Will turnout disappoint Odinga tomorrow?

Travel, conference and more travel have kept me from blogging in the last few days. I am back online. Kenyans go to the polls tomorrow. This is a post from a few days ago.

I am in New Haven (great to be back!) for a conference and visiting with friends before going back to Nairobi for Monday’s election and wanted to make a quick post on the latest in the upcoming Kenyan elections.

1. The Second Presidential Debate:

The second presidential debate was rather dull, to be honest.

The entire first half was supposed to be dedicated on the economy but mostly dwelt on the specific subject of corruption at the expense of other more pressing concerns like jobs and the modernization and formalization of the Kenyan economy (Not to trivialize Kenya’s obscene levels of corruption, but apparently the moderators do not read Blattman’s blog. The problem is huge, but there were other pressing economic issues that could have been addressed.)

The candidates were, as expected evasive over the matter – mostly giving vague answers to pointed questions on scandals they were rumored to have been involved in; from Goldenberg to Anglo Leasing to Maize to typos at the treasury.

The jester Candidate Dida provided a light moment when he asked the moderator if she expected thieves to admit that they had stolen.

The second half was better. It dealt with the issue of land. Again, no real answers emerged but it put Mr. Kenyatta – who’s family owns large tracts of land – on the hot seat. Land is an issue that has been the cause of ethnic clashes in every Kenyan election since 1992. Voters may just have got one more thing to think about before casting their votes on Monday.

Overall, I cannot say that any one candidate won the debate. However, Mr. Kenyatta lost a few points due to the amount of time spent on the land question. His main opponent Mr. Odinga even came to his rescue at one point, reminding viewers to cut Mr. Kenyatta some slack since he only inherited land that may have been dubiously appropriated by his father while he was president.

2. Election Day’s Big Unknown: TURNOUT

As I have pointed out before, the outcome of the presidential election in Kenya next Monday will hinge on turnout. Whether we shall wake up on March 5th with a president-elect or have to go for a runoff will depend on regional turnout rates.

As it is most public opinion polls point to a runoff.

However, the polls do not give us a sense of what proportion of registered voters are likely to vote.

One private poll that I have seen suggests that 98.3% of those polled said they would show up to vote. Such turnout numbers belong in Belarus. I expect average turnout to be between 75-85%.

Below is a table with the turnout rates in the last three presidential elections. (The 2007 figures should taken with a pinch of salt, for obvious reasons). As you can see history seems to be on Mr. Kenyatta’s side. Central Kenya and the Rift Valley, the two most populous regions of the country both support him overwhelmingly (according to the latest Ipsos Synovate poll) and have the highest average historical turnout rates.

Region/Turnout 1997 2002 2007 Kenyatta Support Odinga Support
Central 74.1 66.1 82.1 88.1 6.4
Rift Valley 75.9 60.8 72.8 69 23.3
Eastern 72.6 60.9 65.9 41.8 52.7
Nyanza 67.2 55.6 76.2 9.8 83.8
Western 68.1 57.1 62 3.4 53.6
North Eastern 55.9 57.8 61.3 37.9 44.1
Coast 50.6 42.1 57 18.3 73
Nairobi 50.2 42 51.5 39.6 51.9

Could turnout rates be different this time?

The answer is maybe, due to the following new variables:

  • New positions created in the constitution – governor, senator, and women rep – might attract new voters in addition to those who have in the past voted for the three other posts – president, MP and councillor (now county rep). This might increase turnout across the board, but since Mr. Kenyatta is already “maxing” his turnout rates Odinga might benefit from an overall increase in turnout rates.
  • The dropping of calls for “six piece” vote. Earlier in the cycle both candidates had insisted that voters should vote one straight ticket for the party for all six posts. However, since the nominations for both leading parties/coalitions were a total mess many popular candidates did not get nominated on the “right parties.” Insisting on a six piece vote would have lowered turnout. However, without it everyone has a candidate to vote for in their preferred presidential candidate’s stronghold. This may increase turnout since it gives incentive for say someone running in an Odinga stronghold, who supports Odinga, but is not in Odinga’s party to still mobilize his supporters to the polls in competition with the candidate in Odinga’s party. Again, a higher average turnout rate will benefit Mr. Odinga.

