Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Confident Portia will call it today

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2016 | 1:00 AM
Portia Simpson Miller, president of the People’s National Party.

I must confess that at first I was mystified by the People's National Party's (PNP) positive reversal of fortunes as reflected in poll numbers showing it four points ahead of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Notwithstanding the political fluidity that was evident in the latter part of last year, I saw nothing tangible that had built up for the PNP over the short Christmas break that would cause this not-insignificant uptick.

Sure, the PNP had gone on something of a spending spree in the days leading up to Christmas and quite a number of youngsters had earned 'a food money' in the short time. Spending on bush clearing or 'bollo wuk' as a vote-catching exercise must never be discounted.

After my initial puzzlement, it occurred to me that in the JLP drawing even with the PNP in one poll last year, and in another from a different pollster the JLP was marginally ahead, it could have meant that the JLP, as the party in Opposition, had sucked into some of the anger which was directed at the PNP administration over the dead babies tragedy but, that upward jolt that the JLP enjoyed was short-lived.

Second, the ruling PNP has the advantage of power, and even though it had serious policy management issues in 2014 with the chik-V outbreak, the dead babies scandal in 2015, and the negative blip on the radar of Cameron's prison offer, in many instances the JLP is not seen as the party in Opposition but instead the opposition party.

At all times, therefore, the JLP has to work extremely hard to hammer home the failures of the PNP administration, but even harder to maintain any positives reflected in opinion polling.

The raft of positive ratings that Jamaica has been getting from international ratings agencies and from local ratings on consumer confidence cannot be discounted, even though one would have thought that these would take some time to work their way through the electorate. But, enter social media and the paradigm as to how quick information flows is upended.

In addition, consumer confidence can, in instances, bear some correlation to moving opinion polling in favour of the ruling party.

The ideal, as I have previously stated, is to conduct another poll one month from the January poll to measure the trend. That poll would be super important to the PNP because it shouldn't want to move and call an election on numbers that may move negative at the very time that election is held.

From here on, though, it doesn't seem as if there are too many PNP negatives for the JLP to pounce on. Sure, there is that matter of anaemic growth and unemployment, but those, too, are moving in positive territory.

Once the PNP gathers in Half-Way Tree today and the euphoria is bumped up more than a notch, it will be most difficult to dislodge and disturb that momentum for the PNP.

The prime minister will be in her ackee at such a time. That is if she is a confident woman today.

 

MIXED MESSAGES FROM JLP

 

In the latter part of last year when the PNP government was fully into trying to manage policy failures in the health ministry, the JLP was very aggressive on daring the PNP to call the election.

It didn't help that the PNP was suffering divisiveness in various constituencies with every Tom, Dick and Jenny loudly rooting for their personal choices of candidate caretakers. At the end of the year, the JLP was gung-ho on its readiness for going to elections.

In the latter part of 2015, the JLP was quite proud to tout poll results that showed negatives to the PNP and the performance of the prime minister. Now that the polls are not in its favour, there has been a schism, with one part of the JLP opting for bravado - 'I dare you to call it Portia' - and the other set getting cold feet and warning us about the great trickery that the PNP is planning.

Well, since when have elections in this country, especially at the constituency level, not had more than their fair share of trickery and vote-buying?

It seems that the JLP actually used the Christmas holidays to relax. It appears that the PNP was empowered by the many bouts of internecine 'war' in various constituencies to the extent that it headed to the trenches over the holidays to sort out the tension. That is now paying off.

The JLP cannot have it both ways. Already many of its diehard supporters are heaping condemnation on the pollster but that is par for the course. To each other, JLP personnel are registering a state of being perplexed almost as if they expected the results of poll findings to be in support of the JLP's cause. No other result was possible.

The JLP has been given the chance to expose the PNP administration's subterfuge in not coming straight to the electorate and telling them the real truth about calling an election now when it is not due until December.

Why has the JLP refused to drop to the hammer with force on that subject? I know. The party will come across as being wimpish and afraid to face off with the PNP in elections.

So instead of Andrew Holness telling the voters of this country that the PNP has some unpleasant plans that it wishes to sweep under the carpet for now but will be revealed once it secures an election win, the JLP joins the PNP in the charade.

It becomes a contest with each party claiming that it has a bigger set than the other.

Will there be mass firings of civil servants? Will the Government move aggressively to institute its well-needed but unpleasant tax-reform policy? Where will the exchange rate move to and will it do so in perpetuity?

The JLP is silent on these issues. Maybe it deserves to be behind in the poll numbers.

 

BIG BLOW TO JLP FUNDERS

 

Those with deep pockets who are usually called on or are expected to answer the call on funding are quite fickle.

They know that where laws exist on campaign funding, there is more gum than teeth. Funders know that giving a member of parliament (MP) $1 million does not translate to that million being spent on electioneering.

What is to stop the MP or caretaker from taking $500,000 and placing it in his own account for use by he or she and family? Absolutely nothing.

For that reason, funders are moved by opinion polls, and I fear that the JLP may see significant reversals on promises made in the latter part of last year.

I am not here writing off the JLP and making the claim that it cannot do what has never been done before: winning an election that went opposite to national opinion polling. There is always the outside chance that a flaw in methodology could have been found after a poll is conducted and the pollster may wish to revisit in another poll.

But polls are quite expensive. It is usual that if, say, an MP or caretaker candidate wants to attract a potential funder, the politician has to source funds to commission a poll. The results of such polls are never guaranteed so before the politician embark on such a mission he ought to have been informed by positive internal canvasses before he makes the move.

In other words, politicians do not conduct a poll in a constituency where you suspect you are behind the eight ball. Presenting such a negative poll to a funder is basically giving him a licence to tell you goodbye.

Earlier in the month I was approached by a group of heavy-pocketed individuals who told me they intended to band together to fund the JLP. I would love to hear from them now that the polls are in favour of the PNP.

Big Business, on the whole, has been enjoying itself under the PNP administration. It is, therefore, almost natural that they would want to 'plough back' some of those healthy earnings in support of the PNP's electoral causes.

It was always going to be an uphill battle for the JLP, with Andrew Holness at the helm, to secure funding. But once the JLP drew back in its disparate elements and the party began to acquaint itself with party coherence, there were some funders who began to take a second look at the 'opposition party'.

The most recent polls have not assisted in that cause, and should the prime minister make her grand announcement today and a bandwagon effect takes hold and propels the PNP even more, it will be extremely difficult for the JLP to work the phones and receive positive feedback.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.