But how accurate is that poll?
Kampala, Uganda | HABATI MUBATSI | As expected ahead of the 2021 general elections, political polling is back. Research World International (RWI), which is Uganda’s main polling firm, has released its latest survey of the population on a range of issues economic and social but mainly political.
So far the debate has focused on one single finding by the poll; that President Yoweri Museveni would not have won the election outright if it had been run in March 2020. That is what analysts are reading into the responses by those polled to the question: Who is your preferred presidential candidate?
According to the report, 47% of respondents mentioned the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, followed by Kyadondo East MP Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine by 22% of respondents and Rtd. Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye by 17%. This is a drop from 51% who had said they would have voted Museveni if elections were conducted in October 2015 in an opinion poll titled “Measuring the National Political Temperature Ahead of 2016 Elections” conducted by the same RWI.
The pollsters explain that the survey was done before any presidential candidate nominations and respondents were not given a list of names but were instead allowed freedom to name anyone they felt could be their favoured president. The pollsters say this ensured that respondents could choose anyone whom they thought was qualified to be president.
So names like Mugisha Muntu (President Alliance for National Transpormation), Gen. Henry Tumukunde (declared presidential aspirant), Rebecca Kadaga (Speaker of Parliament), Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba (President Museveni’s son), and Abed Bwanika (usual candidate) popped up. But the leading pack was of Museveni, Bobi Wine, and Besigye. Basing on this, many people are making predictions about the actual 2021 presidential election.
But can Museveni actually fail to win the 2021 presidential election?
The survey report authors quote Professor of Marketing Vincent-Wayne Mitchell who says; “The point is that a country’s political mood and opinion is in a constant state of flux, and even the general election only captures that flux at one point of time. Opinion polls are, therefore, trying to predict the position of what is essentially a moving target and that is not easy”.
The other question is how a randomly selected sample of 2,321 people can claim to accurately reflect the actions of Uganda’s population of 45 million?
In defense of his poll, RWI CEO Patrick Wakida who has a Ph.D. in social policy and research from the University of Warwick says that is not the question smart politicians should be reading into the poll.
“For me the message the politicians should be taking is probing and strengthening the areas where their support is perceived low,” Wakida told The Independent.
Poll results dismissed
And let no one forget; Wakida is a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party and erstwhile confidant of its former President, Besigye, who has dismissed the poll findings. Besigye has called Wakida as “Bizonto”, a new term to mean a comic mouthpiece.
Besigye says Wakida is on the payroll of the ruling party, NRM of Museveni. He says Wakida in August 2015 released a poll claiming Besigye would get only 17% of the vote in the 2016 presidential elections. Instead Besigye got 36% of the vote and not surprisingly, Besigye is dismissive and cynical about Wakida’s latest opinion poll. He says Wakida “can do better”.
“RWI’s Opinion Poll of August 2015, funded by GLISS and NTV showed Museveni at 55%, Kizza-Besigye 17%, Amama Mbabazi 13%,” Besigye says, “Kizza Besigye is still at 17% in August 2020! If you know, you know!”
But Wakida says politicians will always interpret poll results basing on their own opinion and interests.
“It is like a child who always thought his or her mother is the best cook only to be surprised that there are better cooks out there. That’s our politicians,” he says, adding that: “In any case politicians like Besigye and Bobi Wine should appreciate these polls because given that they have not interacted with voters and have been denied radio appearances, and they are able to get 17% and 22% of perceived votes that is great. Imagine if they were allowed to interact with voters, their performance would have been better.”
Wakida also argues that it is not fair for Dr Besigye to claim his percentage of support has not increased. “In April last year, our poll had showed he had 13%, and now it has increased by 4%. It is Bobi Wine’s support that has stagnated when compared to our previous poll”.
Wakida is right, but only partly. Opinion polls are in fact sometimes powerful political interventions that sway voters.