Afrobarometer tips Malawi media on political opinion polls

As Malawi prepares for her first ever tripartite elections next year, survey researchers and analysts have stressed the need for the media to competently report on public opinion polls particularly political surveys.

The experts were speaking in Blantyre on Friday during a public opinion polls symposium for the media where the Malawi Afrobarometer team shared ideas on mechanics and methodology of conducting scientific opinion polls.

The Afrobarometer is an African-led independent and nonpartisan network of survey researchers and analysts that conduct public opinion surveys to gauge perceptions and opinions on democracy, governance, the economy, leadership and other related issues on the continent.

The network, which is now in Round number 5 since its inception in 1999, works with national partners in each country for survey implementation and in Malawi its partner is the Centre for Social Research of University of Malawi.

Kathleen Addy- We consider media as strategic partner- Photo by Lucky Mkandawire
Kathleen Addy- We consider media as strategic partner- Photo by Lucky Mkandawire

Afrobarometer Outreach Coordinator responsible for Communications, Kathleen Addy, said it was important for the media to report effectively on public opinion polls to avoid misleading citizens.

She said Afrobarometer regards the media as a central partner because of its important role it plays in disseminating results of the polls.

“We consider media as a strategic partner in Afrobarometer because where as our strength lies in collecting and producing the data, the strength of the media lies in dissemination that puts the information out there,” she said.

Addy, who is based in Accra, Ghana, said Afrobarometer has embarked on strengthening its partnership with the media so that data is pushed into strategic spaces and becomes beneficial to the citizens.

“We want to leverage our relationship with the media and to help us push the data into spaces that will be effective for our citizens,” said Addy who works for Ghana’s Centre for Democratic Development (CDC) which is one of the four core partners of Afrobarometer.

The other three partners are in Kenya for East Africa, Benin (West Africa-Francophone) and South Africa for the Southern Africa.

The outreach coordinator then appealed to media houses to ensure maximum use of Afrobarometer data which is readily available and for free.

“We are aware that most media houses are also conducting their own public opinion polls but producing and analysing data is very expensive. It consumes a lot of resources, time and requires capacity so instead of conducting their own surveys we encourage media houses to use the already available data by Afrobarometer at no cost,” she implored.

Afrobarometer Malawi Coordinator, Dr Maxton Tsoka, of Centre for Social Research in Zomba observed that their surveys have not had a significant impact on the public because of lesser interaction with the media.

“We realised that it was a missed opportunity without engaging the media more meaningfully and from now we want to have more impact on the public by engaging more with the media because that is the only way we can get to them,” he said.

Afrobarometer’s goal is to give the public a voice in policy making processes by providing high quality public opinion data to policy makers, policy advocates and civil society organisations (CSOs), academics, the media, donors and investors including ordinary Africans.

Afrobarometer Round 1 (in 1999) started with 12 countries but now, in Round 5 (2011-2012), it is covering 35 African countries with Southern Africa having the most number of participating countries.

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