The options on leadership
By Peter W. Wickham | Sun, October 14, 2012 - 12:00 AM
One aspect of the recent CADRES poll that generated considerable interest was the issue of alternative leadership within both political parties. This interest is coupled with a desire to understand the impact that popular leadership options might have on the outcome of this election.
These issues are legitimate political questions that will emerge in this peculiar contemporary political environment. Certainly this September poll and the one that preceded it in May have both highlighted the extent to which the tradition of unchallenged popular leadership within both parties has come into question.
As such, this is the first occasion since CADRES has been conducting public opinion polls that a sitting Prime Minister (who has not signalled his intention to demit office) has been less popular than another person within his party.
Moreover, there is an equally unprecedented situation in the Opposition where there are two people who Barbadians consider equally popular (if the margin of error of the poll is taken into consideration).
It is useful to reflect briefly on two similar scenarios, if only to clarify the extent to which these differ from the current situation.
In the 1994 (August) CADRES poll, Erskine (now Sir Lloyd) Sandiford was the sitting Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance David Thompson polled 25 per cent popularity, while Sandiford was not mentioned.
However, Sandiford had by this time already surrendered leadership of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to Thompson. Owen Arthur’s 28 per cent popularity was not challenged within the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Similarly, in 2003 when Clyde Mascoll led the DLP and polled four per cent popularity, one of his team members (Thompson) polled 12 per cent, but no other person within the BLP was able to rival Arthur’s 56 per cent.
In this current instance, however, the Prime Minister is not the most popular person within his party, and the Leader of the Opposition now shares his popularity with a second person within the BLP.
In pursuit of an analysis of this peculiar political scenario and an evaluation of the impact it could have on the 2013 election, it was fortunate that CADRES included a series of relevant questions which sought information that was presented in a manner that allowed for comparison.
The NATION has already reported on the results of the question that asked respondents who they would want to lead them from both political parties if the current leader were, for any reason, not available.
This question was first included in the CADRES poll of September 2010 when the Prime Minister (Thompson) was known to be unwell, and while there is no similar situation presently, the information is nonetheless useful.
That analysis revealed that 56 per cent of Barbadians wished for Chris Sinckler to lead the DLP if Prime Minister Stuart were unavailable, 71 per cent wished for Mia Mottley to lead the BLP if Arthur were unavailable.
It was also interesting to note the response to a subsequent question where CADRES sought to examine a hypothetical scenario in which both of the current leaders were removed, in order to measure the prospective “net effect” on political outcomes. This allows for a determination of the extent to which each leader is helping their party to win the next election.
The tests were executed by way of a question that asked respondents to state whether they would be more or less likely to support either party if the present leaders were unavailable, and the conclusions are presented in the appended chart.
Thereafter the net effect was calculated by subtracting the quantity of support deemed “less likely” from the support deemed “more likely”, to yield the net impact of the leader’s absence.
Nationally, 39 per cent of respondents indicated a greater willingness to support the DLP if Stuart was not leading the party. However, 12 per cent said they would be more willing to support the DLP if he were present.
This implies that the net effect of Stuart’s absence could be 27 per cent more support for the DLP. Similarly, 28 per cent would have been more likely to support the BLP if Arthur were not available to lead, while 24 per cent said they would be less likely to support the BLP without him.
Therefore the net effect of Arthur’s absence could be four per cent, which is within the +/-5 per cent margin of error of the survey. The comparative net effect is therefore clear since Stuart’s absence could yield just under 30 per cent more support for the DLP, while Arthur’s absence could be as detrimental to BLP support as it could be beneficial.
It is also interesting to explore the differing reactions of party support groups to this question.
Regarding the hypothetical absence of Prime Minister Stuart, the most significant net effect obtains with regard to DLP supporters, as 45 per cent more would now vote for the DLP, while his absence would make 12 per cent of Dems less likely to vote.
As it relates to BLP supporters, the net effect could be ten per cent more support, but this outcome is improbable since these people are already avowed BLP supporters. The comparative analysis relating to Arthur being absent implies that the BLP could benefit from the support of 16 per cent more DLP supporters.
A similar caution should be applied to the potential benefit of Arthur’s unavailability among Dems, who might be hard-pressed to support the BLP.
This analysis implies that if Mr Stuart were not available to lead the DLP, this situation could potentially enhance its electoral support, while Arthur’s unavailability could potentially cost the BLP a similar quantity of support to that which it could gain.
It is also useful here to mention a footnote which emerges incidentally, and demonstrates that there are currently six per cent more “Mottley Dems” than there are “Sinckler Bees” at present.
This assertion is based on the comparative net effects of DLP and BLP supporters who would presumably be happier with Mottley and Sinckler, respectively.
It is certainly useful that CADRES scientifically explored this peculiar political scenario that appears to be emerging, and presented information to the public in a way that can help enhance our understanding of this epoch.
It is also necessary to stress that this analysis is not intended to inspire or encourage action on the part of the leadership of either the DLP or BLP. The leaders of both parties have been selected in processes that conform to the Barbados Constitution and the respective party constitutions.
Moreover, both leaders enjoy the support of their parliamentary colleagues at this time. The analysis is therefore presented out of general interest as it informs the “what if” scenarios that fuel political intrigue.
• Peter W. Wickham (email@example.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).
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