3. The Numbers:

The last polls before the election (about five of them) show a slim national lead for Mr. Odinga over Mr. Kenyatta, 45% to 43% on average. But since we do not know the make up of likely voters I would be reluctant to declare Mr. Odinga a favorite going into Monday. Mr. Kenyatta’s strongholds have historically had better turnout rates than Mr. Odinga’s.

And on the matter of polls, the following factors may lead to surprises on Monday night:

  • Desirability biases in the survey: We do not know to what extent those interviewed lied about who they support. And on this count Mr. Kenyatta runs the highest risk. Because of the ICC cases he and his running mate face, many higher income and educated Kenyans have had concerns about their ability to run the country “via Skype.” If such people residing in the Rift Valley and Central regions lied to pollsters because they were expected to like Kenyatta then we may be in for a surprise on Monday night. If Mr. Odinga gets more than 35% of the votes in Rift Valley and about 15% in Central Kenya he will win the presidential election in the first round. 
  • Strategic voting: One of Mr. Odinga’s many challenges has been the Western Kenya region where Musalia Mudavadi comes from. Mr. Mudavadi is the third candidate, getting 6% on most polls nationally and about 34% in Western region. Mr. Odinga gets 53% in the region and Kenyatta 3%. In the event of a runoff, most of Mudavadi’s voters will break for Odinga. Mr. Mudavadi’s candidature centres on becoming a King maker and elevating his stature as a serious contender in the next elections (2017). But if Western voters who would support Odinga in the second round decide to do so in the first round Odinga will have an outright victory in the first round.

Barring any surprises on Monday (esp with regard to turnout) the state of play is that the first round will be a close contest between Kenyatta and Odinga, with one or two percentage points separating them.

Mr. Kenyatta is a slight favorite to win the first round, but will be short of the 50% required for an outright win. In the second round, however, I expect Mr. Odinga to be a clear frontrunner since most of Mudavadi’s voters in Western Kenya will break for him. I also expect a little bit of anti-Ruto (Kenyatta’s running mate) votes in the Rift Valley going to Mr. Odinga. I am very curious as to what President Moi’s promised major announcement on March 5th will be…. perhaps an endorsement?

All in all I would put my money on Mr. Odinga becoming Kenya’s fourth president.

Latest polls, Kenya Decides 2013

Ipsos Synovate just released another poll on the upcoming presidential election. The poll shows Prime Minister Raila Odinga leading his deputy Uhuru Kenyatta by 46% to 40% in approval rating. 10% of of those polled were undecided. More on the latest polls this weekend after I get a regional breakdown of the data.

For the historical trend in the polls, including today’s, see below.


On a related note, the Guardian Africa Network has a piece on the threat of violence leading up to and after the March 4th poll. Some call such warnings fear-mongering, but I’d rather have everyone freaking out about violence and thus sort of prepared than a repeat of 2007 in which everyone – including Kenya’s intelligence services – was caught flatfooted.

Uhuru Kenyatta Emerges as 1st Round Favorite in Kenya’s March 4th Poll

OK, so as promised, here is my first attempt at looking at the numbers and what they are telling us about the outcome of the March 4th general election in Kenya.

14.3 million Kenyans registered to vote this year. Out of this (based on historical turnout rates) about 11 million will actually show up to vote. If the opinion polls are right, neither Uhuru Kenyatta nor Raila Odinga (the top two frontrunners) will get the requisite 50% plus one vote required to win the election. It is likely that there will be a runoff. About 4% of voters remain undecided. The polling trend (see below) suggests that the race will tighten over the next six weeks before the election.


The first opinion polls after the party nominations show Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the raw vote, at least according to my analysis. The overall national head to head match up in the two polls released Monday show Mr. Odinga leading Mr. Kenyatta by (48-40, Infotrak) and (40-36, Ipsos).

The regional poll tallies, on the other hand, show a different story. In these Mr. Kenyatta emerges with a lead of between 490,000 and 630,000 of the accounted for votes depending on the turnout models used. The average of the tallies show that if elections were held over last weekend Mr. Kenyatta would garner 4.5 million votes to Mr. Odinga’s 3.9. This leaves about 24% of the (potential) votes cast either spread out among the other presidential contenders or undecided.

