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15 January 2010

KyivPost: Of planned exit polls, which are trusted?

There will be at least six exit polls conducted during Ukraine’s Jan. 17 presidential election, but don’t expect all of them to accurately predict or uphold the fairness of the outcome, as they do in more experienced democracies.

One of six exit polls is being ordered by Inter TV
channel, controlled by tycoons Dmytro Firtash (on the photo)
and Valery Khoroshkovsky. Both are opponents
of Yulia Tymoshenko, premier and presidential candidate.

Authorities and loyal business tycoons attempted in 2004 to use slanted exit polls for legitimizing a rigged presidential vote. With only two of six exit polls being conducted in this election considered as trustworthy, fears loom that a hijacking of the democratic process could be attempted again.

The exit polls are expected to be made public via television and internet news media at 8 p.m., just after voting ends. But which should be trusted?

The exit polls of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, which traditionally have been funded by Western embassies and donors, have been conducted since the 1998 parliamentary election. Rival exit polls emerged in the 2004 presidential election and were allegedly funded by people and companies associated with the authorities in an attempt to discredit the independent poll and to confuse public expecations.

Two out of four polling firms which conducted accurate exit polls in the disputed 2004 election for Democratic Initiatives Foundation have once again been hired to survey voters as they exit the polling booth. It hired the Razumkov Center and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology to do its polling.

The Democratic Initiatives Foundation has been forced to solicit donations from businesses and Ukrainian politicians, because of a lack of traditional financing from the West.

Meanwhile, GfK, a respected market research group in Kyiv, is conducting an exit poll for ICTV, a television channel controlled by billionaire Victor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of ex-president Leonid Kuchma.

Victor Chumak, policy programs director at the International Centre for Policy Studies, a Kyiv-based think tank, said these two polling groups – Democratic Initiatives Foundation and GfK – can be trusted. “I trust the [Democratic Initiatives Foundation] poll the most, given their reputation for conducting objective polls and ICTV’s poll second,” Chumak said.

Meanwhile, Research & Branding, a firm seen as close to presidential candidate Victor Yanukovych, wouldn’t disclose who hired them.

Two sociologists suspected of manipulating data in 2004 in favor of Yanukovych are also conducting exit polls.

Those include Olga Balakirieva, who headed Social Monitoring, but who this year is working for the Yaremenko Institute, and Mykola Churylov of SOCIS.

Both were kicked out of Democratic Initiatives Foundation’s exit poll consortium in 2004.

SOCIS, a Ukrainian subsidiary of Russia’s FOM and Ukrainian Sociology Service, are taking part in a poll sponsored by Inter TV. The channel is controlled by billionaires Valery Khoroshovsky, deputy head of the State Security Service, as well as Dmytro Firtash, a former natural gas trading tycoon. Both are fierce opponents of presidential candidate and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Savik Shuster show, aired on TRK Ukraine’s TV station, itself owned by Yanukovych supporter and Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, is also conducting an exit poll.

“We know Inter’s reporting doesn’t strive for objectivity, and I harbor less trust for Balakirieva’s poll. Plus, I cannot say I fully trust Shuster’s poll given the channel’s ties to a certain political force,” Chumak added.

Kyiv Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at
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