Poll: Kenyatta makes biggest gains in presidential race

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, who is facing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), has made the biggest gains in the country’s upcoming presidential election, according to an opinion poll released Tuesday.

Kenyatta’s party, The National Alliance (TNA), has also experienced the highest rise in support among political parties in the latest Ipsos Synovate survey. The poll also shows that Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga remains the presidential aspirant to beat and his party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), still enjoys the most support.

However, unlike in previous polls, Odinga no longer holds a commanding position when it comes to a possible second round of voting. The constitution requires a second presidential vote if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the votes cast. All opinion polls in the past two years, have not registered any of the aspirants garnering the minimum number of votes required to avoid a second round. At the same time, all the polls have recorded a high number of undecided voters who can still tip the balance.

Tuesday’s poll is the first time in 15 months that a discernible change in public views on the presidential race has been recorded. Since July 2011, Odinga has led the race by about 10 percentage points. Past polls have also had Odinga either tying with his closet rival or winning the presidency if the vote goes to a second round. This is no longer the case. Tuesday’s poll has Odinga losing to either Kenyatta or the other Deputy Prime Minister, Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi.

Ipsos Synovate found that Kenyatta’s rating rose to 30 percent in September, up from 23 percent in July this year. During the same period, public support for The National Alliance party increased to 27 percent, up from 15 percent in July.

Odinga’s rating rose marginally to 36 percent, up from 33 percent in July. Thirty-five percent of the people polled said they back Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement party, up from 32 percent in July.

The remaining presidential aspirants share between them 25 percent of the vote, down from 36 percent in July. The number of undecided voters has risen slightly, standing at nine percent. This is up from seven percent in July. The undecided vote, however, can still sway the election because it is much higher than the poll’s margin of error, which is plus or minus 2.2 percent.

When respondents were asked who they would vote for if a second presidential vote was called, Kenyatta, again, made the biggest gain. For the first time since Ipsos Synovate began asking the question, Kenyatta would beat Odinga, securing 50 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 42 percent. In a scenario that Mudavadi made it to the second round, he would beat Odinga 47 percent to 44 percent. Ipsos Synovate found that some people are still undecided even when presented with the scenario of a second round of voting. In both the Kenyatta-Odinga scenario and the Mudavadi-Odinga scenario, the undecided voters are eight percent.

The latest survey will certainly be a boost for Kenyatta and his party. Whether this rise in support is because of his party’s successes in recent by-elections, or something more sustained will be clearer in months to come.

The poll also challenges other assumptions, such as the dominance of former Cabinet Minister William Samoei Ruto in the Rift Valley, where his Kalenjin ethnic group makes up a significant part of the population. Only 18 percent of respondents in the Rift Valley said they would vote for Ruto, compared to 29 percent who supported Ruto in a poll Ipsos Synovate conducted in April this year. Ruto, who is also facing trial at the ICC, now trails his fellow co-accused, Kenyatta, who has the support of 28 percent of the respondents in the Rift Valley. Another 26 percent say they would vote for Odinga. Similarly, Ruto’s new party, the United Republican Party (URP), trails The National Alliance and Orange Democratic Movement in the Rift Valley in the latest poll. In April, URP almost tied with the ODM for support in the Rift Valley. TNA did not exist in April.

With six months to the March election, the presidential race is far from settled. The laws governing politics have changed since Kenya adopted a new constitution two years ago. This is forcing aspirants for all categories of elective posts to commit to a particular political party sooner than they have been used to. In previous elections, aspirants hopped from one party to another, even weeks to voting day. They did this especially if they failed to secure the nomination of their preferred party. Now the electoral law requires political parties to submit a membership list to the Registrar of Political Parties this week. This is how party hopping is being limited and politicians are being forced to stick with one political party six months ahead of the scheduled election date: March 4, 2013.

As for the presidential race, it is not a given that all who have declared their intention to run, will do so. The aspirants are yet to secure their preferred party’s nomination. The deadline for nominations is January. The aspirants have also not settled on their running mates, a decision that may gain or lose them potential votes. Then there is the diaspora vote. For the first time, Kenyans living abroad will be able to vote near where they reside. There are as many as three million Kenyans living abroad. Even if only tens of thousands of them manage to vote, theirs could be the vote that swings the election.

Ipsos Synovate funded Tuesday’s poll, which is based on telephone interviews with 2,229 people across the country. The interviews were conducted between September 24 and September 27. 2012.

More information on Ipsos Synovate Kenya is here.