Polls are polls are polls
Opposition Leader Mark Golding speaking at the People's National Party's Manchester North Western constituency conference in Mile Gully. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

Three Sundays ago I noted, among other things in this space: "A little birdie has warbled that recent scientific poll findings are not showing the PNP and its leadership in any better light than several similar polls which were done many months ago."

Last Monday the RJR Don Anderson poll released findings which showed that Mark Golding and his party's favourability ratings negligibly improved but both still remain on life support. My sources were spot on. These numbers cannot make comfortable reading for 89 Old Hope Road at this time.

• 38 per cent say Prime Minister Andrew Holness is good/very good.

• 18 per cent say Opposition Leader Mark Golding is good/very good.

• 35 per cent say Prime Minister Holness average

• 43 per cent say Opposition Leader Golding average

• 27 per cent say Prime Minister Holness poor/very poor

• 39 per cent say Opposition Leader Golding poor/very poor

They can slice and dice these numbers all they want, the fact is, the People's National Party (PNP) is not gaining significant traction and remains in the doldrums.

SNAP SHOTS, BUT

Now, I am sold on the position that pollsters are not election kingmakers in a functioning liberal democracy. I agree that there is no predictive relationship between poll forecasts and how people will cast their votes in an election. It is voters and what they do behind the ballot screen/curtain that decide the fate of political parties. Polls are just snapshots, nothing more.

As an example, recall that just a little over two weeks before our 17th parliamentary election, The Gleaner had this headline emblazoned on its front page: 'Advantage PNP... Two UWI research teams project another Portia victory'. The story said, among other things: "With 18 days left before Jamaicans go to the polls, two research teams from The University of the West Indies, using different methods, have projected that the People's National Party (PNP) will be back in power when the votes are counted.

"Using the CHAMPSKNOW system of forecasting, lecturer in political psychology Dr Christopher Charles and Gleasia Reid, an MPhil/PhD student in political science, projected that the PNP has a 60 per cent chance of winning the election and will capture 40 seats, while the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will come out with 23 seats.

"In the meantime, social anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle and his team, using integrated methodology with the assistance of qualitative and historical material, have given the PNP 36 seats, the JLP 18, with the remaining nine seats still up for grabs." (The Gleaner, February 7, 2016).

Some 18 days after The Gleaner publication the Andrew Holness-led JLP won our 17th parliamentary election.

It is not only local pollster who get their sums wrong at times. Recall the pollster fiasco in the British election in May 2015? Conservative Leader David Cameron was said to be in a neck-and-neck race with Edward Miliband's British Labour Party, the fraternal party of the PNP. Online polls days before election day showed a dead heat, but phone polls showed the Tories building a significant lead. The Conservatives unexpectedly won an outright majority.

In the 2016 presidential election in the United States the majority of credible polls had forecasts showing Hillary Clinton trouncing Donald Trump. Recall this banner headline in the Independent [UK]: "Survey finds Hillary Clinton has 'more than 99 per cent chance' of winning election over Donald Trump." The story said, inter alia: "The Princeton Election Consortium found Clinton has a projected 312 electoral votes across the country and only 270 are needed to win.

A survey from the Princeton Election Consortium has found that Hillary Clinton has a 99 per cent chance of winning the election over Donald Trump. "Three days before the election, Clinton has a projected 312 electoral votes, compared to 226 for Trump. A total of 270 electoral votes are needed to win. The probability statistic was found by the university's statistical Bayesian model."

Ultimately Trump won the electoral college with 304 votes compared to 227 for Hillary Clinton.

SIX YEARS LATER...

On social media some who have publicly said their umbilical cord is planted at 89 Old Hope Road are consoling themselves with the fact that polls are snapshots in time. This as a sort of political tranquiliser. I quite understand why the most recent findings of the RJR/Don Anderson polls would have seriously upped ther anxieties.

They would do well to understand, though, that when the temporarily calming effects of their political tranquilisers wear off, they must still contend with the reality that after almost six years in Opposition and two Comrade leaders, the PNP is still gasping for political oxygen.

The PNP effectively carried Dr Peter Phillips on its shoulders, instead of the conventional reverse, while he was at the helm. This was a first in local party politics, in so far as I can remember. Going on six years the PNP is today carrying Mark Golding, its president, on its back. This is after nearly two years at the helm of Norman Manley's Party. So 89 Old Hope Road can imbibe as much tranquilisers as they wish, they will have to wake up to the reality that the PNP is sinking, fast.

MISSING 3Ms

Six years ago I wrote in this space that the PNP was woefully short on message, money and momentum — the three critical ingredients which credible political pundits agree are needed by political parties if they are to gain and/or retain State power. Six years later very little has changed with respect to the state of the PNP and the 3Ms.

Golding seems trapped in the politics of the 1970s. I believe his constant encomiums to former Prime Minister Michael Manley simply have not registered favourably with our voting population, the majority of whom were born well after the democratic socialist heyday of the Manley era.

Early when Golding took the reins of power from Dr Peter Phillips, he waxed warm with his socialist credentials and more that hinted the he was going revitalise democratic socialism. For whom? I do not see where there is any appreciable demand in the country for a revitalisation of democratic socialism. One of the basic lessons in Niccolò Machiavelli's seminal work the The Prince is that you cannot give people what they do not want.

