09/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Did a US-Funded Poll Say About a Karzai First-Round Victory?

The British newspaper The Telegraph is claiming that a US funded poll indicates that Hamid Karzai will not win re-election as President of Afghanistan in the first round. "Hamid Karzai 'will not' win Afghan election outright," the headline says. The Telegraph reports:

The US government-funded poll found that the president of Afghanistan led his rivals by a wide margin, but lacked the 50 per cent of the vote necessary to avoid a second round.

The poll put Mr Karzai on 36 per cent of the vote and his nearest rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah on 20 per cent among registered voters.

A fifth of Afghans are still undecided or would not answer the survey, the poll by a Washington-based research firm reported.

...Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and anti-corruption minister, has seven per cent of the vote and Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister, has three per cent, the research by Glevum Associates found in the second week of July.

But here's how the Washington Post reported the same poll:

In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.

Arguably, the Washington Post account, by reporting the percentages of decided voters, gives us a better snapshot. On election day, the undecided/don't answer voters have to pick a candidate or stay home. On election day, what gets counted is the percentage of the decided vote. Those now undecided/don't answer who pick Karzai will add to Karzai's percentage of the decided vote, which currently stands at 45%. To win in the first round, Karzai needs 5% more of the decided vote, not 14% more. Given the uncertainty of the poll, and with 17.5% of the current decided votes going to candidates apparently polling less than 4%, the Telegraph is being way overconfident in its prediction.

This could matter greatly, because there have been press reports suggesting that Abdullah's supporters are threatening to claim fraud, and mount protests Iran-style, if Karzai wins in the first round. With the difference, press reports have said, that Abdullah's supporters have guns.

The Telegraph's claim, should it become widely accepted, could add fuel to the fire.