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Opinions of Thursday, 27 February 2003

Columnist: Mahama, John

The CDD Afro Barometer Survey

My most favourite course when I studied at the School of Communication Studies in Legon, was communication research methods. Our lecturer Nana Bosomprah made the course extremely simple and interesting. I was not surprised at all when I scored an "A" in that paper at the final exam.

Statistics and opinion polling are very important for purposes of planning and implementing strategies and interventions to achieve varying outcomes. Governments, researchers, investors, advertisers, economists, you name them, would all be lost without statistics and polls. Statistics may be collected to establish production levels in agriculture; they may be collected to assess the level of access to various social services etc. Polls are principally conducted to sample the opinion of a target group on any matter of public interest. Polls must be conducted in a scientific manner in order to produce a credible result. Samples must be selected in a random manner with each member of the entire target population standing an equal chance of being selected into the sample. A poll must create a cross section of the target population in order to draw credible scientific conclusions from the data gathered.

It is necessary in surveys to show a methodology. The methodology informs the reader how the sample was collected and the basis of evaluation of the data acquired. Often methodologies run from a couple of paragraphs to several pages. This gives useful insight into what the strengths and limitations of the survey are. In some more detailed cases, copies of the administered questionnaire are attached to the survey report.

The recent CDD Afro Barometer survey received quite wide coverage in the media. It was disappointing that in outlining the methodology used, the survey devoted just one sentence i.e. “the survey sampled the opinions of 1200 respondents in all ten regions of the country (period).” This fails to give enough useful insight to the user of the survey result on the manner of collection and evaluation of the data. Where in the regions? Was the sample reflective of the national population? Was it gathered based on recent population distribution figures? What was the percentage rural to urban respondents? Did the sample match the demographic distribution of the population by gender and age? In selecting the sample did every member of the target population stand an equal chance of being selected? These and many more questions beg for answers in the CDD Afro Barometer survey. At least a more detailed outline of the methodology in a paragraph or more would have provided a better comprehension of the way the survey was conducted.

It is certainly not the intent of this column to disparage the methodology of the CDD Survey, since I have not sighted the details of it, but it would have helped if this was made available as part of the report.

In reporting the CDD opinion survey, most of the media concentrated on two main areas; the rating of the President and government’s handling of the economy. In the rating of the President the report found that 74% of the respondents considered the President’s job performance satisfactory. It will be interesting to know exactly what question the respondents were required to answer on this score.

On management of the economy, while 59% of respondents thought the economy was in bad shape a whopping 67% approved of governments handling of the economy generally. Another 57% approved of government’s performance in handling inflation.

The timing of the publication of the survey results also raises a lot of questions. The Survey was conducted in September 2002 and the results were released mid February 2003. There has been a time lag of almost 6-months from when the data was collected until when it was published. The survey report was published just after government had released the killer adjustments in petroleum prices. The timing of this report and the media’s handling of it, has created a misleading impression that despite the steep increases in petroleum prices, the President still enjoys undiminished popularity across the country.

This was clearly evident when in one of the debates I had with the Press Secretary to the President, Mr. Kwabena Agyepong, after the state of the nation address he actually said with undisguised glee, that despite the tough measures the President has taken in respect of fuel prices etc his rating remains very high. He interpreted this to mean strong support by the masses for the increases. His reference was to this very CDD report. This is palpably false.

A lot of concern has been expressed about the timing of the release of the report. Some have speculated that the CDD’s release of the report at the very time the government was coming under severe pressure in respect of its decision to increase petroleum prices was a calculated move to throw government a lifeline.

A lot has happened from the last quarter of last year to date that has cast considerable doubt on government’s competence in managing the economy. Government suffered the embarrassment of a humiliating climb down when it had to withdraw from the infamous “IFC” loan agreement. The Finance Minister’s address on the state of the economy in October last year revealed a whopping deficit in government revenues, which had to be financed by heavy borrowing from the central bank and commercial banks. Inflation had started to soar again; petroleum was accumulating a new debt that threatened to swamp the Ghana Commercial Bank. Ghana’s programme with the IMF was suspended and an aide memoir from the fund gave a critical assessment of the state of the economy. The fund predicted that if tough measure were not taken immediately, macro economic stability would be lost and inflation would soar back to 43% by end 2003. All this was topped by the 100% petroleum price increases of February this year. Labour and government have since been engaged in a squabble over a new minimum wage. New increases in utility tariffs are expected in March this year. All these occurred after data for the CDD survey had already been collected.

The CDD survey report published almost half a year after the data was collected has not been helpful in giving a clearer picture of the President’s personal rating with the people and government’s handling of the economy. It can lead to a false sense of complacency in the mind of the President that he still remains vastly popular despite policy measures which have adversely affected vulnerable groups such as the urban and rural poor.

The livelihood of fishermen has been affected by the steep rise in price of pre-mix fuel. Many families have had their electricity supply disconnected because they cannot keep up with payments of the astronomical electricity bills. The increased prices of kerosene and LPG have also triggered a return to the use of charcoal and fuel wood by many disadvantaged households.

Statistics and opinion polling are important and must be conducted with greater frequency to provide vital feedback to leadership and other critical managers of national institutions about the status of various indicators and to gauge the thinking of the people on issues of national importance. However care must be taken that such polls do not present a misleading picture of the true state of affairs. It is clear that even the mere timing of release of a poll report can present an opaque image of reality, as is the case in the present CDD survey.


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