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Dr Winford James

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD
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Political analyst Dr Winford James believes voting based along racial lines boils down to several basic factors, the major one being that people trust politicians who are the same race as theirs.

James was commenting on the results of Guardian Media-commissioned poll done by Louis Bertrand’s H.H.B. & Associates. The first part of the poll was published yesterday and showed the People’s National Movement (PNM) having a slight overall edge over the Opposition United National Congress. The rest of the poll will be carried tomorrow and Wednesday.

James said table 10, which asked who is the better choice for Prime Minister which showed PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley slightly ahead of UNC leader Persad-Bissessar, showed the strength that ethnicity holds in voting. The answers given by the respondents were noted by their ethnicity.

“People trust people who look like them, who are socially constructed like them, people look at those people are more trustworthy, and it speaks to ethnic competition, worldwide, as to which ethnicity should prevail,” James said.

“So demographics are important, the percentage of each ethnic group in the population is important, for the reason I am trying to explain here, people, in general, do not rise above their ethnicity because distrust is there.”

James said he believes these issues will take a lot of time to overcome.

“Eventually, we will have to rely on education and clear even-handedness in the way the resources of the country are distributed—some people are using that by the way but that is a small number. Some people, despite their education, will fall back on the comfort of ethnic voting, because it is a comfortable thing, it is more comforting to vote their own than to vote the other group.”

He said this type of voting is further fuelled because of where the different ethnic groups live.

“We don’t live in the same places, so we don’t socialise in the same places—maybe on a national level in certain places, like in the public service there is some socialisation, some in schools but when we go back home in the evening after work, we are going to socialise in relation to our ethnicity mostly and that is why have some what you call safe seats.”

James said this type of voting will continue until there is an education-driven personal and social consciousness that makes people reject voting based on race. He said if governments are more transparent in their spending and the population can see that one ethnic group was not favoured over another, that may also help to establish a move away from race-based voting.

Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath was of the view that the poll result still was not a clear reflection of who will win the election.

“The poll is a national poll and doesn’t tell us who is going to win the election. It tells us where people are and how many are satisfied. It gives an idea of the levels of dissatisfaction and progress made since the last election. It tells us things we know already,” Ragoonath said.

Asked whether there were any areas of concern to him, Ragoonath said, “No, I don’t think anything…It’s a national poll. It’s across the country and as far as we are concerned, it tells us nothing about voting behaviour in the marginal constituency and that’s where the victories will be made. I don’t know, based on this poll, how Moruga Tableland will vote.”

He said polling the marginals would give an idea about who will secure victory on August 10 but was not surprised by the poll findings that people will still vote based on race. Political analyst Dr Hamid Ghany meanwhile said given the poll’s four per cent margin of error, the UNC had done much better than expected.

“The fact that when the favourability ratings of both leaders are juxtaposed against each other, the fact that Rowley earns 57 per cent and Persad-Bissessar earns 53 per cent means that the difference is negligible given the fact that the poll has a margin of error of +/- 4 per cent. This is either a statistical dead-heat or a slight Rowley advantage,” Ghany said.

Ghany said the responses to the question of who would be a better Prime Minister also showed another dead-heat or slight advantage to Rowley.

“This would suggest that both parties will have to fine-tune their political machinery in the final two weeks of the campaign, as there is no walkover by either side being contemplated from the responses to Questions 8 and 9. In the absence of any constituency data, the parties will have no idea where they will need to go based on this poll.”

Speaking on the results of Question 10, Ghany said while Rowley holds an advantage over Persad-Bissessar based on the responses of the ‘Other/Mixed’ group, he believes the group who did not answer maybe this election’s deciding factor.

“The most significant statistic here is the non-response among 13.4 per cent Afro-Trinidadians and 15.5 per cent Indo-Trinidadians. How they will vote on election day could tilt this election one way or the other,” Ghany said.