Political Perception and Numerical Reality

Published: Sunday | July 31, 2011  


Edward Seaga (left) and Michael Manley at Jamaica House. According to Kevin O'Brien Chang, Manley's advantage over Seaga was that he was a better communicator.

Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

Of the 10 contested general elections since Independence, the PNP has won six, outpolling the JLP by an average of 6.3 points. Which gives statistical support to the adage that 'Jamaica is PNP country'.

Dig a bit deeper and the equation shifts. Under Edward Seaga, the JLP lost five of six contested elections by an average margin of 8.9 points. The other four elections saw three JLP wins, with an overall PNP margin of 2.4 points - 'within the three per cent margin of error', as pollsters would say.




All - 4/6/46.4/52.7/6.3

Seaga-led - 1/5/44.9/53.8/8.9

Not Seaga- 3/1/48.6/51.0/2.4

Astonishingly, the 2007 general election was the first in 31 years where the JLP was led by someone other than Edward Seaga. Now, whatever his sins, Mr Seaga has probably made more significant contributions in different areas than any other Jamaican. Many still feel he saved Jamaican democracy in 1980. Yet his record of losing four consecutive elections between 1989 and 2002 is likely unprecedented in the history of Westminster parliamentary democracy, where the accepted norm is 'resign if you lose two straight'. Jamaica, between 1989 and 2002, was not so much PNP country as 'Eddie, yuh time dun' country.

Grapevine rumours say many in his own party want Bruce Golding to step down before the next election. Perhaps they should remember that Labour lost every single contested general election in the 27 years between 1980 and 2007. Even a child can see the difference between the JLP seat count in 1997, after Mr Golding was driven out of the party, and the count since he returned in 2002. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.


1997 - 9

2002 - 25

2007 - 32

Now even a cursory analysis of the Jamaican media shows PNP numerical domination. Officially, PNP-connected talk-show hosts, columnists and commentators - i.e., who are or were MPs, senators, speechwriters, press secretaries, consultants, committee members, etc. - far outnumber the officially JLP connected. Furthermore, it's no secret that most UWI academics with public voices support the PNP. Many who don't like uncomfortable truths will here accuse me of political bias. Well, those who would deny these palpable realities would probably also deny that the PNP has more garrison constituencies than the JLP. Incontrovertible facts are incontrovertible facts.

(This last brings to mind one of the funnier moments of the Manatt commission of enquiry, when JDF attorney, Lt Colonel Linton Gordon, asked Bruce Golding if he would agree that the PNP had more garrisons than the JLP. Instead of gleefully hoisting this juicy full toss for six with a simple reply like 'You can say that again!', Mr Golding almost arrogantly cleaned-bowled himself with a convoluted argument along the lines of 'We no longer think of these things in geographic terms'. Say what you will about Portia Simpson Miller, at least she doesn't constantly act as if she's smarter than the world, and she knows when to shut up.)

PNP's media dominance

Many historical factors contribute to the PNP's media and academic dominance. But a major reason, in my view, is that the PNP simply realises the value of effective communication, and so encourages its supporters of all stripes to keep getting its message out. The JLP, in contrast, seems oblivious to the truth that in politics, perception often is reality.

Even when things look dire for the party, the PNP faithful can always find succour in the NewsTalk 93 evening show and The Sunday Herald. JLP diehards, on the other hand, have no such morale-boosting propaganda outlets constantly rallying the troops. Maybe this is why Comrades generally seem to care a little more about their politics.

This can, at times, produce worryingly unbalanced coverage, where media houses try, sometimes successfully, to create its own facts. Take the Manatt enquiry, where Peter Phillips said, "I can't recall" before Dwight Nelson, and just about as often. But constant media replay of Senator Nelson's utterances, and a virtual embargo of Dr Phillips', has convinced most people that only Senator Nelson ever used the phrase. (As to those who take issue with this, go watch the tapes again and get back to me.)

But all's fair in love and war and politics. In a sense, the PNP must be applauded for recognising the value of communication, and doing everything it can to make sure the news is always tinged with orange. Meanwhile, I'm sick of seeing the JLP sit there like some helpless little girl bawling, 'They not being nice to me!'

Seiveright has balls

Frankly, though he needs to choose his words more carefully, you have to admire young Delano Seiveright's cojones for almost single-handedly taking on the might of the Comrade-dominated media army. No doubt it's because he keeps urging the JLP to operate in 'defend your own to the bone' PNP style that Mr Seiveright attracts so much vitriol from the socialist press. You can almost hear the muffled protests of, 'Hey, that's not fair! Only we are allowed to do that!'

Only those with something to hide could take issue with his demand for the political antecedents of media hosts and commentators to be made public. It's the normal practice in other mature democracies like the US, UK and Canada. So what's the deal about doing it here?

Some politicians argue that what you do is all that counts, and what you say means nothing. Well, these 'substance only and forget about style' fundamentalists should consider the public perceptions of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga. Seaga was a statistically superior prime minister in all critical spheres - life expectancy, literacy rate, GDP per capita growth, and homicide rate. (Again, don't blame me if you don't like the numbers. For details, see 'Hugh Shearer: Ja's greatest PM?' Sunday Gleaner July 11, 2004. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20040711/news/news1.html)


LIFE EXPECTANCY - 69/70.7/73.2

LITERACY RATE - 69/75.9/81.5

GDP per CAPITA - 2,622/1,820/1,972

HOMICIDE RATE-8.8/19.7/18.1


Yet, when Jamaicans are asked to pick their favourite prime minister, Michael Manley always tops the polls. Why? There are many possible explanations. But the simplest Ockham's razor answer is that 'Joshua' always made Jamaicans feel good about themselves and, when things were bad, he felt his people's pain.

You would think all elected leaders realise this is part of their mandate. Portia Simpson Miller definitely does, as her poll standings show. But Bruce Golding's sometimes give the impression that he's so caught up in his technical number-crunching as to think such touchy-feely stuff beneath him.

No politician has a better understanding of the fundamental problems facing Jamaica than Mr Golding.

But as someone recently wrote about Barack Obama, another cerebral technocrat in trouble with the polls, 'they don't care what you know unless they know that you care'.

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