Here are three factors that could potential lead to a surprise outcome in Kenya’s presidential election tomorrow.
1. Turnout: To be honest, we don’t really know what to expect with regard to turnout figures tomorrow. As Charles Hornsby notes here:
For some time I have been wrestling with an ethical problem. Reviewing the 2013 turnouts, in comparison with that from previous national elections since 2002, it became clear with the benefit of hindsight that turnouts were implausibly high not just in Luo Nyanza and Central Province, but in many other places…….. The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain.
In other words, there is good reason to believe that the 2013 turnout figures were artificially high.
The use of technology and a raft of reforms, including the planned announcement of results at the constituency-level, are supposed to minimize opportunities for political parties to gin up turnout in friendly areas this time round. If these safeguards work, we will all be flying blind with regard to our turnout-based predictions of the final outcome in the presidential election. All I can say for now is that Kenyatta has a structural advantage over Odinga on likely turnout, but that if Odinga matches Kenyatta on turnout (especially in Coast and Western regions) he will most likely become Kenya’s fifth president.
2. Technology: The Kenyan public’s perception of the integrity of the polls will crucially hinge on how well the IEBC’s Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) is judged to work. Kenya is holding one of the most expensive elections in the world (judged by cost per vote). And the use of expensive technology has been touted as a way of minimizing human discretion and, therefore, opportunities for vote rigging. But technology only works as well as humans allow it to. And sometimes stuff hits the fan. In addition, the IEBC only partially tested its results transmission system. Which means that there will most likely be hiccups in the data transmission process from the country’s 40,883 polling stations. Widespread technological failures will tarnish the integrity of the outcome, and could be a catalyst for political instability.
3. The accuracy of opinion polls: Throughout this cycle, all polls except one have shown Kenyatta to be ahead of Odinga. In the recent past the polls have certainly tightened, with Kenyatta leading Odinga by 3 percentage points or less. But what if the polls are wrong? In 2013 they underestimated Kenyatta’s support by about 2 percentage points, on average. The same inherent bias may be at play this year, or it could be reversed. One important factor to look out for will be the effect of local gubernatorial races on the presidential race. For instance, the outcomes of local contests in counties like Machakos, Bomet, Narok, Meru, and Bungoma will likely have non-trivial effects on the presidential race in the same counties. Yet throughout this cycle there has been very little effort to calibrate the national polls using information from the state of county contests. And so while I believe that existing opinion polls give a fairly accurate depiction of the state of the race, only the final vote counts will tell.