Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Don Anderson: Snatching defeat from victory’s jaws

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2016 | 3:00 AM

The People's National Party (PNP) called an election and did not turn up for the event. How else can you explain the fact that in an election when the number of voters on the roll was increased by 176,000 persons, the PNP polled close to 31,000 votes fewer than it did to win a landslide victory in 2011? How else can you explain the fact that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) polled more than 31,000 more votes than it did in 2011?

The reasons for this dismal showing by the PNP on election day need detailed analysis, not speculation, both in the interest of the party itself and democracy in this country, for, after all, fewer persons voted in this election at a time when the voters' list was increased by 176,000, resulting in one of the lowest voter turnouts since our first election in 1944.

The net result was that the PNP surrendered a massive majority of 21 seats over a four-year period, much to the shock of many, including pollsters, and, indeed, persons within the JLP camp, who no doubt expected to do well because they had fought the better campaign, but who must have been surprised that they won the ultimate prize.

Since 1993, there has been a consistent worrying decline in the number of voters.

In 1980, 860,746 persons voted out of a possible 990,417. By 2011, the voters' list had been increased by 657,619, yet just 15,000 more persons voted. In this past election, with 176,000 more voters on the roll, there was no increase in voter turnout. Between 1980 and now, nearly 1,000,000 new voters have been added only 10,000 more have voted. Careful examination is needed to explain this obviously growing disaffection among voters.

So how does one explain the reasons for the shock defeat of the ruling PNP with a huge majority of 42 to 21? Many factors have already been advanced, and I will add my own informed analysis prior to conducting a more rigorous scientific evaluation very shortly.

 

PNP MACHINERY, IMF TESTS

As the ruling party, the PNP polled fewer votes in 48 of the 63 constituencies compared to 2011. At the same time, the JLP polled more votes in 53 of the 63. Where was the much-vaunted PNP election-day machinery that has stood them in good stead in previous victories? Regardless of what the polls say, elections are won on election day by getting supporters out. The PNP's machinery failed this time in 48, suggesting a wholesale breakdown of this usually well-oiled groundwork.

The PNP Government was successful in passing all 10 IMF tests. The macroeconomic indicators were all good: slow, but positive growth; increasing business and consumer confidence; significant investment plans as a result of growing International confidence. All seemed poised for a turnaround. I have consistently maintained, however, that while businesses can afford to be patient, consumers do not have this luxury. For them to buy into this notion of an impending turnaround, there has to be a trickle-down effect, and consumers must be made to feel they are part and parcel of this growth.

There was no consistent and determined effort to explain to consumers why they should endure the hardships they were experiencing and, more so, how they were likely to benefit from impending growth. Not enough empathy was shown to the patient public, who have endured hardships over the past few years. Clearly, there was a disconnect that helped to fuel the growing band of disenchanted persons.

In 2011, the PNP gained 28 per cent of the popular vote. By December 2014, the party's popular support had dropped to 17 per cent. At the same time, the JLP support grew only one percentage point. This suggested that some PNP persons had become dissatisfied with the Government largely because of the difficulties being faced in making a living and surviving the hardships imposed by the stringent IMF tests. This was the first real evidence of the PNP fallout, which the recent election has bared for all to see.

 

THE MARGINALS/VARIABLES

Some 26 constituencies were identified by both parties as being either marginal or vulnerable, and I was commissioned by both parties to conduct some 50+ polls over a six-month period. This number was roughly evenly commissioned by the two parties. The PNP lost 11 of these to the JLP and held on to seven. The JLP held on to all eight in this category. These 11 represented the difference between victory and defeat. This may be a sign that the underbelly is being cut from the PNP.

The JLP appeared to have mounted a more people-oriented campaign, culminating in the very attractive appeal to people's pockets, while the PNP focused much attention on the macroeconomic gains, the benefits of which people had difficulty immediately identifying with. In the last two weeks of this short campaign, the PNP's response to the lure of the 'more money in your pocket' theme was to try to undercut this advantage without offering alternatives that could appeal to the rank and file of the population and prevent further defection.

The social media war also appears to have been won by the JLP, and throughout, the PNP chairman's diss of the extent of the appeal of social media seemed to haunt the party. In effect, the JLP was said to have run the much more telling campaign. Politics is about marketing. The product with the better appeal will always triumph, all other things being equal.

For much of my polling career, the PNP has been seen as the party for the poor. This was so during Michael Manley's tenure and so, too, during P.J. Patterson's years. In recent polls, it is the JLP that is seen as the party for the poor, and in none of the polls conducted by me during this campaign was this given as the reason why people will vote for the PNP. On the other hand, it was mentioned consistently by those who said they would vote for the JLP.

It may still be perceived as PNP country because of its larger traditional base, but that, apparently, is being eroded and could be one factor that is contributing to the now consistently and worryingly declining turnout at elections.

 

DEBATE AND HOLNESS' HOUSE

Much has been said about the PNP's insistence about not debating. In a national survey we conducted the last weekend before the election, specifically to probe this issue, the data pointed to minimal negative effect among persons inclined to vote for the PNP, and, understandably, major impact on those not so committed to the PNP. The real impact, however, appears to be what the country took away from that decision.

The consensus was that to debate - win, lose, or draw - would have been better than not debating, especially against the background of the reasons given by the party. The weight of public opinion, not the least of which came from the media itself and the private sector, was brought to bear on the issue, and there are those who have strongly felt that this might actually have been the real turning point in the national sentiment towards the PNP.

The PNP made Andrew Holness' house an issue despite an RJR-Don Anderson January poll in which 65 per cent said that they should not do so - another example of not listening to the people. Whatever the objective, it seemed a return to the old style of politics, unnecessary for a party with a three-percentage-point lead in the polls and which was not likely to gain much mileage anyway.

Constituency disputes did not cause them pain at the polls but might have contributed to a changing view of the party. For this and other reasons, the PNP must now be thinking about how it can rebrand itself to make it once again appealing to the voting public.

- Don Anderson, CD, chairman of Market Research Services Limited, has conducted political polls in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and donanderson@flowja.com.