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Sinking the eight ball - New Gayle mini-study reveals why PNP suffered in 2016 general election

Published:Monday | February 29, 2016 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding
Supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party celebrate victory at the polls at the party’s Belmont Road, St Andrew, headquarters.
Shell-shocked members of the People’s National Party on stage after initial results had the party booted from office by electors last Thursday.
Jamaica Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness arrives at the party's Belmont Road, New Kingston, headquarters after initial results were announced in the general election last Thursday night.

Dr Herbert Gayle, senior lecturer at the University of the West (UWI), has found in a post-election mini-qualitative survey that the People's National Party (PNP) actually "shot itself in the leg", severely crippling its chances in the February 25 polls.

Gayle's findings signal that the PNP, displaying unconcealed arrogance, rubbed Jamaicans the wrong way when it opted out of a leadership debate, at the 11th hour, to which it had agreed. He also found that the party's general secretary, Paul Burke, woefully misread the troubling signs.

Burke had proclaimed in the public space, ahead of the election, that a minority of Jamaicans were peeved by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's refusal to lead the party into a leadership debate.

Gayle has indicated that the loss of the election by the PNP can best be described as "sinking the eight ball in a pool game". This means that the PNP lost the election mainly by acts of its own - decisions that allowed the JLP to enjoy a sprint in the last two weeks leading up to the election.

The survey found that 75 per cent rejected the PNP's anti-debate stance. Of this number, 22 per cent said that they felt cheated; 18 per cent opined that it damaged the election vibes; while another 18 per cent felt insulted.

Another 17 per cent said that they were deprived of the opportunity to observe Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Leader Andrew Holness being "interrogated".

Of the remaining 25 per cent, nine per cent thought it was a good strategy to skip the debate; another nine per cent felt that the debates would have been a waste of time; and four per cent felt that a debate would reignite dislike of Simpson Miller, considered to be one of the most popular politicians in Jamaica's electoral history.

Only two per cent of the respondents did not have a position on the debate.

The debate conundrum appeared to have a somewhat greater impact on the election outcome than the much-discussed tax break that was promised by the JLP.

Among other things, the JLP had promised a $1.5-million tax break for persons earning up to that amount, to take effect on April 1, 2016, viewed by cynics as an All Fool's Day prank.

The data show that while almost half (47 per cent) of the respondents felt that the proposed $18,000 (monthly) tax break was either ridiculous or "an insult to one's intelligence," one of seven persons was affected positively by it.

Said Gayle: "Undoubtedly, this 14 per cent could have damaged the PNP's chances of remaining in power" even as 16 per cent of persons felt they were too grounded in the PNP to be affected "by such stupid bait".

Another 41 per cent, comprising middle- and upper middle-class persons, said that it was not aimed at attracting them, with nine per cent expressing concern that they might be further taxed in order to service the tax break offered to the near-poor.

Even as 47 per cent suggested that the JLP's tax break idea was "ridiculous", another 19 per cent said that it would not help them, and 16 per cent said that they were too aligned to the PNP to be lured, and only two per cent were indifferent.

Gayle found that the most powerful impact was felt when the two factors were combined with five working-class PNPs (three males, two females under 35 years) voting for the JLP due to feeling insulted by the skipping of the debate and the lure of the tax break combined.

The study also found that six PNP females stayed home because of being insulted by the skipping of the debate and the annoyance of "seeing the JLP go all out to try and do something".

The survey also found that of the 11 PNPs affected, eight were females and three were males.