How the media can accept and analyse opinion polls

Once more, the season of opinion polls is here and Kenyans will be treated to all manner of results, analyses and trends in their quest for information.

And already the few poll results recently released have elicited debate, especially from politicians and journalists.
Opinion polls are relevant both to the democratisation process and investment.

If done well, opinion polls are critical tools in the current demand for participatory and all inclusive decision making processes that are paramount in our Constitution.

They play roles in policy formulation and give a pointer to user attitudes towards existing practices and trends in a country. They help voters elect suitable political parties and candidates who eventually fill leadership positions in the society.

Where handled well, they sustainably extend the media’s information and public education role, especially in the electioneering process. But above all, they are businesses!

Regulate opinion polls

Already, there are laws that regulate opinion polls in Kenya and the media developed rules to guide coverage of such. The Publications of Electoral Opinion Polls Act 2012 is in force and people need to familiarise themselves with it.

It provides for how to do and release polls results 12 months preceding any General Election. The guidelines for media on elections reporting in Kenya are also clear on how they should report opinion polls. And there are penalties for the offences.

Relatively new

Recognising that the science of opinion polls was relatively new in Kenya in general and journalism in particular, having gained both popularity and controversy, before, during and after the 2007 General Election, it was necessary that some form of regulations are introduced.

Both the law and guidelines, in following global best practices calls for responsible use of opinion polls and thus requires people to thoroughly interrogate each and every opinion survey results before publication.

The Act requires that those in the business of opinion polls must be very professional and transparent in their work and always are required to share basic information with results, including who commissioned the survey, who paid for it, why was the survey commissioned, who conducted the survey, the cost, regions covered, response and non-response rate, sampling, questions asked, calibre of staff gathering data, the period of survey, margins of efficacy and error and what were the results .

For the media, editors are required to ensure that the surveys meet 14 questions when analysing an opinion poll, otherwise the methodology should not be trusted.

Opinion poll users demand that certain basics be met by the players.

The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya.