Debates determine voting patterns
Most of your writers have rightly indicated that the holding of pre-election debates further the democratic process and is a sign of political maturity.
A minority have queried the relevance and importance of such debates, and for these, we wish to share some of the information that the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) has garnered over the 14 years that we have been staging debates.
We draw heavily from reports prepared for the JDC from surveys conducted by the Boxill and Team Polls out of the University of the West Indies, following the final debates between the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party, in both 2007 and 2011.
The views of some 1,500 eligible voters across the country were targeted from a nationally representative sample that had a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent. Samplings were done in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, parish capitals/main towns, rural towns, and rural areas. The sample was further delineated into gender and age cohorts.
In general, the surveys attempted to assess the impact of the national debates.
Among the questions identified by the commission were the following:
- Did the debaters adequately address the issues of importance to the voter?
- Did the debates help the voters in determining which party to vote for?
- Did the debates help to clarify, for the voter, the position of each party on critical issues?
- Were the debates useful?
Most respondents (78 per cent) who followed the debates indicated that they felt the national debates addressed issues that were important to them. Approximately 35 per cent said that the debates definitely addressed important issues, while 42.5 per cent said that they were addressed 'somewhat'.
Of the respondents who watched or listened to the debates, about 57 per cent felt that the debates helped, to some degree, in determining which party they should vote for. About 29 per cent of the respondents said that the debates 'definitely' helped in determining which party they should vote for, and 28 per cent said that they helped them 'somewhat' in that regard. Approximately 38 per cent of respondents were of the view that the debates did not help them in determining which party to vote for.
CLARIFY PARTY POSITION
In responding to the question about whether the national debates helped them to clarify the position of each party on critical issues, approximately 70 per cent said yes, where 32 per cent of respondents said the debates 'definitely' helped, and 38.1 per cent said the debates helped 'somewhat'. Just under a quarter of those responding said 'no'.
The poll sought to ascertain if any of the debates changed electors' minds about who they would vote for, or whether they would vote the same as before following the debates.
On average, about 30 per cent of those who followed the debates said that they were more likely to change the way they would vote as a result of following the debates.
The findings from this study clearly indicate that voters pay attention to the national debates and, for many, the debates do help them to make decisions about how they will vote.
The results from the 2011 debate are remarkably similar to those of 2007.
- Noel daCosta is chairman of Jamaica Debates Commission. Email feedback to email@example.com.