Understanding Gallup poll: Joyce Banda got 51% approval rating

Gallup,Inc,founded by George Gallup in 1935, is an authoritative American research-based, global performance-management consulting company. The Gallup Poll is the division of Gallup that regularly conducts public opinion polls. It has measured and tracked the public’s attitudes concerning political, social, and economic issues for many, many years.

Between August 4 and 6, 2014, African leaders converged on Washington DC, United States of America, to attend the first-ever US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. Gallup took the opportunity to release a ‘scorecard’ for 26 sub-Saharan African presidents surveyed in 2013 in terms ‘job approval ratings’ to coincide with that summit.

According to Gallup, many of the African leaders who attended the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit received job approval ratings higher than 50 percent, which was encouraging.

Joyce Banda received 51 percent approval rating
Joyce Banda received 51 percent approval rating

Now, it depends on which side of the fence one is in the way one analyzes the results of the survey. An on-line news outlet in Malawi went to town on Joyce Banda, former Malawi President, as being named by Gallup as “one of the worst African leaders” in that survey. My foot! How on earth could someone who scored a 51 percent rating be regarded as “the worst”?

Without actually dwelling much on the reasons why the on-line publication decided to scream with that headline(Joyce Banda one of Africa’s worst leaders—poll), it is more than imperative to put things in their proper perspective and do justice to the time-honoured tradition of journalism.

In the first place, it is important to know that the Gallup poll did not ask the question ‘who is the worst president?’ The poll was basically an approval rating of African presidents based on their job performance over the period in question, in which case Joyce Banda received 51 percent approval rating. Many others got lesser approval ratings.

The on-line publication may have interpreted the Gallup ‘scorecard’ based on their own strange reasoning because even the pollster did not discuss “the worst” aspect in their interpretation of the results. Obviously, Gallup are aware that there are other dynamics than just ‘job performance’ that might have contributed to the ratings of individual presidents.

For discussion sake, it is important to mention that many of the countries that polled higher than Malawi, for instance, are autocracies where people’s rights and freedoms rarely or do not exist. There is no free press and freedom of expression.

There  are called ‘closed societies’ in these countries where citizens may ‘approve’ their president not necessarily because they are actually performing very well but because of fear. There is limited democracy and good governance in such countries. To drive the point home, Malawians could have rated His Excellency the Life President Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda highly during his authoritarian one-party dictatorship if they were asked to rate his performance by Gallup.

Some countries whose presidents polled high are conflict-prone areas like Mali, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Niger. So, in a survey like the one Gallup conducted, citizens in such countries would rate their president highly not based on their individual performance but rather in appreciation of a unifying figure, who is the incumbent leader. They have nothing to lose to ‘approve’ of an incumbent president where some semblance of peace and unity prevails.

The other point worthy noting is that the survey may not be completely accurate owing to the fact that the individual presidents surveyed preside over countries with different economic dynamics. Some of them preside over economic systems that have been high performing over many, many years, owing to the vibrancy of their private sector. Other countries are extremely rich in natural and mineral resources where the welfare of citizens is not necessarily dependent on a high or low performing president!

It is therefore extremely preposterous to insinuate that Malawi’s former Head of State, Joyce Banda is one of “the worst performing presidents” because she is not.

In the first place, Joyce Banda got 51 percent approval rating. Secondly, the survey was conducted when she was in office for one year, having inherited a near-collapse and sick economy. It could have been unrealistic if any president could have polled 80 percent under such a toxic economic environment.

Finally, Joyce Banda is not a sitting president. It is imperative that, as a matter of urgency, the on-line publication in question must graduate from its narrow-mindedness and start to think broadly, beyond the former president.

By releasing the poll to coincide with the US-Africa summit, Gallup’s focus may have been orienting towards the current African leadership and how it relates to its own people. Former presidents, like Joyce Banda, are as such inconsequential in this equation.

  • Xavier Kadzemawa is a political scientist. He is currently a Nyasa Times consultant researcher


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