Here is how I arrived at the numbers:

The surveys by Infotrak and Ipsos (the two firms correctly predicted the outcome of the 2010 referendum) gave regional tallies of how the top two coalitions did among those surveyed. With a few modifications (like assigning the GEMA counties in Eastern region the Central region poll results), I assigned these tallies to the different counties within the regions. I then estimated voter turnout using the numbers from the three most recent national voting exercises – 2002 and 2007 elections and the 2010 referendum. Because of the anomalies in the presidential election in 2007, I used the constituency turnout figures (In these figures, for instance, Juja and Nithi did not have turnouts exceeding 100% as was the case in the presidential election in 2007). Of course there are counties in which the popularity of either Kenyatta or Odinga vary by constituency but this is the best we can do for now. I then used the estimated county turnout rate and the regional polling results to estimate the expected vote count for either candidate in each county using IEBC’s figures of registered voters.

It is important to note that among the two polls, Infotrak asked respondents about their preferred ticket (Kenyatta and Ruto vs. Odinga and Musyoka) while Ipsos asked about individual presidential candidates. The discrepancy in the national polling average and the raw numbers I show here might be because of incorrect weighting of the different regions by the polling companies. The fact that Kenyans vote along ethnic lines and voters are geographically concentrated means that the regional polling numbers might provide a better picture than the national numbers. National polls appear to be over-estimating Odinga’s support by about 3 percentage points on average.

Uhuru Kenyatta is ahead in the raw figures for the following reasons:

  1. The first reason is that Mr. Kenyatta has the numbers. The combined GEMA registered voters number 3.9 million. That is 27.3% of the registered voters. Mr. Kenyatta obviously won’t bag 100% of these votes but it doesn’t hurt to have a vote rich base.
  2. His stronghold of the wider Mt. Kenya region had the highest voter registration rate in the country. This, combined with the fact that his running mate brings in the populous Rift Valley region, gives Kenyatta a slight edge off the gates.
  3. Kenyatta’s strongholds (Mt. Kenya) and Rift Valley have historically had higher turnout rates than the regions that Odinga will need to win on March 4th. In 2002 Kenyatta’s strongholds had a higher turnout rate by 5 percentage points. In 2007 it was 10%.
  4. The combined high population, higher registration rates and expected higher turnout means that Mr. Kenyatta is presently the favorite to win the first round of the March 4th presidential poll.

How can Odinga win?

  1. A lot of voters (24%) remain spread out among the smaller candidates or are undecided. Come election day these voters may break for Mr. Odinga for the reasons I gave in an earlier post.
  2. Mr. Odinga’s other path to victory is by ensuring high turnout in his strongholds of Nyanza, Western and Coast regions. Just by matching the expected turnout in Mr. Kenyatta’s strongholds he would reduce the deficit to about 250,000 votes.
  3. He must also eat into some of Mr. Kenyatta’s support in the Rift Valley and Central regions. If the election is a mere census then Mr. Kenyatta will win the first round (the second round is another story all together). For Mr. Odinga to win he must convince voters in Mr. Kenyatta’s strongholds that he is the better candidate.

Facing reality:

For a while it seemed like this election was Mr. Odinga’s to lose. I have since softened on this a little bit. Despite his many problems, Mr. Kenyatta can still win this election, at least the first round. In the second round everything will be contingent on who between Messrs Kenyatta and Odinga can bag the roughly 20% of votes that will go to various smaller candidates in the first round. As things stand Mr. Odinga is the likely beneficiary of these votes.

A lot will happen between now and March 4th. But key things to consider include:

  1. If turnout is low on March 4th Mr. Kenyatta will emerge the winner. His (national) base is relatively wealthier and more urban (or more accurately, more politically engaged – if you doubt this see the voter registration numbers for Kiambu county alone) than Mr. Odinga’s and thus will have a higher turnout. Having failed to match Mr. Kenyatta’s voter registration rates, Mr. Odinga needs upwards of 80% of those registered in his strongholds to show up to vote, or else he will lose.
  2. Mr. Kenyatta appeared to be the better organized candidate in getting his base to register to vote. And given the way in which his party handled the nominations exercise, it is likely that he will out-organize Mr. Odinga in getting his supporters to the polls. This spells more trouble for Mr. Odinga.
  3. The nominations exercise gave Mr. Odinga’s coalition bad press for four consecutive days. His home base of Nyanza was the worst affected. Seemingly undemocratic nomination exercises – in which Odinga’s allies controversially won party primaries – in the region may depress turnout, something that Odinga should be worrying about A LOT. Watch out for how Mr. Odinga’s party handles the nominations fallout in his Nyanza backyard.
  4. Musalia Mudavadi appears to have made gains in Western province – he is polling there at 26%. His gain is Odinga’s loss. If Mr. Mudavadi continues to gain in the next 40 days then we shall almost be assured of a run off, after Mr. Kenyatta wins the first round.

