You almost never see opinion polls conducted in Bamako. Yes, there are periodic nation-wide social surveys like the Afrobarometer, which studies attitudes toward government and the economy, and the Demographic and Health Surveys, which ask respondents about fertility, family planning and health-seeking experiences. But polls like the ones Gallup and Harris constantly use to gauge American opinions just haven’t been a part of the social and political landscape in Bamako. So if you ever wanted to know what a representative sample of people here thought of a given politician or policy, you were out of luck.
If you were like me, you often wondered: Just how well-liked is junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo? Is he more popular among uneducated than educated people? How many people suspect France of supporting the Tuareg rebellion? These are important questions, but believe it or not, nobody knew the answers, because nobody did polls here. Not the Malian government, not the foreign donors, not the NGOs.
Then, from the heart of Mali’s Dogon country, along came a statistician named Sidiki Guindo. Trained in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, this young man is on a mission to use social research and statistical analysis to illuminate the pressing issues facing his country. Mr. Guindo published a poll in April 2011 that compared the popularity of several likely candidates in the April 2012 presidential election. Mr. Guindo has recently disseminated the results of another opinion poll he conducted, this time in late April of this year, when he dispatched a team of 30 researchers to interview 1100 Bamako residents. And because he felt strongly that it needed to be done, Mr. Guindo told me by phone, he funded the job out of his own pocket, something on the order of one million CFA francs (a couple thousand US dollars).
You can read the results of Mr. Guindo’s latest poll in the original French, with nice charts and analysis, but I will provide some highlights below. Remember, these data are from a month ago, shortly after the government of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was installed and just before the “counter-coup” of April 30/May 1st.
- Asked “Are you satisfied that [President Amadou Toumani Touré or] ATT’s regime ended before even organizing elections?”, 64% of respondents reported that they were satisfied.
- Asked “Who is responsible for dividing Mali in two?”, 51% of Bamakois blamed ATT and his government, about 26% blamed the rebels, and 12% blamed Captain Sanogo.
- Asked “Are you satisfied with the return to constitutional rule?”, 75% of Bamakois responded positively.
- Asked “Are you satisfied with the composition of the new government?”, 80% responded positively.
- Asked “Should Dioncounda Traoré continue as president after the 40-day interim period?”, 52% of Bamakois said he should remain in office, 43% said he should be replaced, and 5% were indifferent.
- Asked “Should the situation in the north be resolved through force or negotiation?”, 54% opted for force versus 45% for negotiation.
- 66% of respondents saw ECOWAS as helping Mali fight the rebellion, 27% saw ECOWAS as neutral, and 6% saw ECOWAS as aiding the rebellion.
- 39% of respondents saw the USA as helping Mali fight the rebellion, 51% saw the USA as neutral, and 9% saw the USA as aiding the rebellion.
- 15% of respondents saw France as helping Mali fight the rebellion, 30% saw France as neutral, and 55% saw France as aiding the rebellion.
- The three most popular figures on the national political scene were Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra (78% favorable rating), former prime minister and presidential candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (76% favorable rating), and Captain Amadou Sanogo (65% favorable rating).
- The three least popular figures were Amadou Toumani Touré (29% favorable), Oumar Mariko (26%) and Modibo Sidibé (26%).
I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this poll too good to be true? Can we really expect an altruistic statistician to sound out public opinions that governments and private agencies have been either unable or unwilling to measure themselves? Does Mr. Guindo really know what he’s doing? Could he have some hidden agenda?
Given what we don’t know about Mr. Guindo, it may be wise to take these polling data with a grain of salt. And yet they seem plausible, if only because they show Bamakois to be closely divided on key questions (e.g. who should be president, or how to respond to the northern rebellion). Also quite plausibly, they show Bamakois to be highly critical of the ousted ATT government.
A few days after the March coup d’état, I wrote about local perceptions of political legitimacy and the fact that a legal mandate appeared to be neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a leader to be perceived as legitimate in the eyes of Bamakois. In revealing the broad public support for the coup and the conduct of its leaders, as well as overwhelming public disapproval of ATT’s rule, this poll — if it’s accurate — would confirm the preliminary impressions I sketched out then.
Whatever the merits and faults of Mr. Guindo’s work, we can hope that it blazes a trail for more social research to come, conducted by concerned Malians and extending to all regions of the country. If Mali is to get its democracy back on track, having a reliable way to measure public opinion — something those of us in the developed world take for granted — will be a valuable tool.
Correction: An earlier version of this post described the April 2011 poll as predicting a victory by Modibo Sidibé in the 2012 presidential elections; in fact Sidibé was only identified as the most popular of the candidates belonging to the ADEMA party, none of whom however was the most popular choice among those polled.