There has been some debate recently about whether or not it is likely that Kenya’s next presidential election will go to a second round.
In terms of the law, a second round is held when no presidential candidate secures more than 50 per cent of the votes cast and at least 25 per cent of the votes in over half of the counties. If no candidate meets this threshold, then voters would return to the polls to choose between the two front runners within 30 days of the first election.
According to the Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance, a second round is unlikely because their candidate – Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga, respectively – is so far ahead that they will secure a first-round victory with ease. In contrast, media reports have highlighted how neither candidate is currently polling above 50 per cent in opinion polls, and how the presidential race is thus likely to go to a second round.
Both of these analyses seem faulty – the presidential election is extremely close, but it is nevertheless likely to be won in the first round. To consider why, it is worth returning to opinion poll data.
In an opinion poll conducted by Ipsos in April 2017, respondents were asked whom they would vote for if an election were held. Forty-seven per cent said that they would vote for Kenyatta, 42 per cent for Odinga, and one per cent for others. Eight per cent said that they were undecided, and only one per cent said that they would not vote at all. Similarly, in an opinion poll conducted by Infotrak last month, of those who said that they would vote, 48 per cent said that they would vote for Kenyatta, 43 per cent for Odinga, one per cent for others, and eight per cent that they were unsure.
At first glance, this suggests that no one has the votes to win in the first round. However, "don’t know" and "unsure" are not choices on a ballot. In turn, the eight per cent of undecided or unsure citizens will either not vote – and thus not be counted in the percentage of votes cast – or will vote for Kenyatta, Odinga, or one of the other eight candidates.
Now, clearly, opinion polls are not an exact science: there can be biases of sampling; many who say that they will vote do not end up voting; respondents can lie; and people can be persuaded to change their mind by a good or bad campaign. However, what history has shown is that candidates who enjoy limited support in opinion polls tend to fare even worse on polling day. The reason is simple: Voter A might prefer candidate Y to candidates X and Z, but if Y looks likely to come a distant third, then A may feel that a vote for them is wasted and decide to vote for X as their second choice, or for X because they dislike Z.
This is important as, according to both the Ipsos Synovate and Infotrak polls, the third candidates – namely, Cyrus Jirongo of the United Democratic Party, Ekuru Aukot of the Thirdway Alliance, Abduba Dida of the Alliance for Real Change, and independent candidates Joseph Nyagah, Michael Wainaina and Japheth Kavinga – currently enjoy only one per cent of the vote between them.
Such limited support for third candidates does not render a second round impossible. For example, one could feasibly get a result where third candidates poll one per cent, and Kenyatta and Odinga win 49.5 per cent of the vote each, or where one of them polls 49.9 or 49.8 per cent and the other 49.1 or 49.2 per cent.
However, 99 per cent of the vote for the two front runners does render it extremely likely that at least one of them – let us call them candidate A – secures over 50 per cent of the vote in the first round. Given that both Kenyatta and Odinga look set to win over 25 per cent of the vote in 24 plus counties, this would mean that candidate A would get a first-round victory.
Gabrielle Lynch is professor of comparative politics at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.