Mitigating violence in Kenya’s 2013 elections

Joel Barkan has a CFR contingency planning memorandum on the Kenyan elections in which he notes that:

The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.

But the window might be closing fast on the international community to help Kenya avoid a repeat of 2007-08, when 1300 died and 300,000 were displaced after a bungled election. According to a report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (yours truly was a research assistant for the commission), evidence suggests that international interventions to encourage reasonably free and fair and peaceful elections are most effective when done well in advance to the polling day. In the Kenyan case, the structural causes of previous rounds of electoral violence were never addressed, and may yet lead to the loss of life this election cycle.

What can now be done to avoid large scale organized violence is to credibly convince the politicians and those who finance youth militia (chinkororo, taliban, mungiki, jeshi la mzee, baghdad boys, etc) that they will be held accountable. So far, as is evident in Tana River and the informal settlements within Nairobi, the lords of violence appear to be operating like it is business as usual.

Kenyan Elections 2013 and The High Potential for Violence

In an excellent piece over at African Arguments Sheekh and Mosley give a comprehensive discussion of the recent outbreak of violence in the Tana Delta region of Coast Province, Kenya. According to the authors:

Long-standing competition and conflict over access to pasture and water resources were important factors, but did not alone provide the trigger for violence.  A range of political and economic factors have fed into the local dynamics in Tana Delta. These include longer-term trends related to alienation of local people from land due to large-scale government and private sector purchases, and shorter-term impacts related to the process of delineating electoral constituency boundaries and county districts in line with Kenya’s new constitution. The ready availability of small arms has also seen such conflicts intensify in recent decades. Lack of livelihood opportunities for the youth is also a major factor.

As such, the recent clashes are emblematic of wider trends.  Although the Tana Delta (along with the rest of Coast Province) has tended to be politically marginalised, tensions in other areas – such as Mt Elgon and parts of the Rift Valley including Eldoret, Nakaru and Naivasha, and counties in northern Kenya – could also be exacerbated by the same political factors.  Some of these areas were flash-points in the post-poll violence of late 2007 and early 2008, with major national and regional ramifications.”

Spot on.

The Tana Delta conflict is symptomatic of a larger dynamic that will play out in anticipation of the March 4th 2013 elections in Kenya. The new constitution has created 47 county governments, many of them multiethnic or otherwise diverse, that will each have three county-wide elected officials (a governor, deputy governor, and a senator). Ethnic and communal rivalries will inevitably surface in these county contests, with potentially disastrous outcomes such as what we’ve seen so far in Tana River County.

The potential for decentralized violence in Kenya’s 47 counties is a real cause for concern.

In order to limit the potential for violence, the national commission charged with policing ethnic harmony has initiated talks in potential flash-points to broker inter-ethnic power-sharing deals with the hope of avoiding a situation in which certain communities are totally excluded from county-wide elected offices. Sadly, so far there is no sign that these initiatives will work (Not to mention how un-democratic such back room arrangements will be). Plus the violence will not necessarily be exclusively of the inter-ethnic variety (which is what the commission is fixated on at the moment). Even ethnically homogenous counties might experience inter-clan violence.

While most of the attention in the next few months will be on how to avoid a repeat of the aftermath 2007-08 election, Kenya watchers should be warned that the problem will be much more complicated. If nothing is done, many counties will experience inter-communal violence. The new county governments will have real resources (about a third of national revenue) that will generate real patronage networks worth fighting for.

Given the nature of Kenyan politics, the race for the presidency (more blog posts on this soon) will inevitably hog all the attention in the next five months. I hope the contest for State House and its own risks for violence will not overshadow the county-level contests which will also be just as intense and likely to result in violence.