Lebanon: The Return of the Pollsters
By: Maha Zaraket
Published Wednesday, February 6, 2013
As the debate over what election law to adopt grinds on in parliament, Lebanon’s election pollsters are back in the media spotlight. Will their forecast this time be closer to the mark than the predictions they made in 2009?
“The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) is losing ground in the Metn, with some gains registered over the last two months. On the the other side, March 14 is advancing, but the dominance of the FPM continues.”
These perplexing statements come from Rabih al-Habr, the general manager of Statistics Lebanon. Habr was asked about one of the first polls conducted in the Metn region, north of Beirut, ahead of the June parliamentary elections.
Habr’s interviewer did not press him to explain such contradictory results, so Al-Akhbar decided to ask Habr directly to decipher his conclusions.
Habr admits that his convoluted response was intentional. It appears to be one of the secrets of the trade, particularly given that the elections are still months away and the politicians have not decided on an election law yet.
But after some further clarifications, Habr sums up the situation in the Metn by saying that “the elections are going to be tight, with a modest lead for the FPM.” He adds that both Sami Gemayel and Michel al-Murr are polling well in the district.
How do Statistics Lebanon’s results compare to other pollsters?
Mohamad Shamseddine from Information International largely agrees. Without going into the details of a recent poll his agency conducted, he says “all I see before me is a repeat of the 2009 elections.”
For his part, Kamal Feghali, director of the Bureau of Statistics and Documentation does not hesitate in predicting that “the Aounists chances are faltering,” and that if the elections were held today according to the current election law, Gemayel and Murr will be the top two vote-getters in the Metn.
“According to my information and experience,” Feghali explains, “the results of our polls never differ – we diverge in our analysis. Generally speaking, our numbers are same.”
Habr and Feghali, for example, agree when it comes to the race in the Keserwan district: The FPM will face tough competition there and may even lose all five of their seats if they don’t wage a strong campaign.
All three defend their record in the 2009 election results. To support this claim, Habr says that “the politicians are fighting over us this year, and we went with the best offer.”
He, like Feghali, refers us to the record, pointing out “that the results I presented were always conditioned on voter turnout and the outcome of the 2005 elections.”
Shamseddine warns that “all that is being said today is conjecture. We cannot be certain until all the factors that will shape the elections come together – most importantly, the election law and the electoral alliances.”
Asked if politicians fashion their lists according to the polls, Habr answers candidly: “It is like that. Our opinion can knock a nominee off the list, that is why we work with a conscience. Many come asking that we produce results boosting their chances, and I refuse for ethical reasons.”
Feghali’s response is slightly different, suggesting that his “influence in nominating a candidate is zero, but I offer advice. For example, my statistics may show that young people are leaning toward the Lebanese Forces, so I advise the Aounist candidate to focus more on them.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.