There is a yawning gap between voters’ priorities and the campaign platforms adopted by the leading presidential contenders.
Two new polls illustrate the disconnect between politicians and the citizenry.
The also show that voter’s minds are fixed on one issue above all else: the economy.
But in dozens of rallies the top contenders in the presidential race have held over the last few months, virtually none has focused on the question of how they will improve voters’ lives.
By focusing purely on the strategies that will land them in State House the politicians are misreading the mood among voters, the surveys indicate.
The most recent poll by the research firm Ipso-Synovate released on Thursday indicated that the key priorities wananchi (citizens) would like the next president to address are infrastructure development (40 per cent) and economic development (31 per cent).
With memories of the violent clashes that followed the last elections still on their minds, a further 24 per cent of Kenyans indicated that they want the political class to focus on peace-building and unity.
Unemployment and the high cost of living are the other two issues that voters identify as pressing needs. Those findings are similar to a separate poll conducted by Infotrak Research and Consulting.
In that poll released last month, 48 per cent of voters listed insecurity as their top concern; 44 per cent said unemployment was their most pressing problem, while 38 per cent said they would like the high cost of living addressed.
Poor infrastructure and blackouts were the top concerns for 31 per cent of respondents. Analysts say the politicians need to take advantage of the polls to fine-tune their campaign platforms.
“Politicians in other countries study opinion polls carefully and craft their campaign strategies and policies based on them,” said Prof Winnie Mitullah of the University of Nairobi.
“The problem we have is that when Parliament debates opinion polls they focus on only one item about the popularity of presidential candidates while ignoring other more important matters.”
She said voters are partly to blame for this state of affairs. “Our voting patterns are based on ethnic orientation and regionalism. That makes the politicians lazy.
“They do not feel the need to base their campaigns on some grand ideology like social capitalism or whatever.
“Voters must change this by making sure they support candidates who outline a programme of action on what they will do to improve voters’ lives and punish those who do not.”
Ipso-Synovate managing director Maggie Ireri says it is striking how focused the bulk of respondents in polls are on the one issue that they would like to see dominate the agenda of presidential candidates:
“As politicians traipse all over the country drumming up support for their election vehicles, they would do well to focus on what matters to voters,” she says.
“Bill Clinton summed it up memorably in his campaigns with the phrase, ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’” Public perceptions of the state of the economy are mixed according to the poll by Ipso-Synovate.
A combined 36 per cent think it is “somewhat good” or “very good”, 42 per cent of respondents say the economy is in “very bad” shape while another 23 per cent concluded it is “somewhat bad”.
In the Infotrak Harris survey public opinion is shown to have been shifting in the last few months over various aspects of people’s lives. In February, 36 per cent said the unemployment situation was bad; that number jumped to 48 per cent in March.
Another shift in perceptions was on the issue of the state of infrastructure and power outages where 31 per cent listed them as a concern in March compared to 20 per cent in February.
The large number of Kenyans now concerned about infrastructure probably reflects the damage caused by the rains that have pounded various parts of the country over the past few weeks.
A surge in power blackouts not seen in the country since the 1990s has been witnessed in major cities while roads, including critical routes like the Mai Mahiu-Narok road, have been closed.
The Ipso-Synovate poll was based on a sample of 1,024 respondents and was conducted between April 23 and April 26. The Infotrak survey took in the views of 2,400 respondents between March 11 and 13.