Afrobarometer, Centre for Social Research fall out over Malawi opinion polls

An opinion poll that was sanctioned by a US based programme, Afrobarometer, and which was being carried out by the Centre for Social Research (CSR) at the University of Malawi has created a huge rift between the two after the latter raised concerns of serious interference by Afrobarometer in the way the research was to be conducted.

The Afrobarometer is a research project that measures public attitudes on economic, political and social matters, mainly in Sub Saharan Africa.

Malawians will on May 20, 2014 vote in the first ever tripartite elections. Afrobarometer  in partnership with CSR have been conducting a survey in Malawi ahead of the polls to ascertain which presidential candidate and political party are likely to win the elections in Malawi on May 20.

Four front runners- Malawi 2014 presidential candidates: Joyce Banda, Lazarus Chakwera, Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika
Four front runners- Malawi 2014 presidential candidates: Joyce Banda, Lazarus Chakwera, Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika

Nyasa Times reported recently that the survey results by Afrobarometer and CSR were due for release this week. However, a serious misunderstanding between the two partners will delay the release of the survey, which was mainly conducted in markets across Malawi.

According to sources close to the survey, Afrobarometer officials seriously interfered with the clerks CSR had engaged to tabulate research data.

Insiders reveal that Afrobarometer officials on the ground fed the clerks with wrong methodologies and that there seemed to be some “powerful invisible hand” of some opposition political party attempting to manipulate the results of the survey in its favour and that of its presidential candidate.

Afrobarometer has since suspended CSR from the projects following the serious concerns the Centre raised about the credibility of a survey that was clearly marred by flouting of set guidelines for such an exercise and that blatant interference by Afrobarometer officials, who were not supposed to be part of the actual interviews and tabulation of data in the first place.

A senior CSR official confirmed there have been “disagreements purely on professional grounds”. He, however, said they are discussing how based they can resolve the matters.

“However, should there a stalemate, then CSR will have to publicly distance itself from whatever results the Afrobarometer may wish to make public because they will lack the necessary credibility. Surely, we wouldn’t want to tarnish a good reputation we have extremely worked had to build,” said the official, who claimed he had information Afrobarometer intends to go ahead to announce results of a survey that its own partner, CSC, has serious concerns on.

“We hear they still want to go ahead; it’s up to them but we would find that quite unethical as well as unprofessional especially as it concerns a project with international standing,” she said.

Out of 12 presidential pretenders, only four candidates currently stand a chance of occupying State House after the polls – President Joyce Banda of the People’s Party (PP), Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF), Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Reverend Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

In April, Research Tech Consultants released findings of an opinion poll which favoured President Joyce Banda to win the presidential race.

However, opposition, political commentators and  other  electoral stakeholders questioned the credibility of the poll.

A prediction by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) followed by an opinion poll conducted by Nyasa Times online and face-to-face interviews also tipped Banda to win the elections.

The opposition have also issued conflicting polls over their popularity.

In their survey in 2012, Afrobraometer predicted that Banda is likely to win the 2014 presidential elections with a small margin.

According to one of Afro barometer’s lead investigators in Malawi, Joseph Chunga from Chancellor College, the poll indicated that PP is the most supported party trailed by DPP and UDF.

Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Maxon Mbendera has warned that opinion polls can hurt and contribute to voter apathy if not handled with care.

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