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Electoral behaviour

Peter Wickham

Electoral behaviour

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The last two editions of People & Things examined the issue of political rebranding and have generated interesting feedback.
One of the issues that emerged relates to the extent to which a person’s age, sex and location would make them more inclined to vote for one party or the other.
That article alluded to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) facing a challenge regarding voters under 45 and by implication argued that older voters were more likely to vote based on their personal knowledge of history and as such were more reliable.
This is entirely true since older voters are generally more reliable as they are more likely to vote for the same party on each occasion, based on their historical experiences.  
In addition, these older people are generally less inclined to be motivated by political gimmicks or personal inducements since they are more likely to have already satisfied their personal desires to a large extent and are therefore less “needy”.
CADRES is often asked to produce hard data to support these anecdotal claims. However, we are challenged in this regard since our Electoral Office does not disaggregate voting data by age in respect of either party support or the voter turnout. One must therefore rely exclusively on poll data which we have found to be deficient with regard to the expressed intention to vote or not vote.
CADRES polls have generally been accurate in their reflection of voting intentions across age groups, but we have found respondents are often less forthcoming regarding their intention “not” to vote. As such, in 2008 CADRES was able to reliably predict that the DLP would win with 52 per cent of the popular vote. However, ten per cent of respondents said they “would not vote” and 37 per cent actually didn’t vote. The reasons for this disparity are not relevant to this discourse but were previously explored in an article entitled Voter Turnout In Barbados (Sunday, May 4, 2003).
An age comparison of voter turnout is therefore challenging and needs to rely on anecdotal assertions. It is also interesting that geographical location can be useful in this exercise since one assumes that rural districts are more likely to be inhabited by older people who have lived in those spaces for generations.
Urbanization theories are not exclusive to political discourse and are well researched elsewhere. Hence, we know that younger people tend to leave farms and villages in the country and seek opportunities in urban areas, which often lead to marriage and settlement elsewhere, with a return to the “home base” much later in life (if at all).  
Politicians therefore know that the rural seats are more “safe” and easier to maintain partially because the voting cohort is much older and more stable. It is therefore not surprising that the safest seat in this country historically has been St John, which is one of the most rural constituencies and is coincidentally also largely agrarian.
Consistent with this analysis, it is not surprising that in the DLP’s worst election (1999), it was able to save St John and St Lucy, which were coincidentally both rural, largely agrarian, with the former being represenetd by Errol?Barrow from 1958 to 1987.
Worst year
Conversely, one should also look at the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) worst year in 1986 in which it retained Christ Church West, St Peter and St Thomas. One of these seats was a rural seat (St Peter), which one would expect to behave like St John, and St Thomas had partially rural characteristics and was also influenced by legacy factors since it was held by former Prime Minister Tom Adams. Christ Church West was neither rural nor could it be considered a legacy constituency, therefore one presumes it was saved due to the presence of a good and longstanding candidate.  
It is also noteworthy that St Joseph, which is a legacy seat, was lost in 1986, which appears to contradict the 1999 scenario. However, we note that the individual swing in that seat was -19 per cent which was well above the BLP’s national average of -11 per cent in 1986. It could therefore be argued that Grantley Adams’ influence was as strong as Barrow’s in this rural seat, but the negative impact of the candidate (Sir Richard Cheltenham) was clearly more profound.
The other demographic characteristics identified have an impact that is better known to readers of People & Things since the impact of the youth vote was addressed in Young Voters (February 22, 2002) and Women In Control (March 21, 2001). Summarily, these concluded that young people were more “fickle” as voters since they were easy to both gain and lose. Women are also a large and attractive cohort which is often very influential because of the matrifocal nature of our families in the Caribbean.
Women as a group are more inclined to vote than men and as such will ultimately determine the outcome of any election in Barbados by virtue of their comparative weight.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).