A closer look at the polls
Delano Franklyn, Guest Columnist
Polls are snapshots. They reflect happenings of the moment and not of the future.
The recently published Bill Johnson polls by The Gleaner must be viewed in that context. However, the polls are not to be dismissed because the results are not in keeping with anyone's liking. They must be rigorously assessed in order to determine what value, if any, they may be to governance, in general, and the party political process, in particular.
The polls published last Sunday showed that Andrew Holness (46 per cent) led Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (26 per cent) when the question "Who do you think would do a better job as prime minister?" was asked.
Also, 73 per cent of the respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction when asked, "Do you think things in Jamaica are going in the right direction these days or are they going in the wrong direction?"
There are a few observations that can be made from the responses to Sunday's polls:
1) In early December 2011, Mr Holness (42 per cent) led Mrs Simpson Miller (39 per cent) when the question "Who do you think would do a better job as prime minister?" was asked.
This majority response led some, including The Gleaner, to predict that the People's National Party (PNP) would lose the pending election. To the contrary, on December 29, 2011, Mrs Simpson Miller led the PNP to one of its largest victories ever. The most significant player in that campaign was Mrs Simpson Miller, who, based on her popularity on the ground, brought home many marginal constituencies.
The Bill Johnson poll then underestimated the impact Mrs Simpson Miller would have had on the electorate. If Bill Johnson got it wrong in 2011, who says he is right in 2014?
2) According to the Bill Johnson poll, in December 2011, Mr Holness had a 42 per cent, and in September 2014, a 46 per cent favourability rating - a difference of four per cent. This is just one per cent outside of the margin of error of +3% or -3%.
In December 2011, Mrs Portia Simpson Miller had a favourability rating of 39 per cent, and in September 2014, 26 per cent - a difference of 13 per cent.
The figures indicate that support for Mr Holness has basically remained static, while those for Mrs Simpson Miller have fallen. This means that the support which has moved away from Mrs Simpson Miller has not shifted to Mr Holness.
3) The undecided have moved from 19 per cent in December 2011, to 28 per cent in September 2014 - an increase of nine per cent. This increase of nine per cent in undecided persons, based on a reading of the polls, seems to have previously supported the PNP. The questions which may be asked are: (a) Why have they moved away from the PNP? and (b) what can, and must, be done by the PNP to recover their support?
MOVING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
In relation to the 73 per cent of the respondents who said that the country was heading in the wrong direction, it is interesting to note that when broken down, the main concerns are jobs/unemployment (65 per cent), crime (44 per cent), trying to survive (40 per cent), no money (20 per cent) and high cost of living (15 per cent).
None of the above is surprising. They all reflect the reality on the ground. The number one issue facing the people is that of the scarcity of jobs. Jobs will not come overnight. As the country embarks on the required fiscal adjustments to right-size the economy, the burden will be felt by the majority of our people.
As the prime minister acknowledged on April 29, 2014, "the severity of the fiscal adjustment which has to be undertaken is causing hurt for all of us. No one has been spared - the poorest households, middle-income professionals who operate on a fixed income, and business persons with large and small enterprises".
By making this observation, the prime minister shows that she is cognisant of the fact that the economic adjustment, which is required, will and has been causing hardship. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that, consequently, both the party and the prime minister's popularity will be negatively impacted.
The economic adjustments are necessary in order to deal with an anaemic economy, which has grown by under one per cent, each year, for the last 40-plus years.
The programme of reform on which the Government has embarked is concentrated on macroeconomic stability, through the elimination of the fiscal deficit and consequential reduction of the country's national debt. In light of the responses unearthed by the poll, it will require very serious discipline to stay this course.
The primary challenge the Government faces is how to stay the course while preventing social degeneration, especially among the most vulnerable in this society. The Government cannot afford to squander the fruits of the people's sacrifice and must strive to stay on the path of fiscal prudence. At the same time, everything must be done to cushion the blow on the masses.
One of the lessons to be drawn from the poll results is that much more must be done to ensure that the most vulnerable in the society are protected from the contractionary effects of the economic adjustments.
The best way to do so is by the stimulation of real growth in the economy. It has to be growth with equity. It cannot be growth where the majority are left behind, as happened in the 1960s, when the economy grew by an average of five per cent each year, while unemployment doubled during the same period. The highest priority must be placed on the implementation of policies and strategies to increase investment and growth. This is the only real way to create economic opportunities for all Jamaicans.
I make bold to say that the only political leader with the requisite political capital and who can lead the people of Jamaica through this most challenging period is Portia Simpson Miller. Despite the hardships, we have had no islandwide demonstrations, and the industrial climate, except for a few glitches, has been relatively calm. The people still have faith and confidence in her.
The Opposition and those who, from inception, were never comfortable with her social origins as a leader also recognise the importance of Mrs Simpson Miller's leadership during this period. That is why they try to place every blame at her feet. We can expect an increased targeting of her leadership by those who would wish to see a different government at the helm. The said tactic was employed in the run-up to the December 2011 elections, but it backfired.
Every leader has a different leadership style. This includes Mrs Simpson Miller. She could not have become the leader of a major political party such as the PNP if she never had leadership ability and capacity.
Mrs Simpson Miller's leadership style is to give her ministers fiat to lead their respective ministries. She keeps herself informed by way of the weekly Cabinet meetings, and special meetings, if she has to.
She is criticised by some for not speaking publicly on every subject matter. That's not her style. Mr Patterson did not speak much and became the longest continuous serving prime minister. Mr Golding, on the other hand, spoke continuously and religiously on everything under the sun and did not last a term.
In the absence of other polls, Bill Johnson's are the only means by which one has a statistical reading of the party political landscape. Let us take what lessons we can from it.