Voter rationality shaped outcome of poll, but voter education lacking

Sunday August 13 2017

A voter casts her ballot on August 8, 2017. Voters are very rational and they are also hilarious on how they make decisions on whom to vote for. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A voter casts her ballot on August 8, 2017. Voters are very rational and they are also hilarious on how they make decisions on whom to vote for. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

Voters are very rational.

This is my conclusion after interviews with many voters in different polling stations and several counties during the polling day last Tuesday.

And they are also hilarious on how they make decisions on whom to vote for.

In one polling station, a young man came, teased by his colleague about the choices he was going to make, replied that he was part of what opinion polls called “undecided”.

Now he was ready to see what Ipsos and Infotrak polling firms would label him because he was decided on who to vote for.

I am of the view that those who usually say they are undecided already have a clear decision but find it difficult to tell the pollsters because they want it to remain secret.

But what is important is that voters generally rationalise the choices they make.


There is always an explanation by a voter on why they are voting for this or that candidate.

Important also is that they have different reasons for the choice of candidates they support for various positions.

They vote for some because of they have a good development record.

They also vote for some because they have “influence” at high levels.

There are still others who get support because they are “humble and ordinary” just like many of the voters.


Party affiliation is not necessarily a major factor in areas outside the stronghold of the party.

Clearly voters are more rational than their political parties and senior leaders.

Voters ignored the “six piece” call in some areas. They have used a “mix and match” approach to elect their leaders.

Indeed this “mix and match” approach has led to election of independent candidates even in the strongholds of the main political parties.

Machakos County is a stronghold of Wiper Democratic Movement party but got only four of the total eight parliamentary seats.

A mix of four other parties won in some of the parliamentary seats. Jubilee won in Machakos town while Maendeleo Chap Chap (MCC) won in Mwala constituency.

The party did not win the governor seat as Dr Alfred Mutua of MCC retained it.


Western Kenya has even more interesting results.

Though a stronghold of the opposition, Jubilee party won four out of eight seats in Bungoma; and 12 seats in Kakamega.

Not a single party can claim dominance in both counties. And even in the strongholds of the party, there are  instances where independent candidates ably beat the party candidate.

Voters in Suna West, and Kisumu East, both in ODM zone, voted for independent candidate and ignored the parties call for a “six piece” voting pattern.

At the Coast, only Kilifi remained pure ODM zone – without a member of any other political party. Other counties adopted a “mix and match” pattern.

This is an indicator that parties do not have a commanding influence on voters.

Voters in many areas are so rational that they may decide to defy the call and demand of the party to vote for a particular line up.

The only exception to this are the Jubilee strongholds. A majority of the constituencies voted for Jubilee candidates.


The only odd constituency is Thika Town.

They voted for an Independent. Interestingly, even Nyeri that has always stood as an odd region by voting MPs in numerous parties, this time voters supported all the Jubilee candidates.

This also points to the failure of party leaders to understand the psychology of their voters. In some areas the political parties conducted the party primaries so badly and yet expected the voters to support candidates emerging from a fraudulent process. The consequences for the party primaries are self evident even in the strongholds of the parties.


Women reps have the highest casualty

Another surprising outcome of the 2017 election is the disastrous loss of woman reps.

Preliminary figures show that only 11 Woman Representatives have been voted back.

Seventy-seven per cent of Woman reps have been voted out.

Those who lost at party primaries and sought to run as independents did not fair any better. They lost again.

The reason for this high turn over is related to what voters think should be the role of woman representatives.

In all areas of the country, voters believe that woman reps should be “providing development”. Many voters did not vote them back because they did not “see anything” that their woman rep has done to deserve another term.


Although as legislators they have the responsibility to oversight, represent and legislate, voters in the counties think they should do more.

They should be initiating development projects such as water, building schools like other MPs do with the national government aided CDF; they should be building dispensaries; and initiating projects that directly benefit women.

All this suggests that woman reps have performed poorly because of ignorance of the voters.

Ordinary citizens lack adequate information to make judgment on the performance of the woman reps. I do recall numerous interviews I had with voters in some of the counties.

Without exception they all mentioned their woman reps had failed to deliver on development.

And when I reminded them that the Constitution did not envisage a situation where the woman reps would be delivering development, many would pause and wonder about the relevance of the position.

In fact, some would go as far as recommending that the post be done away with if the members role is “only to voice concerns of women”.

Clearly lack of civic education is responsible for this form of ignorance that is widely spread across the country.


Senators are casualties too

The senators did not fair well in this election too. There are 29 (62 per cent) new senators. About 18 (38 per cent) retained their seats.

A number of senators ran for office as governors. Few have been elected.

Although 18 have retained their seats, it bears mention that senators are also judged on basis of their ability to deliver development.

But this is not their job.

They have a role to oversight on what the county governments do.

They have a role in also over sighting the national government. Then they have a role in legislating and representing the counties.

During the campaigns I heard one senator candidate – he won the seat – explaining to voters that he will be the “ears, eyes, and the mouth” of the county.

He will be listening to what the people have to say so that he can present this in the Senate.

He will be watching the county government quite closely so that the governor and his government implement projects and programmes that address the needs of the county residents. He also explained that he will be loudly raising their concerns, and their views in the Senate.


He explained that he knew very well that the post of a senator does not carry any development responsibilities.

Senators have no funds to deliver development. He argued that it is the responsibility of the county and the national governments to deliver development.

This form of public education on a campaign platform is what civic education providers should have released months to the August 2017 election.

Unfortunately it is now evident that civic education was generally lacking or inadequately provided.

All the international observers indeed have come to this conclusion: the number of rejected votes was high because civic education was lacking.

Indeed as an accredited election observer I noticed one instance where a voter ticked three boxes in one ballot paper. He said those were his choices. Through the intervention of the Presiding Officer and the Party Agents, he was given another ballot and explained how “voting is done”.

He probably did not make this mistake.

Back to rationality of voters.


When you examine how voters have chosen their candidates, it is evident that at the local level, the main concern is delivery of development.

They want people to deliver or assist in delivery of basic services.

They elect their MPs with this view in mind. Nonetheless, they have punished their Woman Reps and the senators for the wrong reasons.

People prefer politicians as governor

Twenty-two governors have retained their seats. But we have 25 new governors.

In a majority of these cases, those elected are politicians and not necessarily technical experts.

In 2013 many voters were categorical that they did not want to put their counties under politicians.

They were worried that the job of a county governor was too important to be entrusted to a politician. All this has changed now.

Many counties have elected politicians with the argument being governor’s job requires someone with skills to negotiate among the MCAs.

They argue that MCAs are rogue and only politicians can face them effectively.

Whether this will help in delivery of development in these counties is a matter of wait and see.

All that one can say is that the electoral map of Kenya is changing.

There are many factors that have shaped the outcome of these elections.

It is unfair to generalise on these factors. Every county has its own unique way of posing questions on leadership.

And everyone was looking for something different from everyone else. This is the new Kenya – as diverse as its people.

Prof Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi; [email protected]