Monday, April 22, 2024

Swings, seats and surprises

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The 2013 election was perhaps one of the most peculiar in our post-Independence history. It would have been historic if the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had become the first one-term government.  
In reality, the DLP was able to reverse a trend at the last minute and return itself to office. However, the factors that appeared to impact negatively on it are no less real but clearly less relevant to voters. These issues are well known, but the reality that the DLP was able to “pull this off” might at some stage suggest the prudence of a review of the DLP strategy that made this possible.
The appended chart speaks frontally to the controversial issue of the most recent public opinion poll which suggested a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) victory based on an anticipated -6 per cent swing. It can be seen comparatively that the swing in the election was actually -2 per cent, which is acceptable to CADRES since it within the +/-5 per cent margin of error.
The reality seat-wise is that the DLP was likely to lose ten seats if this swing materialised and by reducing the swing to -2 per cent, it was able to conserve five of these potential losses.     The new reality which is also presented here demonstrates that the DLP is now separated from the BLP by three percentage points which is a historic margin. Prior to this, the closest relationship between the two parties was the 1981 configuration in which the parties were separated by five percentage points.
A closer analysis of this election will reveal a peculiarity which is both profound and unusual in the context of Barbadian political discourse, since it appears to be the election with the most significant variations in the swing away from the DLP. In simple terms, this means that while the DLP was able to contain the negative swing nationally, it appears to have had a rather uneven performance in different constituencies. Normally, a party’s performance will vary in between constituencies, but in this instance the variation appears to have been massive and is chronicled in Table 01.
This table presents the DLP’s candidate performances in the election. These are listed from the strongest to the weakest DLP “improvement” and it can be seen that the party’s top performer this year was Chris Sinckler who improved his performance by +8 per cent points while his party fell by -2 per cent nationally.  Sinckler’s performance was twice as high as Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s whose was +4 per cent, along with Donville Inniss (also +4 per cent).
These two candidates were able to resist the trend and add four per cent to their party’s performance. It is interesting that there were an equal number of less outstanding performances on the part of DLP candidates and among these, the seat formerly held by Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo was the DLP’s worst, losing -13 per cent.
The variations in the swing in this most recent election tell a story of a constituency-based population that was very selective regarding the candidates they retained and the point needs to be made that this is NOT normal. Generally in Barbados the variation in the candidate performance does not stray too significantly from the central swing statistic, which means that as a nation we tend to speak to politicians in one voice. It would be interesting to explore the reasons for this peculiarity.
The other significant feature of the election is the voter turnout which was generally low and also remarkably uneven across constituencies. Nationally, it was 62 per cent, with the highest in St Joseph (70 per cent), followed by St George South (68 per cent). It is interesting that the outcome in these two constituencies was very different since one was retained by the BLP and the other lost by the DLP.
On the other side of the voter turnout coin is Christ Church West in which only 54 per cent of voters participated, followed by Christ Church South and Bridgetown with only 56 per cent. As with the highest turnout zones, these three areas performed very differently and could form the basis of future research.
• Peter W. Wickham (peter.wickham@caribsurf.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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