GUEST COLUMN – Politics and polls
A recent poll connected with our country’s leading newspaper, the Nation, reported that 51.26 per cent of Barbadians currently would choose the Barbados Labour Party, while only 31 per cent would vote for the Democratic Labour Party.While no poll should be ignored, and political polling and polling for other causes is now an accepted way of measuring the public’s response to a range of issues, a poll must be scientifically structured without partisan influence in order to be taken seriously.I wish to share some relevant experiences. It was 1978 when a bi-election was necessary to replace our political and judicial icon, Sir Frederick Smith, who had resigned as the representative for a St Michael constituency. I first met Dr Bert Thompson, a pollster extraordinaire, when he did the poll which guided us in what we had to do to successfully retain that seat with (the now) Sir Richard Haynes. Since then I have been associated with a number of polls all of which would make interesting reading. However, because of limitations of space I will share with you one experience that occurred in 1986 when Barbados was fortunate to have a wonderful lady offering to be a first time candidate for my constituency of St Joseph. In this instance we again engaged Dr Thompson.His first poll was done in January 1986. That poll told us our candidate, the Honourable Maizie Barker-Welch, at that time could only command 37 per cent of the electorate. Furthermore it was mainly women voters in the 30 to 50 age group who would largely lend their support.But, the poll went on to tell us how to turn that situation around. We would have to add a strong measure of senior citizen support in our campaign. This we did by tapping into the experience of people like Margery Lashley, Cammie Tudor, Branford Taitt and others.The second thing it told us was that we would have to significantly increase our youth support and I would like to acknowledge the roll played by David Commissiong as our young and outstanding campaign manager. Additionally, Dr Thompson suggested that we had to find a catchy slogan and at a meeting of the key players, it was suggested “She fuh we” and Bert Thompson added “And we fuh she.” This became a winning slogan.A second poll was done in early May 1986 to measure what progress we had made from early January to early May. The results were so startlingly different that I confess for the first time I held that information to myself, barely telling the team that coming from several lengths back, we were now only slightly behind the other candidate and we would have to make sure that we worked 24/7 for the remaining few weeks until election day.The third poll was done by telephone the weekend before the ’86 elections. It was concluded late on the Sunday evening and analysed by Dr Thompson on the Monday. His assessment was that if we continued at the same level we would win the seat by over 200 votes.When I reported this to Errol Barrow on the Tuesday morning, there was a slight stewps as clearly he didn’t believe it.But electioneering is like some other activities when climaxing at the right time is important. We did this with over 240 people working for us on polling day (mainly volunteers) and if my memory serves me well we were not far from an historic 500 vote victory.If I had to give any advice to politicians, it would be to recognise that a scientific poll of your constituency is not only affordable but essential.Polling is a politician’s best friend.•Frank da Silva is a member of the Democratic Labour party and a former high commissioner.