Two opinion polls conducted a few months apart in Trinidad and Tobago, suggest that the ruling People National Movement (PNM) is likely to comfortably retain power should elections be held right away. Opinion polls however gauge public opinion for a particular moment in time and those opinions and choices they imply can change over time.
The PNM, in responding to the poll, said the results was expected. The opposition UNC responded by saying that pervious polls were proven wrong.
The PNM holds a five seat majority in the National Assembly and judging from the polls, seems set for reelection. One explanation (not provided by the polls) is that the opposition is not offering any attractive alternatives. It was predicted that the opposition United national Congress (UNC) will be difficult for the opposition to maintain the seats it had won before and to gain the additional seats needed to win power.
However, the elections is one year way. A great deal can change by then. Whether or not the political parties admit it, they do pay attention to opinion polls even though they contest unfavorable poll findings.
An opinion poll conducted recently in Guyana has attracted condemnation by the PPPC. The poll indicated that the majority of the PPPC supporters are not necessarily enamored by the party’s presidential candidate. The PPPC has questioned the authenticity of the poll and described it in unflattering terms.
The person reporting on the findings of the poll did not do a good job at explaining some the findings. Some concerns were expressed about whether the findings could have been affected by interviewer bias, that is, whether those doing the interviews could have misrepresented the real answers given.
Given Guyana’s newness to opinion polls, this is always a possibility. And it is from the persons designing the polls to institute safeguards to guard against this form of bias. One way would have been to have two persons record the responses. In this way, one person would act as check against the other distorting the answers, unless of course there is connivance between the two interviewers.
Guyana needs to develop a polling culture. And the organization which conducted the recent polls should be encouraged to undertake other polls.
One of the difficulties of polling in Guyana is the representativeness of the sample taken. Census data which is often used to decide on the nature of sample is dated. The last census was conducted in 2012, seven years ago. The make-up of the population would have changed since then and therefore there will be problems in generalizing the findings to the entire population.
Despite this problem, Guyanese should welcome the launch of opinion polls. They should cooperate with these polls because public opinion should inform public policy. One of the big problems in Guyana is that our politicians feel they can do as they please because they believe that they can impose their opinions on the public. If it can be established that the public has a different view to the politicians, the nature of representative politics may begin to change for the better.
It would be interesting for example to know how Guyanese feel about the death penalty and whether, given the present levels of crime, hanging should be introduced.
It would be interesting to know what percentage of the population support the 2 am curfew instituted by the Ministry of Public Security. How do young people feel about this as against how the older generation?
It would make for interesting to know whether the public supports the offering of pardons to persons accused of non-violent crimes? The victims are not likely to be pleased but how do other members of the public feel.
And what about the oil deals signed. How many supporters of the APNU and AFC would like to see these deals renegotiated? How many of them feel that Guyana has gotten a good deal and how many of them agree with cost recovery for the royalty?
And when it comes to the performance of the government, it would be useful to know just who the public considers as the top performing ministers, the most disliked ministers and the names of those whom the public feel should be fired.
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