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Opinion polls; the bitter truth

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Research World International (RWI) published its first ever political opinion poll on May 22 which has become controversial. Dr. Patrick Wakida, who is the chief researcher and RWI chief executive, spoke to The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati.

What motivated you to do this political poll?

It is one of the work priorities. It is our role as an agency because these are issues in the public debate presented by the media. We wanted to understand the opinion of the public a year after the election. We wanted to find out if the people are better off. These are the debate issues in the media and of course we wanted to contribute to debate of who people think should be the president. You have heard religious leaders say President Museveni should consider retiring. But what are the common people thinking, that’s what we set out to find.

There are people who think you are setting your own agenda by splashing new names like Rebecca Kadaga, Janet Museveni, onto the presidential scene. Some are even thinking you could be NRM strategists. What are you up to?

That debate should be there and that’s what makes it interesting. When we went to the field there are names that we least expected when we started analysing the data. That is what research is about; it has to find out new knowledge. If you asked me what contribution have you made to the debate it is as naked as you see it. I want the public to know that much as I have a political side, it is not even closer to the NRM or the opposition and they know. My line of thinking is that professionalism rides over other things. That’s the level of sincerity that human beings should be able to exhibit. I can never be employed by anybody. I want to contribute to society.

So what political affiliation are you close to because prior to 2011 presidential election you were named among the IPC taskforce to steer research?

Yes that is true.  I was involved with the IPC in that regard. And if the NRM paid me today to do research for them I would it. That’s my business. If you hired me and you want the result to change I will tell you to go and change it yourself.

Carrying such research is very expensive. Who is funding you?

Corporate Social Responsibility is part of modern management and we did the poll as a way of giving back to our society. On every project we do, there is a part of money that is set aside for Corporate Social Responsibility and ours is focused on guiding the public and promoting the public voice so that the people in authority can act on that information to do what people need. We funded ourselves and it was not very little money. We only spent some money in the 23 field teams who spent 16 days collecting data and our office team did the rest of the work based on their salaries. Our company has the ability to fund its works. We want to be different and give back to our people.

There have been questions on sample size of your poll. Why should people rely on your poll?

Consumption of research in this country is still at its lowest. I have heard many people even those I did not expect to say the sample is very small; to me it represents ignorance about research. It is not anything beyond that. Whether it is medical research or social research you don’t need to collect all Ugandans in order to know what they say about a particular issue. You only need a small sample. The answer that is given when aggregated you arrive at the results. We are professionals in this market. We will conduct polls periodically and perceptions change with time and in future polls will show it.

Are opinion polls becoming a new ground for business?

We didn’t do this for business and that would be ridiculous to us. Probably we would have made a lot of money but we have given out the report almost free of charge. Yes, it generates quite a lot of interest. The public out there want to have a voice and the government wants to hear that inside voice. Opinion polls generate bitter truth. On the surface, politicians will go out there and bash it but inside them they will know it is the truth. I have received calls from both the NRM and opposition agreeing to the poll results and asking for detailed copies.

Why should Ugandan politicians take your poll seriously?

Opinion polls in the developed world are used to determine who the next leader is. They are used to shape opinions on particular issues in the country. If correctly done, an opinion poll, can precisely tell what will happen. These polls should be in the interest of politicians. Just as I said, polls are bitter truths. It is important that the politicians know what their consumers, the voters are saying and address their concerns or else they will not buy your product/brand of politics.  It is important they know their baseline; where the support is headed, and why support is declining or increasing.

Your poll agreed with the Electoral Commission that 42% did not vote in the previous election, did you find out why they did not vote and why they are not transferring their support to either political party?

Some said they did not vote because their names did not appear on the voters’ register. Others said the election would be rigged anyway and did not want to waste their energy. Some women said their husbands stopped them from participating. Some sat back anticipating there was likely to be chaos. The reasons to motivate them to vote they say will be passing of the electoral reforms. Some said they did not have confidence in the electoral system. Basing on these results, if the NRM had changed the electoral commission the outcome of the election would have been different. People are saying that the electoral commission does not work for them. The study is speaking of what is required in the electoral process.

Who is Dr Patrick Wakida and what motivates him?

Wakida has worked with TNS Research International as senior research executive later chief executive managing Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan. There are many people out there with the skills of research and, as long as they can follow its principles, they can contribute to the governance of this country. I spent time convincing many that we cannot continue consuming research from outside Uganda all the time. We can have a home-grown institution that can shape the opinion and businesses in this country and contribute to development. If you read the response of Hon Janet Museveni to the Afrobarometer poll, she was so much on who are they and where are they coming from. These foreigners come and prescribe things for us. As Research World International (RWI) we come to bridge that gap. Even when a foreign company conducts research, we can peer review it.

So what is RWI, where is your other work?

RWI started in 2007 as an agency being contracted by big institution in research work until 2009. RWI has helped companies grow. We have been able to contribute to the telecom business and told them how to increase their customers; we have done work for banks on their brands and how to attract more customers and told them what customers’ perceptions of their brand are in Uganda.  Currently we are one of the biggest companies in the country doing surveys on competitive markets; to be able to tell this is what one needs to do to hold on to the market. Because of this we have a huge clientele. We have done several market surveys such as customer satisfaction polls in Uganda.

Then you have largely been doing market research?

Yes, we are a very strong market research company. We have researched in areas that try to understand what drives customers to your product which is the same as asking what drives people to FDC or NRM or DP; and therefore how satisfied are those supporters with the agenda of the political party.

Whom do you work with?

This company is a constituency of experts in research. We have people who have experience stretching 20 years as managers. We have people who have been in academia. They have been teaching research and it is time for them to generate that knowledge and shape the public. The team consists of anthropologists, statisticians, public health post-graduates, and some who have worked with leading research firms like Synovate in the county. What defines us is to have a mind that we are professional researchers and our political inclinations come later.

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