Was the IEBC’s distribution of BVR kits for mass voter registration fair?

In 2013 a number of pundits declared that the Kenyan election was effectively decided on the day the IEBC ended its mass voter registration exercise (It was not, turnout won the election for Kenyatta). As a result, Kenyatta’s campaign team came up with the narrative that victory was inevitable on account of the “tyranny of numbers”. This year Odinga’s campaign has adopted a similar tactic with its claim of heading of movement of “ten million” voters. The total number of registered voters in Kenya is just over 19m.

The idea that the elections can be won at the close of registration brings to mind the neutrality of the IEBC when deciding how to allocate finite resources for mass voter registration. To assess this I looked at the distribution of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits relative to a number of factors, including Kenyatta’s vote share in 2013, county area, county population, population per electoral units (wards and constituencies), and the number of electoral units.

Here are the summaries:

1.  Being an incumbent, it is conceivable that Kenyatta would have wanted to influence the allocation of BVR kits. But there is no obvious relationship between Kenyatta’s county-level vote share in 2013 and the distribution of BVR kits ahead of the 2017 election. The pro-Kenyatta counties of Nakuru, Kiambu and Meru that received a lot of kits also have large populations. If anything, it appears that pro-Odinga counties got more kits, perhaps a reflection of the fact they had relatively more unregistered potential voters after 2013.countykits2. The number electoral units (wards or constituencies) had no influence on the rate of voter registration in the 47 counties. In other words, it is not the case that counties which had a lot more electoral units (and therefore potential candidates) experienced greater rates of voter mobilization for registration.

elecunits3. However, the population per electoral unit (wards and constituencies) was negatively correlated with the registration rate. In other words, more populous wards and constituencies experienced lower registration rates relative to their less populous counterparts. This makes sense, to the extent that the IEBC was targeting a specific number of BVR kits per electoral unit per county.populations4. Bigger counties with relatively smaller populations benefited from the fact that land area was a consideration in IEBC’s allocation of BVR kits.
kits

Kajiado and Vihiga counties beg explanation.

Kajiado registered more than 100% of its projected adult population (based on the 2009 census). This may be a case of massive in-migration after the 2009 census or the deliberate importation of voters for the specific purpose of influencing the outcome of intra-county elections.

Vihiga, on the other hand, stands out for its poor registration rate. It is noteworthy that Vihiga is home to Musalia Mudavadi who came third in 2013 and is now part of the NASA coalition led by Raila Odinga. Given that the mass registration exercise ended well before it was clear that Mudavadi was not running for president, the low registration rates in Vihiga raise questions about his ability to turnout the vote come August 8th.

Finally, while it is hard to discern what happened within counties — the effort of IEBC agents is unobservable — it is fair to say that political considerations do not appear to have influenced the number of BVR kits deployed to the counties for the mass voter registration exercise.

Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of Raila Odinga in the first post-nomination poll

Ipsos just released a poll in which President Uhuru Kenyatta leads Hon. Raila Odinga 48-42% among a representative sample of voting age adults. While this is not a particularly good showing for an incumbent with a few achievements to tout, the poll confirms Kenyatta’s frontrunner status. Furthermore, a 6 percentage point lead combined with his structural advantage in the turnout game mean that if the polls do not narrow any further Kenyatta will likely win in the first round come August 8th. In 2013 most public polls consistently over-estimated Odinga’s support by about 2 percentage points by not accounting for turnout patterns.

A few things other things are worth noting from the Ipsos poll:

  1. Polls have tightened over the last few months. As Odinga consolidates the opposition, his poll numbers have converged on Kenyatta’s. This is a trend worth watching over the next few weeks.
  2. The number of undecideds, especially in Coast, Eastern and Western regions, is rather high. This should worry Odinga. Again, Kenyatta has a structural advantage in the turnout game, which means that if Odinga is to have a fighting chance he must ensure that his strongholds register both high turnout rates and give him an even bigger share of their votes than in 2013. That they remain undecided does not bode well for Odinga’s chances. In the table below, Kenyatta’s poll numbers are close to his numbers both in final poll of 2013 and the official election results. Undecideds appear to be voters who sided with Odinga in 2013.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.30.40 PM.png
  3. This poll may be over-estimating Kenyatta’s support in Western region. In 2013 Kenyatta under-performed his poll numbers in Western region by a whole 29 percentage points. And so while his 23% rating in Western region may be a sign that Deputy President William Ruto’s investments are bearing fruit, I would not take these numbers to the bank just yet.
  4. Odinga has made significant gains in the Rift Valley region since 2013. One way for Odinga to force a runoff (or eke out a squeaker of a first round win) would be to peel off enough voters in from the North Rift. He appears to be doing that. His poll numbers in the region in 2013 were spot on, making his 32% rating in the region believable for now. Recent developments also suggest that he is gaining ground in Narok, Bomet, and parts of Kajiado. That should be a source of concern for the Kenyatta team.
  5. It is still a turnout game, and Odinga is trailing. The bulk of undecideds — in Coast, Eastern, and Western regions — appear to be likely Odinga supporters. While this may mean that they are likely to break for Odinga in August, it could also mean that they will remain undecided and stay home on election day. Hassan Joho, Kalonzo Musyoka/Charity Ngilu, and Musalia Mudavadi/Moses Wetangula have their work cut out for them.

While a lot may happen between now and August 8th, it is fair to say that Kenyatta is in a strong position. Odinga has several paths to victory, but success along any of those parts is dependent on the NASA coalition running a near-perfect campaign focused on both increasing turnout and running up the score in their strongholds. To this end the lack of enthusiasm in Coast, (lower) Eastern, and Western regions is definitely not a good sign.

The one thing that should worry Kenyatta is Odinga’s apparent gains in the Rift Valley region. If Odinga gains traction in Bomet, it is conceivable that he would also be able to peel off votes in Kericho. It is not that long ago that both Deputy President William Ruto had to camp in Kericho to avoid an embarrassing loss in a by-election. His preferred candidate ended up winning with 66% of the vote. In Bomet, incumbent Governor Isaac Ruto is backing Odinga. And while he will face a tough time swaying voters to Odinga’s camp, it is not far-fetched to imagine that he could bag around 40%. If the same happens in Kericho then two of the Rift Valley’s most important vote baskets will become swing. And Kenyatta would be in serious trouble.

Note: Nearly all the polls this cycle will not take into account any “likely voter models.” I will do my best to guestimate turnout rates based on passed voting patterns and other variables. 2026 out of 5484 contacted agreed to participated in this Ipsos poll.