 per cent of the votes in 23 states. Therefore, the presidential election could head to a runoff between Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar or Bola Tinubu.

“Most registered voters (72 per cent) have decided on their preferred party. This result is consistent across rural and urban voters. “Similarly, the survey data demonstrates that respondents are certain in their choices. Eighty-three per cent of the respondents indicated that nothing would make them change their preferred party before the elections.

“It is important to note that the survey questionnaire showed the party logos and names instead of the candidates’ names or images. “In summary, although the Labour Party secured the highest voter preference, Nigeria’s 2023 presidential elections will likely go into a second-round runoff with Peter Obi and one of either Atiku Abubakar or Bola Tinubu,” the survey noted. According to the survey, voter turnout in the 2023 presidential election would be significantly higher than in 2019. “For instance, 77 per cent of respondents indicated that they ‘will vote’ in this election, while 63 percent stated that they ‘will definitely vote.’

“This level of commitment was consistent across all age and gender demographics in rural and urban communities,” the survey added. It stated that despite the voter commitment, turnout could be affected by a combination of factors, such as insecurity, concerns about the freedom and fairness of the election, and concerns about the impartiality of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). “Only 52 per cent of the respondents trust that the elections will be free and fair. Only 47 per cent of respondents trust that INEC will not manipulate the results.

Stears, a pan-African data company, gave Obi a nine percentage points lead “in a highturnout scenario and a tighter Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) victory in a low-turnout election.” The Stears poll, presently the largest public opinion electoral poll on the 2023 elections involved 6,220 Nigerians.

The survey showed that Obi would win at least 25 per cent of the vote in five out of the six geopolitical zones, followed by Tinubu with four out of five geopolitical zones. The PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar only secures 25 per cent of the vote in two geopolitical zones.

The only region where Obi fails to secure 25 per cent of the vote, according to the survey, is the North-West, where the votes are likely to be split between Atiku and Kwankwaso of the NNPP. Michael Famoroti, Head of Intelligence & Co-Founder at Stears, said: “Simple analysis of the poll results puts Obi in the lead with 27 per cent of all votes, ahead of Tinubu (15 per cent) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (12 per cent). In its first survey last November Nextier said it involved 2,000 Nigerians who registered to vote in the presidential election. Twelve states across the six geopolitical zones were surveyed during the exercise, and pollsters said home states of the leading presidential and vice presidential candidates were excluded.

The poll results showed that Obi led with 40.37 per cent, followed by Atiku, the candi-date of the PDP with 26.7 per cent while Tinubu, the APC candidate got 20.47 per cent. Last week’s survey was about the fourth since the beginning of this year’s presidential campaign, which predicted that the LP candidate would win the election.

A poll conducted by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (NOI Polls) and commissioned by the Atedo N. A. Peterside (ANAP) in Foundation in September also showed that Obi would win the presidential election. The poll said the contest would be a threehorse race between Obi, Bola Tinubu and Atiku. It added that the NNPP candidate, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso would come fourth. NOI report showed “a significant lead for Mr. Peter Obi with 21 per cent of voters proposing to vote for him if the presidential election were to be conducted today; and 13 per cent each proposing to vote for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who tied in second place.

Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso was a distant fourth with three per cent of voters proposing to vote for him. The first known opinion poll in history was in 1824 America’s presidential election. Then known as voter preferences, Telegram Messenger, which probably conducted the poll, predicted that Andrew Jackson was leading John Quincy Adams by 335 votes to 169 in the contest for the US presidency.

The modern opinion survey as we know it today was pioneered by George H. Gallup, and American who invented the Gallup Poll. Wikipedia credited Gallup to the first polling organisation to conduct accurate opinion polling for United States presidential elections.

Gallup polling was also “accurate in predicting the outcome of presidential elections and the margin of victory for the winner, but missed some close elections” in “1948, 1976 and 2004, the popular vote in 2000, and the likely-voter numbers in 2012.” The American University professor Allan Lichtman who has correctly predicted results of every presidential election since 1984, said the predictions are “not decided by the turns of the campaigns, the speeches, the debates, the fundraising. Rather, presidential elections are fundamentally referenda on the performance of the party holding the White House. If that performance is good enough, they get four more years.

If it’s not, they’re turned out and the challenging part wins.” Lichtman listed his 13 keys to predicting the results of the presidential election to include, incumbent-party mandate, incumbency, third party, short-term economy, long-term economy, nomination contest, policy change, scandal, social unrest, foreign or military success, foreign or military failure, incumbent charisma, and challenge charisma. Poll prediction is not popular in Nigeria.

The first known of such a survey was in 2015 when a platform, Survey MonkeyTM predicted the victory of the then newly registered APC to sweep that year’s general elections. The survey, which was released early February said Muhammadu Buhari, the APC candidate would win the 2015 presidential elections with about 21.5 million total votes, while the candidate of the then ruling party, the PDP Dr. Goodluck Jonathan would obtain about 18.5 million votes. “We assumed that the voter turnout would be about 58.1 per cent, which is the average of the voter turnout percentages obtained in the last four elections held in the 4th republic (53.7 per cent in 2011, 57. in 2007, 69.1 in 2003 and 52.3 in 1999).

“Based on the survey results, we predict that Goodluck Jonathan will win the South-East (65 per cent) and South- South (71 per cent) geo-political zones, while Muhammadu Buhari will win in the North-East (53 per cent), North- West (59 per cent), North Central (57 per cent) and South -West (75 per cent). “Given the possibility that the lingering Boko Haram crisis in the North-East might prevent elections from holding in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY), we explored the impact that the exclusion of these states would have on electoral outcomes.

“Our analysis suggests that the complete exclusion of the BAY states from the electoral tally will still result in a victory for Muhammadu Buhari. “In the event that voting will not be able to hold in the BAY states (Borno, Adamawa, Yobe), the total expected votes from the North East will reduce from about 5.3 million to 2.6 million votes, and the projected national tally will be 20.1 million votes for Muhammadu Buhari versus about 17.2 million votes for Goodluck Jonathan. In either scenario, Buhari will likely win the presidential elections with about 54 per cent of the total votes cast,” the survey predicted. Although the APC eventually won the election but not with the margin predicted. It was the first time an opposition party defeated the ruling party in an election in Nigeria. The party also won majority seats in the National Assembly.

Despite the consistency of the opinion surveys conducted by different platforms on the victory of LP in this year’s presidential election, many Nigerians still expressed doubt. This is probably because the party is not one of the two major political parties that dominated the nation’s political landscape since 1999. Nigeria’s election is determined by two factors – ethnicity and religion. Among the four leading presidential candidates, only the LP candidate is Christian.

But he is from the South- East with a record of low vote count. Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai who is a member of the ruling APC, boasted that only one local government in his state will wipe off the entire votes that will come from Anambra State where Obi comes from. LP platform has earlier been dismissed as without structure ,with membership only strong on social media. Except from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, no other power broker has adopted the party’s candidate. Obi is said not to have penetrated the North where the major votes lie.

But Stears prediction showed that except North-West, the LP candidate is strong in the two other geopolitical zones – North Central and North-East. Among Lichtman’s 13 key predicting points are short-term and long-term economic programme of the candidates, scandal, incumbent charisma, and challenge charisma. Obi’s “consumption to production” policy is gaining attraction to many Nigerians. Again, there is no scandal traced to him or his running mate both in private or public life. The LP candidate served as governor for eight years while his running mate Dr. Yusuf Datti- Baba Ahmed served as a senator and also runs public quoted companies. The same cannot be said of candidates of the other two major parties.

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