The The main flaw in the two most recent public opinion polls on the 2023 election is their problematic polling methods that resulted in skewed data. Despite their shortcomings, they should worry the external challenger, Governor Peter Obi. Although the first ANAP Foundation poll found Obi’s chances to be brighter than those of Governor Bola Tinubu and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Obi was not the clear winner, according to the gleefully distorted data he published. Unsurprisingly, both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) harshly criticized and ridiculed him. For the second poll conducted by the ThisDay newspaper, the former governor of Anambra did not rank in the top two.

ANAP Foundation and ThisDay newspapers are two prominent organizations conducting presidential polls in Nigeria. ANAP, based on the results of polls commissioned by NOIPolls, says that Peter Obi of the Labor Party is the top favourite. ThisDay, on the other hand, says that Bola Tinubu of the Congress of All Progressives is ahead of the rest. Both polls put Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party in second place. Should Obi’s strategists worry about these divergent poll results? In my opinion, yes and no. And contrary to what the majority has expressed, the yes and the concern should be more in the favorable ANAP survey than in the negative of ThisDay.

Of the two polls, the ThisDay poll can be conveniently ruled out for a reason. It did not pretend to be scientific, not showing methodology or sample population. He gave us no explanation as to how the percentages were arrived at. One left with the impression that this may be the mere conjecture of the organization’s correspondents throughout the states.

Although the ANAP/NOI Surveys provided background on the methodology used in their project, a major flaw was noted. By conducting the survey exclusively through phone calls, it is easy to see how none of the candidates won the vote. The winner, as projected by the ANAP Foundation, was not Peter Obi. Obi came in second (with 23 percent) along with those who “refused” to reveal their voting preferences. The winner, on the other hand, were the “undecided” voters with 29 percent. If we go further and add those who declined to reveal their preferences and others who haven’t made up their minds yet, the result is a troubling 52 percent majority of voters disinterested or reluctant to vote. That is a skewed survey result.

However, the ANAP public poll result sends four powerful messages to presidential candidates whose supporters claim to have won the polls.

First, the ANAP poll gives the impression that both Abubakar and Tinubu may not get the mandatory 25 percent of the vote in the former East and Midwest regions. The nine states of the former regions, now reconfigured into southeast and south-south, have become minorities and battlegrounds in our electoral cycles. However, they are not as helpless as they seem to those who habitually ignore them. Their combined number represents 25 percent of the plurality of votes needed to win the presidential election. This means that if Atiku or Tinubu do not win 25 percent of the vote in the two regions combined and lose in any other state outside of it, they will never be able to become president. It doesn’t matter if either of them wins the votes of Lagos and Kano combined.

Second, the results of the ANAP poll tell us that it is too early to determine who could be the winner of the elections. The coy and undecided (52 percent) hold the aces over who will win in February 2023. If half this number (26 percent) decide to vote for any of the favorites (including Rabiu Kwankwaso) , the lucky beneficiary will automatically become the winner.

Third, the ANAP survey shows that Nigerians are increasingly aware of ethnic and religious profiling during elections. This could be good or bad news for candidate Bola Tinubu, who has been very aggressive in stirring up ethnic and religious sentiments in order to win “at all costs.” Still, his appeal to ethnic and religious prejudice has yet to garner overt public support. This may explain why many were not willing to reveal their voting preferences to NOI Polls. So far, a Yoruba vote for Tinubu has not been disappointing. So was an Igbo vote for Obi and a Hausa-Fulani vote for Kwankwaso or Abubakar. The poll result may be telling us that people are now more conscious of using religious or ethnic labels in their voting preferences. In other words, no one wants to be a fan, especially if their relatives show an obvious disability or incapacity. In order for one to decide to vote for a candidate with obvious deficiencies, it makes sense to hide their voting preferences from pollsters.

The fourth lesson is that, other things being equal, young people may not make the impact that their initial enthusiasm meant. The ANAP survey did not reflect the enthusiasm of the youth. Rather, it showed that the demographic most ready and willing to vote is middle-aged and older voters, unless young people predominate in the demographic that declined to disclose their preferences. The fact that the most enthusiastic population is not the 18-35 year old should worry the Labor Party candidate.

A friend of mine went on Facebook the other day to wonder why obidients, especially the Igbo supporters among them, suddenly went silent online.

“Suddenly I no longer read the posts from my amazing Igbo netizens about the presidential search for Peter Obi,” he said.

I tried to rationalize by saying that they withdrew to the grassroots for proper legwork that will result in the votes. It’s also possible that Christmas just around the corner was a probable cause; people in the eastern part of Nigeria focus their attention on earning money and arranging travel. I, however, did not mention Christmas because I understood what he was saying: that the Obedient should not inadvertently embark on actions that give the impression that they are tired, or worse, have lost their enthusiasm. The ANAP survey clearly shows that, for all the favourites, there is still a lot of work to be done on the pitch.

One of the problems facing parties in the Southeast is how to educate the electorate to vote for two or more parties in each election. Are they able, for example, to vote for a presidential candidate from one party and then turn around to vote for candidates from other parties? It may be easy for lawyers to do, but most voters will find it challenging. This is what worries the APC and PDP in the region as they see the aspiring candidates salivating as they cling tightly to the coattails of Peter Obi in the region.

A second concern is how political outlaws took strategic positions not only in the Labor Party but also in the campaigns of other parties. They are busy barking or plotting to keep other able-bodied people who want to help out. These Praetorian Guards may not hurt Abubakar and Tinubu because it is the usual way of Nigerian politics. But for Obi, who depends on the inclusion and massive support of atypical youth, this is a dangerous situation.

The PDP and APC may have gleefully distorted ANAP’s public opinion poll numbers, but they contain important clues that the party’s poll strategists will do well to pay attention to.