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Handling the issues

January 15th Public Opinion Poll Report (Issues)

by Peter Wickham Pollster

The issues that are of concern to Barbadians and the manner in which these issues are dealt with by the Government is clearly one of the major factors that influence a voter to support one candidate or another. As such, no poll of public political opinion would be complete without a reflection on the issues that Barbadians are most concerned about at this time.

It should be noted that although this is the last section of the report, the information was the first to be solicited from respondents in the survey, while the more political questions were asked later. This strategy is generally adopted by CADRES since respondents are normally more hesitant to speak to political issues and we prefer to take advantage of the higher response rates in response to the non-political questions.

In this survey, CADRES asked respondents a major open-ended question, followed by a series of specific close-ended questions, designed to solicit information on issues that we believe are of concern to Barbadians at present.

The responses to the initial open-ended question are presented in Figure 01 and demonstrate that Barbadians continue to be most concerned about the cost of living, which has persistently been a major worry over the past five years and was indeed a central focus of the DLP as they started their term in office.

Thirty eight per cent of Barbadians indicated that the cost of living was their major concern, while 22 per cent were most concerned about unemployment and 14 per cent concerned about the economy. It is therefore striking that cumulatively 74 per cent or virtually three quarters of Barbadians are preoccupied with issues of an economic nature and this speaks volumes about the extent to which the economic situation locally and indeed globally is influencing political outlooks here.

It should also be noted that this general preoccupation is elevated over previous CADRES polls which implies that we are now even more preoccupied with these issues than we were before.

In addition to asking respondents to identify the issue of greatest concern to them, CADRES also presented respondents with list of issues and asked them to “rate” the Government’s handling of these issues on a scale ranging from one to 10 with one representing the worst possible performance and 10 representing the best possible performance. This information is presented in the appended table which is conveniently disaggregated according to political support.

CADRES selected the “CLICO issue” the “Alexandra issue” and the “Al Barrack issue” as being central to the national conversation at present and asked persons to rate the handling of these by Government.

Barbadians were least impressed with the handling of the CLICO issue and slightly less concerned about the handling of the Al Barrak issue. In both of these instances, respondents gave Government a score in the vicinity of three, while the performance regarding Alexandra was slightly better at 4.1, but was still not a passing grade. Naturally the party supporters were more or less flattering of the Government based on their party support inclination, but the “Uncertain Voters” were generally less impressed with government.

Although Government did not score a passing grade with regard to any of these major issues, it did receive a “pass” when the focus was shifted to the overall national assessment. In this regard, Government was awarded a five, while the Opposition was awarded a 5.2.

This comparative suggests that Government might be performing better than expected in some other area of activity that was not captured in the survey. The conservative nature of both scores is also reflective of the fact that Barbadians are really not overwhelmed with either the Government or Opposition, but would prefer the Opposition if forced to choose.

The Alexandra School issue was further interrogated in Figure 02 which speaks to the extent to which Barbadians were happy with the Government’s “solution” and if they believed that the issue was now “settled”. It is clear from these data that a majority of Barbadians (51 per cent) are not happy with the “solution” and even more (70 per cent) do not believe that the issue is settled.

Although CADRES has not presented data on the extent to which party support has influenced this issue, we note that there is a greater tendency on the part of DLP supporters to be happy about the “solution” and to believe that the issue is now settled. Notwithstanding, it is clear from these data that persons who support both parties have reservations about the manner in which this issue has been handled.

The final issue-related question explored in this section was a general one that sought to determine whether Barbadians believed that at present the island is on the right or wrong track. This is a traditional question that gauges the national mood and responses are presented in Figure 03.

This demonstrates that close to half of those surveyed (48 per cent) believed that we were on the wrong track, while a further 26 per cent were either unsure or unwilling to answer the question. Although one-quarter or 26 per cent believed that we were on the right track the fact that cumulatively 74 per cent of Barbadians were not of this opinion implies that the perception of the country’s political direction currently is largely negative.

Summary Judgement on January Barbados Today/CADRES Poll

The summary reflection on the three reports that have been presented over the last three days suggests a political outlook that is largely negative for the Democratic Labour Party, but not entirely positive for the Barbados Labour Party.

The national swing is still essentially against the DLP Government and is resilient and to some extent growing, albeit slowly. The implication of this swing pattern in terms of seats would be a loss of somewhere in the vicinity of ten seats for the DLP and a BLP Government which is equally as strong as the DLP currently is.

This is, however, only half of the story since a reflection on the assessment of the leaders and treatment of issues in the foregoing section, implies that Barbadians also have serious reservations about the ability and performance of the BLP and indeed its leader, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

Clearly Arthur outperforms Stuart and indeed all other competitors, but his individual assessment does not reflect any overwhelming confidence is reposed in him either. The situation therefore simply seems to be one in which the BLP and its leadership are back in vogue largely because the DLP seems untenable at this time.

CADRES has noticed this trend in several Caribbean countries and often refers to it as a passive interest in a party and its leadership as distinct from an active interest. As such, Barbadians appear to be more interested in pushing the DLP out of office, than pulling the BLP in.

The issue of leadership continues to be a major factor that will determine the outcome of the next election and while in this survey Barbadians have clearly settled on the two existing leaders (both of whom have consolidated their party support) it is still obvious that persons other than the two leaders could perform roles that impact positively on their party’s fortunes.

In this regard, a reflection on the historic CADRES poll data would demonstrate that we now have one leader whose present numbers are a shadow of what they once were, while we have another who has struggled to attain a score that is half that of his opponent. In the past the leadership lines were considerably clearer than these are and this would represent an interesting development in our political history.

This is the first occasion that CADRES has been commissioned by an online newspaper to conduct a survey and it has afforded us the opportunity to report our findings more quickly and in a format that is highly portable. CADRES is grateful to Barbados Today for providing the opportunity to respond to this challenge and we hope that the information presented and the format of presentation will help to illuminate the increasingly complex political scenario that is presently unravelling here.

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