I believe that confusion is the order of the day in the PNP. It is easy to understand why. Its messaging is off-key, mainly because of an obsession with inverting reality. It is an open secret that 89 Old Hope Road is running low on financial inflows. And the failure of PNP President Mark Golding to garner significant political traction on the ground, especially among the youth, has placed an icy grip on his party's momentum.

The reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, John Chewits, and Bananaquits tweeted warnings many months ago. Say something... anything...about everything is the apparent messaging strategy of Mark Golding and PNP. This strategy is a carry-over from when Dr Peter Phillips sat atop the PNP's perch. It continues to cough up diminishing political returns. It seem to me that, in large part, the latest RJR/Don Anderson poll is buttressing the shrieks of the birds.

"Suh yuh nuh glad say the PNP is sinking?" doubtless is what some are bellowing.

No! I have repeatedly said in this space that we need a strong Opposition to help preserve all our rich democratic traditions.

TODAY’S POLITICS

I have also repeatedly said here that the PNP continues to major in minors. As I see it, Jamaica, economically — and especially socially — is still in a very sensitive state. We still have many rivers to cross, but it is obvious — maybe except to those fixated in political colic — that there are credible reasons for real medium- and longer-term economic hope; notwithstanding our many long-standing problems.

By any objective measurement, the very positive showing of the Andrew Holness- led Administration in the recent RJR/Don Anderson poll is a vote of confidence in the governing JLP that has been in power for just over six years. One does not have to be a mathematician to realise that the RJR/Don Andreson poll is showing that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the JLP's positive ratings more than doubles that of Opposition Leader Mark Golding and the PNP.

Golding is the prime minister in waiting. I believe ever Jamaican has a duty to insist that, at a minimum, he provides answer to the following questions:

1) Where are his and the PNP's new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy?

2) Where are his and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to remedy the long-standing matters of social decline?

3) Where are his and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to fix the long-standing problem of major crimes, and murder in particular?

We also need to know how Golding's programmes, and policies will be operationalised? Folks need to be convinced that the Opposition's ideas are 'fundable'. These are serious times in Jamaica. Gimmicks and political pyrotechnics won't positively affect our people's pockets and dinner tables. I believe Golding needs to understand that folks are not interested in an unsuable past and suspicious glad-handing. Folks want a politics which centres on today, not empty rhetoric of 50 years ago.

TORTURING NUMBERS

I notice that some on social media are involved in what I view as a futile process of torturing the findings of the Don Anderson poll. American writer Gregg Easterbrook famously said: "Torture numbers and they'll confess to anything." That approach bore much fruit 50 years ago. It will not today, when nearly everyone can fact-check anything and everything at the press of a button.

Niccolò Machiavelli, in the The Prince, warns that flatters are dangerous. Those who whisper in Golding's ear that everything is fine and dandy well know that he is far out on a limb. I believe those who are torturing the poll numbers to have them confess to falsehoods are helping to cut the limb on which Golding is precariously perched. And they are doing so with giant hacksaws. The reality is the most recent RJR/Don Anderson poll is showing that 73 per cent of Jamaicans give Holness a passing grade, while 70 per cent give the Administration the thumbs up. Holness's rating is ahead of the Administration he leads. After six years, this is good.

CRAZINESS ON THE ROADS

The Jamaica Observer editorial of August 3, 2022 noted, among other things: "In a mere 30 months, we lost more than 1,700 people in road crashes, while more than $36 billion had been paid out in motor vehicle claims and hundreds of millions in life insurance claims.

If those figures were not alarming enough the report also highlighted data compiled by Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) showing that 75 per cent of road fatalities and injuries in Jamaica are in "the economically productive age groups between 15 and 64 years".

The craziness on our roads is frightening.

I have stopped counting the blatant running of the red light by miscreants. I have stopped counting how many times taxi drivers have shouted profanity at me because I do not anticipate the changing of the traffic light to green when I am at the front of a line of cars. And I have stopped counting the number of times I have seen motorists illegally overtake or, as a friend of mine says, undertake.

I am one of those Jamaicans who was very happy to see this banner headline: 'Senate approves additional Road Traffic Act amendments' (Jamaica Observer, July 24, 2022). The mentioned news item noted, among other things: The Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 2022 seeks to make minor amendments to the Principal Act which will ensure more accurate implementation of the road traffic regulations.

The Road Traffic Regulations, 2022 contains 299 orders, grouped into 13 parts, which provide for a slate of new offences and fines under the 2018 Road Traffic Act.

Implementation is going to be crucial. If people realise that they can break laws with impunity they will. It's full time we rein in those who drive like mad people because to them the law is not a shackle.

Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

There is no predictive relationship between poll forecasts and how people will cast their votes in an election.
The Jamaica Labour Party and its leader Andrew Holness have gained favourable reviews in recent polls. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
The PNP effectively carried Dr Peter Phillips on its shoulders, instead of the conventional reverse, while he was at the helm. (Photo: Norman Thomas)
The Jamaica Labour Party and its leader Andrew Holness have gained favourable reviews in recent polls.
Garfield Higgins

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