Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election – Inside the Opinion Polls That Got It Wrong

What was accurate in the pre-election polls was that the polls predicted a three-horse race.

In the weeks leading up to the 25 February presidential election, most polls predicted that Labour Party candidate Peter Obi would win the election and become Nigeria’s next president.

But as votes were sorted and collated by INEC after the elections, nervous supporters and pollsters began to experience a sense of déjà vu. More ballots were ticking toward Bola Tinubu, now president-elect, than the polls had projected.

No fewer than nine polls projected Mr Obi to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in May. Only three of the public opinion surveys indicated the ruling party candidate Mr Tinubu would win the election.

However, Mr Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, was declared the winner of the election after he scored 8,794,726 votes. Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) trailed with 6,984,520 votes while LP’s Mr Obi came third with 6,101,533 votes.

Messrs Atiku and Obi, however, dispute the outcome of the election and have commenced a legal challenge against it.

Although the true picture of pre-election polling’s performance is more nuanced than depicted, analysts said Mr Tinubu’s strength was not fully accounted for in many, if not most, polls.

What was accurate in the pre-election surveys was that the polls predicted a three-horse race. That did not change as each of the three major candidates won in 12 states of the federation.

The Polls that got it wrong

In the third and final poll commissioned by ANAP Foundation and released on 15 February, NOI Polls said Mr Obi was leading with 21 per cent of voters willing to vote for him; 13 per cent said they were voting for Mr Tinubu while 10 per cent of them went with Atiku.

However, a total of 53 per cent of the respondents were either undecided or refused to answer. This led to several people criticising the foundation and its research methodology but the organisation said the methodology used by NOIPolls was almost the “exact same” methodology that was used in previous presidential polls in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

“In all those past presidential polls, the front-runner that was identified by our Polls ended up winning the elections, irrespective of a rather large percentage of voters who were undecided and/or refused to indicate who their preferred candidate was,” ANAP said.

The foundation published two polls last September and December showing the Labour Party candidate as the most favourable candidate while acknowledging that undecided voters could tilt the outcome.

The outcome of the 2023 election, thus, shows that the 2023 polls were the first to be wrongly predicted by ANAP/NOIPolls.

Another poll conducted by SBM Intelligence for Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria projected Mr Obi would win 15 states and cross the 25 per cent threshold in 25 states overall. According to the poll, Atiku would take 11 states and get a 25 per cent share of the votes in 27 states, while Mr Tinubu would win in nine states and get 25 per in 20 states overall. The poll did not project a winner for Imo State. It said it was “not confident enough to call the election for any candidates.”

However, the forecast was in error as the three leading candidates all won 12 states during the presidential elections. On the other hand, Mr Tinubu is the only candidate that scored over 25 per cent of the votes cast in 29 states. Atiku got 25 per cent in 21 states while Mr Obi gained 25 per cent in 16 states.

The SBM Intelligence survey polled 11,534 Nigerians and concluded that “Nigerians will need a second round to decide their next President definitively.”

Eventually, the election was decided on a first ballot. To be returned president in Nigeria’s presidential election, a candidate must win the popular vote and score at least 25 per cent in 24 states and Abuja.

Before the SBM survey, the Labour Party candidate was identified as the “preferred president” by almost 53 per cent of participants in Kwakol’s 1,008-person survey that was released on 13 February. Messrs Tinubu and Atiku both tallied less than 20 per cent.

Then, a survey conducted for Bloomberg News by San Francisco-based Premise Data Corp said Mr Obi was the preferred candidate to become Mr Buhari’s successor with 66 per cent of respondents voting in favour of the LP candidate. Earlier in September, Premise Data published a poll where Mr Obi was the first choice of 72 per cent of participants. Messrs Tinubu and Atiku lagged far behind in the Premise poll.

In the same vein, a 2,000-person survey published by Nextier showed that Mr Obi had the brightest chances with 40.37 per cent. PDP’s Atiku got 26.7 per cent, closely followed by Mr Tinubu at 20.47 per cent.

A survey by Political Africa Initiative (POLAF) and BusinessDay found something entirely different and projected PDP would win the presidential poll.

“Atiku secured 38 per cent to emerge as the preferred candidate, followed by Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who got 29 per cent, while Obi secured 27 per cent to take the third position. Rabiu Kwakwanso of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) is a distant fourth with only 5 per cent of the total votes,” the poll predicted.

None of the aforesaid polls was bang on the nail as shown by the result of the election.

The surveys that got it right

A survey by Stears predicted victory for Mr Obi in the event that a large number of Nigerian voters turned up to vote. The poll projected Mr Tinubu to emerge victorious in a low voter turnout scenario. The voter turnout in the election was below 30 per cent, the lowest ever in Nigeria’s history, and the result seemingly validated the Stears poll.

In the final results of the election, Mr Tinubu scored 37 per cent; Atiku 29 per cent; Mr Obi 25 per cent and NNPP’s Mr Kwankwaso got 6 per cent.

Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research in its report on the election predicted Mr Tinubu to win but did not also rule out the “rising” possibility of a run-off.

Fitch said while the election had traditionally been between the APC and the PDP, the vote would be a three-horse race for the first time since Nigeria’s 1999 return to democracy due to the popularity of Mr Obi, “especially among Nigeria’s urban and affluent voters.”

Mr Obi’s campaign generated momentum that many people did not expect. But the ruling party and the main opposition, the PDP, had always dismissed his popularity saying he could not triumph on 25 February. They said Mr Obi’s supporters were only on social media and that his appeal was too thinly spread across the country’s states to give him victory.

After the election, Atiku maintained that Mr Obi could not have gotten the constitutionally required spread needed to be declared president.

Mr Obi won 12 states in the contest (five states in the South-east; three in the South-south; two in the North-central; one in the South-west, and the FCT). He also secured 25 per cent in only 16 states.

“Yes, I agreed that he (Peter Obi) took our votes from the South-east and the South-south and that of course would not make him a president. You all know that to win the presidential election in Nigeria, you need votes from everywhere,” Atiku said at a press conference after the elections.

Finally, Dataphyte Research conducted a “state by state ground-truthing stats,” which involved “analysing past voting patterns, voter turnouts, voter choice homogeneity, the religious homogeneity index, and so on” and “found the current scenario to be similar to that in the 2015 elections.”

The media firm projected that Mr “Tinubu would win the popular votes and would be the only candidate to satisfy the spread criteria of a minimum of 25 per cent votes in two-thirds of the 36 states and FCT.

The organisation said there would be no need for a run-off election. That poll got it right.


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