BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Friday July 29, 2011 - The last two editions of People and Things examined the issue of Political Rebranding and have generated interesting feedback. One of the issues that emerged relates to the extent to which a person’s age; sex and location would make them more inclined to vote for one party or the other. That article itself alluded to the fact that the DLP faces a challenge regarding voters under 45 and by implication argues that older voters are more likely to vote based on their personal knowledge of history and as such are more reliable. This is entirely true since older voters are generally more reliable as they are more likely to vote for the same party on each occasion, based on their historical experiences. In addition these older persons are generally less inclined to be motivated by political gimmicks or personal inducements since these persons are more likely to have already satisfied their personal desires to a large extent and are therefore less “needy”.
CADRES is often asked to produce hard data to support these anecdotal claims; however we are challenged in this regard since our Electoral Office does not disaggregate voting data by age in respect of either party support or the voter turnout. One must therefore rely exclusively on poll data which we have found to be deficient with regard to the express intention to vote or not vote. CADRES polls have generally been accurate in their reflection of voting intentions across age groups, but we have found respondents are often less forthcoming regarding their intention “not” to vote. As such in 2008 CADRES was able to reliably predict that the DLP would win with 52% of the popular vote, however 10% of respondents said they “Would not Vote” and 37% actually didn’t vote. The reasons for this disparity are not relevant to this discourse but were previously explored in an article entitled “Voter Turnout in Barbados” (Sunday 4th May 2003).
“The safest seat in this country historically has been St John”. --Peter Wickham
An age comparison of voter turnout is therefore challenging and needs to rely on anecdotal assertions. It is also interesting that geographical location can be useful in this exercise since one assumes that rural districts are more likely to be inhabited by older people who have lived in those spaces for generations. Urbanisation theories are not exclusive to political discourse and are well researched elsewhere; hence we know that younger people tend to leave farms and villages in the country and seek opportunities in urban areas which often lead to marriage and settlement elsewhere, with a return to the “home base” much later in life (if at all). Politicians therefore know that the rural seats are more “safe” and easier to maintain partially because the voting cohort is much older and more stable. It is therefore not surprising that the safest seat in this country historically has been St John which is one of the most rural constituencies and is coincidentally also largely agrarian.
Consistent with this analysis it is not surprising that in the DLP’s worst election (1999) it was able to save St. John and St. Lucy which were coincidentally both rural, largely agrarian and both of which were represented by Errol Barrow at some time who is presented as the father of the nation. It could easily be argued that these two seats were saved because there were more voters who were alive long enough to remember Barrow “in all his political glory”. Conversely one should also look at the BLP’s worse year in 1986 in which it retained Christ Church West; St. Peter and St. Thomas. One of these seats was a rural seat (St. Peter) which one would expect to behave like St. John and one other St. Thomas had partially rural characteristics and was also influenced by legacy factors since it was held by former PM Adams. Christ Church West was neither rural nor could it be considered a legacy constituency, therefore one presumes it was saved due to the presence of a good and longstanding candidate. It is also noteworthy that St Joseph which is a legacy seat was lost in 1986 which appears to contradict the 1999 scenario; however we note that the individual swing in that seat was -19% which was well above the BLP’s national average of -11% in 1986. It could therefore be argued that Grantley Adams’ influence was as strong as Barrow’s in this rural seat, but the negative impact of the candidate (Sir Richard Cheltenham) was clearly more profound.
The other demographic characteristics identified have an impact that is better known to readers of People and Things since the impact of the youth vote was addressed in “Young Voters” (February 22, 2002) and “Women in Control” (March 21st 2001). Summarily these concluded that young people were more “fickle” as voters since these were easy to both gain and loose. Women are also a large and attractive cohort which is often very influential because of the matrifocal nature of our families in the Caribbean. Women as a group are more inclined to vote than men and as such will ultimately determine the outcome of any election in Barbados by virtue of their comparative weight. (Originally published in the Nation News)
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter W. Wickham. Peter W. Wickham (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).