What could break the Raila-Uhuru poll tie

Written By Michael Maunda on Sunday, February 24, 2013 | 5:04 AM

Voter turnout and support in the so-called battleground and swing counties are among key factors that could determine the outcome of Kenya’s eagerly awaited elections next week.
With opinion polls showing a tie between the leading candidates nationally, voter mobilisation and strong closing arguments on key election issues will certainly play a significant role as candidates strive to meet the 50 plus one victory mark.
Activities and performance of the other candidates who command about eight per cent of the national vote in what is shaping up as a close election will also have a strong bearing on the outcome.
Pollster Ipsos Synovate on Friday released a survey showing that Cord presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his Jubilee opponent Uhuru Kenyatta have 44 per cent each of the national support while Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi attracts 5.2 per cent followed by Eagle’s Peter Kenneth (1.6 per cent) and Martha Karua of Narc Kenya with 0.8 per cent.
It is expected that the challenge for the campaigns especially for the leading candidates will be to raise their numbers towards the 50 per cent mark.
“Each of the leading candidates needs about six to 10 per cent of the votes to be elected in the first round. That’s why voter turnout is crucial.
It’s one thing for 100 per cent of the people to like you and its another when only half of them actually come out to vote for you,” says Ms Angela Ambitho, Infotrak Research firm’s chief executive.
Synovate’s Tom Wolf said that their Friday survey pointed to the possibility of a run-off which would occur should none of the candidates clinch more than 50 per cent of the votes cast on March 4.
But the pollsters said that certain factors could alter that prediction and produce a president in the first round as happened recently in the re-election of US President Barack Obama.
Surveys in the US reflected a pro-Obama turnout by minorities and single women so big that in some key states it exceeded numbers seen during his historic election in 2008 as America’s first black president.
Although Republican Mitt Romney did much better with independent voters than President Obama on election day, that advantage was wiped out in key battleground states by an enthusiasm the American president managed to engender among his core coalition that many analysts were writing off just a few months to elections as dispirited and fractured.
In the state of Pennsylvania, for example, African-American turnout exceeded 2008 levels, ABC News reported. In Nevada, 18 per cent of the voters were Latino — up from 15 per cent in 2008, according to CNN.
“As we finally approach election day itself, there are a number of factors that should be cited as cautions against rushing to any firm expectations based on even the final poll numbers, and however large the sample size,” Mr Wolf told the Sunday Nation.
Both Jubilee and Cord are confident that voters across the country will defy the opinion polls on election day and hand them victory.
“Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto believe in real ballots in real ballot boxes as will be the case on March 4. Let the opinion poll dance continue. It has become a science that has neither rules nor shame. Fake opinion polling will be put to shame on March 4. The changing percentages are a clear indication that the opinions are not worth taking seriously,” Mr Kenyatta said through spokesman Munyori Buku.
“The bold move to reconcile previously warring communities and taking the message of national unity across Kenya has reverberated in all corners of this country. March 4 is 10 days away. The signs are on the wall. Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are on a pedestal. It can only go one way – upwards,” Mr Buku said.
Cord presidential campaign manager Eliud Owalo said Mr Odinga’s coalition expects victory in round one.
“Our own survey indicates a lead over our opponents. Our support is not dependent on any ethnic group. We are winning this thing in round one,’ Mr Owalo said.
A major factor that could produce a win in the first round is how voters turn out in strongholds, battlegrounds and swing counties. Stronghold counties are those where a candidate is perceived to enjoy more than 20 per cent support while battleground counties are those where the two top candidates have a margin of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Swing counties are regarded as those where the top candidates have a narrow margin of less than 10 percentage points.
“Beyond any major or surprising events that could occur during the final days of the campaigns themselves that could change some voters’ intentions, the most obvious is voter turn-out, since certain parts of the country have historically evidenced significantly higher turn-out rates than others,” Mr Wolf said.
Another major factor that could help to decide the election in the first round is the possible endorsement of a candidate by some of the fringe candidates. There are however no indications this far that any of the candidates plan to fall out of the race and throw their weight behind a competitor.
In 2002, the Narc political machine that swept Kanu out of power after 40 years was born out of endorsement after that election’s aspirants George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka, dropped their bids and went along with Mr Odinga’s clarion call of Kibaki Tosha.
Analysts have said that the endorsement of Mr Kibaki by the other main players was the one that sealed the election victory for the joint opposition effort to rout Kanu out of power.
The campaigns will in the final campaign days be consolidating votes in their strongholds while combing for votes in the swing and battleground counties from which they hope that they could clinch the victory in the first round.
In the final week, the campaigns have lined up an unprecedented media blitz and will be carrying advertisements in the newspaper, TV, radio and on billboards expected to cost hundreds of millions of shillings.
Additionally, they will be majorly targeting swing counties in the coming days.
Among the areas that Cord is targeting this week are Busia, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia on Thursday and Vihiga and Kakamega on Friday.
These are some of the counties identified in the Synovate polls released on Friday as swing counties. Jubilee on the other hand will be campaign in Mt Elgon in Western Kenya and the former North Eastern province.
Additionally, they will be marshalling voters in their Central Province and Rift Valley strongholds as the clock ticks towards D-Day.
Jubilee will close their campaign pitch with a rally in Uhuru Park on Satursday while Cord will be in Kamukunji grounds. Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi will tie up his campaigns in Kakamega’s Muliro gardens.
Tomorrow, presidential candidates will also be making a pitch during a debate organised by the Media Council of Kenya. Mr Kenyatta has opted out of the debate but his main competitor, Mr Odinga is scheduled to attend along with the six other candidates in the race.
The other factor that could help to determine who wins the next elections will be the performance of fringe candidates.
The percentage they will carry may just be what a frontrunner may need to get to the finish line with the required number of votes.
The Synovate poll published on Friday showed that Mr Kenyatta has opened a razor-thin lead of 0.4 percentage points over his main challenger Mr Odinga with only nine days to go.
It is the first time Mr Kenyatta has been shown to be ahead of Mr Odinga of the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) since campaigning began.
Mr Odinga has consistently led in past opinion polls.