Just before the May 2015 general election (SN May 6, 2015), I wrote a Development Watch column asking whether the PPP/C will be able to suck cane and blow whistle. I made the point that even though the PPP has always attracted a sizable percentage of multi-ethnic voters, it was pursuing an election strategy of scaring its East Indian base into voting for it. The scare strategy had to do with repeating old perceived and factual wrongs committed by the PNC. This is a tried and tested strategy of ethnic mobilization of a political base. The PNC, of course, also has its own strategies for mobilizing and keeping its vote bank in one place.

In that column – ‘Can the PPP suck cane and blow whistle’ – I looked at data measuring party identification from the 2014 Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) survey. As a reminder, this is a political survey which is done by researchers associated with Vanderbilt University in the United States. In my opinion, it is an impartial and credible survey. Typically the researchers randomly select about 1500 Guyanese assigned to various group stratifications. When I did the column in 2015, I argued that there was a high probability the PPP will not win the election. For that, I received my usual share of cursing from letter writers and bloggers. Nevertheless, one pro-PPP letter writer with merit argued the poll was outdated since the survey was done in 2014.

In this column, I will revisit the LAPOP data – this time for the survey completed in 2016. The researchers are no longer summarizing the results in reports. We have to mine the data using a statistical software. These days the dataset is placed online in SPSS or Stata files. There are several important results from business confidence, trust in political institutions, political party identification, voting patterns, voter turnout, gender-based measures and others. For the purpose of this essay, I will look at the following by ethnicity: (i) voters’ party choice in the May 2015 election; (ii) party identification; (iii) vote intention in the next presidential election; and (iv) political interest.

It is obvious that the no-confidence vote (NCV) has hardened political views since this survey was conducted at the middle of 2016, just over one year after the APNU+AFC coalition formed the government. However, the lack of forbearance involved in the NCV is not necessarily worse than the limited forbearance demonstrated by the PNC and AFC while they were in opposition after the 2011 election. The latter two parties played a strategy of complete obstruction and undermining of the previous incumbent regardless of what the then government proposed. Mr Jagdeo’s PPP is playing a similar strategy of undermining and obstructing no matter what the government does. Indeed, the PNC’s strategy of obstructing and undermining started as early as 1995 for the post-1992 period. As I have noted in previous columns, the NCV represents a continuation of a tit-for-tat strategy of undermining the incumbent. The political structure enabled by the constitution makes losing the grand prize of the executive costly to the ethnic loser. The point here is the seriousness of the political division after the NCV is not necessarily more intense compared with what prevailed during the PPP’s term. This means there could be persistence in the survey results given the long-term divisions. We should therefore not be too eager to dismiss the sample that was done some time ago.

It should also be noted that when this sample was conducted, the APNU+AFC government had already made several important miscalculations such as the 50% salary increase. We have to balance this and other misdeeds (such as the unilateral appointment of the GECOM chairman) with the choice of presidential candidate of the PPP. We also should bear in mind the propensity of both the Jagdeoian PPP and PNC to bend the institutions and legal structure of the land. Both parties have used the courts and Parliament in recent times to pursue their mutual tit-for-tat strategies. Not because it is legal to challenge the term limit of the constitution means it is the right thing to do. It is legal to propose a vote of no-confidence – whether the PPP one last year or the one planned by AFC and PNC that elicited a prorogation – but is it the right thing to do in an ethnically divided country? Political scientists have emphasized that a democracy needs not just a democratic constitution, but also forbearance on the part of politicians. Not because something is legal means it is also the right thing to do in a given context.

Given these caveats, let us consider the results generated from the online data. The survey says that the PPP received 70.1% of the East Indian votes; while 29.1% indicated that they voted for the APNU+AFC. At 99%, African Guyanese voted overwhelmingly for the coalition. Amerindians responded at a 59.9% voting rate for the coalition compared with 40.1% for the PPP/C. The mixed population voted 88.3% in favour of APNU+AFC and 11.7% for PPP.

Interestingly, 162 East Indians in the sample indicated no response, compared with 67 African Guyanese. Making a few assumptions would tend to suggest that approximately 80% East Indians voted for PPP and around 94% of African Guyanese voted for APNU + AFC. The LAPOP survey of 2014, to which I alluded above, had data on party identification, which is not the same as how people actually voted. Nevertheless, the 2014 sample indicated that 83.5 of East Indians identified with PPP/C and 89.3% African Guyanese with PNCR. In addition, with respect to associating with AFC, 15.3% East Indians associated with AFC, 4% African Guyanese and 19% mixed Guyanese indicated an association with the independent party. Therefore, we can conclude that the party identification in 2014 largely corresponds with how people voted in 2016. Hence, the data tends to suggest there is a lot of persistence and entrenchment of voting choice in Guyana. Nevertheless, the base support of the PPP/C ranges from 70% to 80% in the 2016 survey. Hence, the PPP’s base is a lot more wobbly than the PNCR’s. Mr. Jagdeo and his group are banking on all the Berbice vote going back home. There could be a lot of surprise coming for the group which has captured the PPP. Hopefully, the 2018 LAPOP survey will be released soon so we can have a more definitive measure. 

Another useful piece of information coming out from the 2016 LAPOP survey is the percentage of people from different groups which voted. Mixed voters had the highest turnout at 79.1%, Amerindians 72.7%, African Guyanese 81.5%, and East Indians 83.1%. Statistically, therefore, there is not a big difference between the voter turnouts for the two largest ethnic groups. This implies that it was the approximately 15% to 20% of East Indians who voted against the PPP/C which along with the relatively higher percentage support the coalition received from Amerindians and mixed voters which tipped the scale in favour of APNU+AFC. Can the coalition keep these likely swing voters? Would a large percentage of East Indians go back to the PPP? Would many East Indians decide to stay at home this time? Would the swing voters vote for a new third party, ANUG? Would the rural East Indian voters of AFC stay home or move back to the PPP/C?

We still have to discuss how people are expected to vote in the next election and the political interest of each group. I will pick this up in next week’s column.

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