Which is it, perception or reality?

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St. John’s Antigua- It would be fair to say that when the Free and Fair Elections League announced that it would be conducting a simulated exercise called mock elections, it evoked little response from the people whom one would have thought would be interested in these matters.

The exercise stretched over the entire month of September and during that time lead spokesperson George Rick James encouraged registered voters to participate by casting their ballots.

It was as though the politicians, whose business it is to pay attention to these things, made an effort not to do so – that is until now – since the results of the voting have been revealed.

Judging from the way the polls were conducted, the methodology was far from scientific, some might say suspect, given that the “voting” was not done under the conditions that we know elections to be held.

There must be something strange about an election lasting one month. People being asked to vote for a political party and not an individual, in the context of this country, is unheard of. As far as we know, the only instance where voters are asked to cast their ballot at large is for a presidential candidate.

Despite these “little” details, however, the findings of the exercise cannot be ignored by the ruling administration.

According to the people who carried out the exercise, more than 1,500 registered voters showed interest and took the time to make their preference for one of the major political parties. More than 200 indicated their choice would be for a new party.

On the face of it, 1,500 voters might seem insignificant, given that 41,452 people voted in the last general elections in 2009 – some 19,460 for the ALP and 21,205 for the UPP. It is obvious that although the UPP was victorious the difference in the number of people choosing the UPP is relatively small, and that the details are in the number of constituencies any party could capture.

It is no surprise, therefore, that although in the simulated exercise 772 people voted for the ALP and 480 for the UPP, as the voting was not done by constituency, it would be impossible to tell which constituency went either way, the final tally through which the winning party is determined.

An American political consultant and advisor to two presidents, Lee Atwater, is credited with the profound statement: ‘perception is reality’. So when the results of the mock election indicated that the Antigua Labour Party would win the next general elections, can the UPP afford to shrug off the prediction and proceed with business as usual?

Even without such information as margin of error and the demographics of the voters, the sample size is significant enough to give the polls reliability. We are aware that opposition is always in vogue; it invariably will have the groundswell and its proponents will have a point to prove, hence they will always make their voices heard.

Given that is so, it would appear that the ruling administration has been caught flat- footed. When the chairman of the UPP is reported as saying he is not in the least bit worried about the results of the polls, he is putting the best face on a situation, which ought to cause him a bit of restlessness, if not loss of sleep.

The ALP has taken the psychological advantage in this game of public relations. The winning results can only act as a fillip to the party. From here on out, the prophecy will be a self-fulfilling one.

While some may be inclined to dismiss the Free and Fair Elections League exercise, those of us who are paying careful attention to the soon-to-be presidential election in the United States know how important polls are. We are aware that a new one is released every day with every conceivable variable being measured, which would affect the outcome. Here we are not so exposed to polling, and fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of people will put much stock in this simulated poll.

We get the impression that the hands on the wheels of the UPP machinery have either gone slack or have let go altogether. A few months ago, we were told that the blue machine was in cranked up mode. A few town hall meetings were held and promises were made for others. Well, guess what, the engine sputtered and has all but died. If it is not too late, the mock election result might just be the high octane it needs to get it going again.

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