In every general election cycle, especially presidential and gubernatorial elections, predictions, forecasts, speculation, conjecture, and even prophecies abound as to which candidates are likely to emerge victorious and crowned winners at the end of the cycle.

Politicians often work with polling consultants and media professionals to conduct and disseminate public opinion surveys to help them design and test their campaign strategies, as well as create the necessary media buzz to gain some public perception. of a possible creep effect.

Nigeria’s 2023 general election cycle is no exception, as we have seen a number of polls released in favor of one presidential or gubernatorial candidate or another. If my memory serves me correctly, around seven surveys have been published so far.

As I read press releases or news reports about poll results and findings, a few questions usually come to mind as an astute reader or expert in this field of opinion research, polls, and surveys.

The essence of this article is to highlight a few points and a checklist to enlighten readers on how to assess the quality, credibility, and authenticity of these polls and polls, as well as discern what they might represent.

In developed climates, public opinion polls are the job of pollsters. Simply put, pollsters are people who collect and analyze opinion polls. They identify the population of interest, take an appropriate sample from that population, design questions on the topic, administer interviews using the questionnaire to collect people’s opinion, then analyze the cumulative data collected and use the results to make inferences. about the population

I’ve just walked you through an entire survey cycle, or if you like, Survey 101. However, as simple as that sounds, a lot goes into each step of the cycle to ensure that the survey results are representative enough to speak of. . for the general population. The following four questions can help anyone reading a poll report appreciate and discern a good poll from a bad one.

What determines whether or not someone should care about your survey is based on your ability to answer a few questions: How was the survey conducted?

First, who is the pollster or polling company publishing the survey? This question is important to help readers assess whether the individual or company publishing the opinion poll is a professional with the necessary knowledge and skills to do the job.

This is Nigeria, and we know that in addition to professional pollsters, there are also people I often call poll stars. These folks are the late-night pollsters who have other day jobs, but show up only around election cycles to serve as ad-hoc polling consultants.

We have seen the damage caused by these unscrupulous individuals who seek to deceive the indiscriminate public for their own pecuniary gain. So the next time you come across news reports about a new survey, be sure to check who is publishing it.

If you are dealing with a company that has been around for a while and is known for credible jobs in the past, then you should take the report seriously. But if it’s a company you’ve never heard of, you might want to read with a little caution.

What methodology was applied to carry out the survey? As my PhD supervisor, Professor Andrew Fearne, often used to say, “the rise or fall of any piece of research [and I add, opinion poll] lies in its methodology”.

In other words, what determines whether or not someone gives a damn about your survey is based on your ability to answer a few questions: How was the survey conducted? Was it done in person or over the phone, via the web or SMS? How were the primary data collected?

Was it collected manually or with the help of some kind of technology? How were the questions written? Were they written objectively or with some element of subjectivity? Who were the interviewees? How representative was the data? What was the sample size? What statistical tests were applied? What was the margin of error and the level of confidence, etc.

Scientifically speaking, all of these questions have implications for the outcome of the survey and ultimately its perceived or actual quality and accuracy. As far as Nigeria is concerned, the two best data collection methods for opinion polls are face-to-face/face-to-face and telephone methods. These two have been tried and tested, especially given the current GSM penetration which the Nigerian Communications Commission estimates at 214 million active lines.

However, when it comes to SMS or web-based online surveys, I can categorically state that it is still a tough call in Nigeria as it would need to factor in internet penetration and literacy rates of 38% and 78%, respectively.

What was the sample size of the survey? Although this question is framed within the methodology, I have decided to expand it a little more given its importance. As a professional pollster, I am often asked questions about the adequacy of sample sizes. What sample size is robust enough to ensure representativeness and allow inferences to be drawn about the largest population? My consistent response is that it’s not necessarily about sample size, but about sample selection and the necessary granularity.

So a survey the size of 1,000 scientifically selected may be fine for providing a national perspective or bird’s-eye view of an issue, but if you need a deeper dive into how things look at the state, Senate district, or local government, a much larger sample size would be needed to allow for deeper granularity. I think it was Gallup, one of the world’s leading polling companies, that gave the illustration linking a sample to a blood test. When you get sick and visit the hospital, the lab scientist wouldn’t need to draw all your blood to check what’s wrong.

You only need to take a small sample. It is this principle of sampling that we apply when conducting scientific surveys of public opinion. However, for a country like Nigeria with a population of over 210 million citizens, I would not recommend any national survey with a sample size of less than a thousand. Similarly, when it comes to general elections and the need for deeper granularity, I would recommend samples much higher than a thousand.

Also Read: Nigerian General Election 2023 And Beyond

Who sponsors the survey? Surveys can be commissioned by individuals, organizations, or groups. However, it is important to disclose who is funding the survey, so that readers can assess the level of independence and neutrality, or potential bias, of the survey results. In the United States there are professionals called Republican or Democratic pollsters, there are also those known as independent pollsters. This initial disclosure instantly informs the audience of the political leaning, or not, of the polling company.

In Nigeria, while some politicians commission public opinion polls to help strategize or test ongoing campaign efforts, others hire unscrupulous pollsters to help conduct dubious polls or, worse yet, simply fabricate figures that show that they have the upper hand and are likely to win the victory. choice. We also find some politicians criticizing and slandering credible poll results that do not favor them. All of these antics are often used to create a potential float effect and skew undecided voters in their favor.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that the culture of seeking out and actively participating in polls and public opinion polls continues to grow and is not yet entrenched in Nigeria, as it is in more developed climates. Furthermore, there are not many firms and professionals who fully understand the processes, techniques and nuances of surveys. In my experience, only cerebral, forward-thinking politicians appreciate the need to commission credible polls to guide their campaigns, and I’ve had the privilege of working with a few of those types.

Most believe that polls are not that important and that they better save their money for mobilization. So, the next time you come across news reports of opinion polls or election polls, don’t rush to consume them. Read it with an air of skepticism and think about these points discussed above as you read.

Ihua (mni) is a pollster and professor of opinion research practice at Coal City University, Enugu, where he leads the South East Barometer project. He is also executive director of the Africa Polling Institute.