Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Voter apathy swells

Published:Thursday | September 23, 2021 | 12:11 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter

The slump in favourability of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has been blamed on their inability to rally their bases, seasoned politicians have said.

While the JLP continues to hold a sizeable lead over the PNP with 26 per cent of those polled indicating that they would re-elect the current Government to 17 per cent for the Opposition party, both saw 11- and eight-percentage-point declines in favourability, respectively, over a one-year period.

The figure for Jamaicans who are undecided, according to an RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson poll, increased by seven percentage points, jumping from 19 per cent in August 2020 to 26 per cent a year later.

Thirty-one per cent of those quizzed have no intention of voting, an increase of 12 percentage points when compared to a similar period last year.

The poll was conducted between August 19 and September 3 among 1,003 Jamaicans and has a sampling error of plus or minus three per cent.

Chairman of the PNP’s unity committee, Maxine Henry-Wilson, told The Gleaner on Wednesday that the greater concern should be the figures for those who remain unsure and those who have no intention of casting a ballot.

“It’s not political high season right now. Nobody is really campaigning. Nobody is really out there. We are overwhelmed, correctly so, by the pandemic that has really cast a shadow over everything,” Henry-Wilson said.

She said that any missteps at this time will be blamed on the incumbent party as people struggle to make sense of the global reality.

“So whatever goes wrong now, they have to take the responsibility for it,” the former member of parliament for St Andrew South Eastern said.

For the PNP’s eight-percentage-point slip, Henry-Wilson said that the party is yet to find its footing after the bruising 2020 leadership contest.

Internal issues, she said, must be addressed.

However, she said that PNP President Mark Golding is beginning to settle in his role and that his visibility has improved.

“I’m not distressed about what the people are saying or in terms of the PNP or JLP’s standing. I’m hopeful,” said the former PNP general secretary.

The Gleaner contacted Matthew Samuda, the JLP’s head of communications, but got no response.

FINDINGS NOT ALARMING

Michael Stern, one of the JLP’s chief political organisers, said the findings of the poll are not alarming, noting that statistically and historically in an off-year, there is usually a drop in party standings.

The JLP barrelled its way to an emphatic victory over the PNP in last September’s general election, grabbing 49 of the 63 parliamentary seats. However, that was against the backdrop of a record-low 37 per cent voter turnout.

“A lot of the voters are focused more on their present needs. COVID has taken over a lot of people’s interest at this time. Most parties, including the JLP, have not been aggressive on the ground dealing with the political process in a partisan way,” Stern told The Gleaner.

He said the governing party has been busy with the issues of the day, attending to all Jamaicans.

“We’re happy that we’re still ahead, and we’re happy that those who are uninterested right now have not switched sides. They are really on the undecided side, so it gives us an opportunity to go back to them and to make sure that we serve them well,” the former member of parliament for Clarendon North Western said.

Chairman of the PNP’s disciplinary committee John Junor said that while it is “exceedingly difficult” to make an impact on the ground during a pandemic, the level of arrogance being displayed by the current administration was the reason for its descent in the polls.

“There have been a series of glaring errors in how they’ve handled a number of issues. We don’t seem to learn that Jamaicans are very wary of the arrogance and corruption. From the whole issue of the CMU (Caribbean Maritime University) to the NPL (Nutrition Products Limited) and a number of other issues lack probity,” he said.

Junor, a four-term member of parliament for Manchester Central, said that the PNP has suffered from recurring internal conflicts and the inability to meet with supporters face-to-face because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Forty-seven per cent of those polled said that they would vote for the PNP because of tradition and 28 per cent want to see what the leader can do.

Twenty-four per cent said that the PNP is the best party, 21 per cent think that it can manage the country better, while 13 per cent said that the Opposition has the country’s best interest at heart.

To the contrary, 42 per cent of those polled said that the JLP would better manage the country, 39 per cent said that the party would do a better job, and 31 per cent said it was the best party.

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com