Of Brexit and voting pattern statistics

Of recent “Brexit” has become a buzzword in current affairs discussion. It is nothing but an abbreviation of "British exit", and refers to the June 23, 2016 referendum by British voters to exit the European Union.

The law in Malawi also provides for holding of referendum. The Constitution under section 89(1)(i) gives the State President the powers to proclaim a referenda. Malawi last had a referendum on 14th June, 1993 on political system whereby the nation opted for multipartyism.

The Brexit is one of the referendums in recent times that has attracted worldwide debate and commentary from all walks of life. The vocal oval office aspirant, Donald Trump also had his share of salvos when he tweeted, “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” This did not go down well with social commentators because 60 percent of Scotland had voted to remain in the EU. This shows the important role statistics have come to play in analysis of election results.

Immediately after the Brexit results were released, statistics started to emerge on voting behavior among different age groups. YouGov Poll released its own statistics that showed that 75 percent of 18-24 year olds voted to remain. It was 56 percent for those aged 25-49, 44 percent for those between 50-64 while for those above 65 it was 39 percent.

This has attracted debate as to the disparity in interests between various age groups and others have used it to advocate for reducing of voting age 16 with a projection that the results could have been opposite if the 16 and 17 year olds had voted. The majority that voted NO will live with their decision an average of 15 years. The youths have to live an average of 50 years with a decision they did not like.

In any elections statistics are important. Campaign managers and planners need statistics to inform their planning and strategies and Malawi has not been an exception. The Commission has on numerous occasions received requests on voting behavior for various age groups and gender. It should be mentioned here that no electoral management body in the world can provide such statistics. Voting is by secret ballot and the ballot papers cannot be identified with the voter. The statistics like those above are gathered by pollsters in exit polls. They conduct opinion polls immediately after polling asking people who they have voted for. The information gathered is what is used to come up with such statistics.

In Malawi, even for access restricted institutions like prisons, they are treated as satellite polling stations of other centres. While they can vote within the prison, the votes are mixed those from the main centre so that no one can identify which candidate was favourite for prisoners.

So while it is possible to gather statistics of how many youths, women, men and various age groups voted, it is impossible to tell the statistics of who they voted for. This means looking forward to 2019, no one should approach the Commission on statistics of who the youths, women, men voted for in 2014.

For those that wish to conduct exit poll during elections they should bear in mind that it is an offence to force someone to disclose who they have voted for but they retain the right to willfully disclose it. However, it is also an offence for a voter to disclose who he has voted for within 100 metre radius of the polling station.