Friday, April 22, 2011

Bahamian politics, politicians, pundits, pollsters, strange bedfellows and the next general election in The Bahamas

Politicians, pundits and pollsters

By Philip C. Galanis

With slightly more than one year, at most, before the general election must be called, the political temperature is already rising. In February this year, Dr. Andre Rollins resigned from the NDP, the political party he helped to create, and joined the PLP. He was quickly nominated to be the latter's standard bearer in the Fort Charlotte constituency.

In March, Branville McCartney, the FNM Member of Parliament for Bamboo Town, resigned from the governing Party and announced that his newly formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA) will contest the next elections with a full slate of candidates.

Not to be outdone or upstaged by Christie's PLP or Bran's DNA, last week Prime Minister Ingraham, with great fanfare and flanked by fellow-ministers and followers, welcomed Cassius Stuart, the Leader of the Bahamas Democratic Party, along with virtually his entire disbanded decade-old organization, into the Free National Movement. And let us not forget that one of the dailies predicted the imminent demise of the National Democratic Party, given the dissatisfaction with several of its leaders and disaffection from its ranks.

Meanwhile some Bahamian political spectators are virtually salivating in exuberant excitement and eager expectation to see which other veteran and wannabe politicians will be co-opted and who will defect from their current positions as this political ballet is choreographed and performed on the political stage. Perhaps as never before will the adage that "politics makes strange bedfellows" be corroborated as a truism in Bahamian politics — for the next few months, in any event.

Therefore this week, we would like to Consider This...what are we to make of the recent developments that have evoked such excitement on the domestic political landscape and what part do the pundits and pollsters play in this ever-growing drama we call Bahamian politics?


It has become very clear that some of the recent novices and veterans in the political arena have now realized that they will continue to be marginalized by remaining on the periphery of the real political stage, outside the organizational mainstream of the two behemoths that are the PLP and the FNM. Accordingly, Dr. Andre Rollins and Cassius Stuart — along with almost his entire party — have determined to hitch their political fortunes to the major parties.

A frequently asked question regarding such political vacillations is whether those persons are really interested in improving the things that they have articulated to be wrong with both the country and the major political parties that up to one year ago they vehemently opposed, or are they more interested in their own political elevation and personal aggrandizement? Although Bran McCartney has taken a very different course, some will put the same question to him. Just how true they remain to their principles and fundamental positions will become more apparent in the fullness of time.


The term "pundit" normally refers to one who regards himself as an expert in a particular subject and who offers his opinion or commentary to the public on that subject. Punditry has been applied to political analysis, the social sciences and sports. Traditionally, political pundits would include radio and television talk show hosts and their guests who are generally knowledgeable in such matters. Pundits also include newspaper and magazine columnists, most of whom, with the exception of the Scribe and Front Porch by Simon (both pseudonyms), have the courage of their convictions to identify themselves and stand by their positions, whether the public perceives their positions to be right, wrong or indifferent.

Pundits are often not necessarily scientific in their approach to political analysis, relying more on their intuition, a sixth sense, if you will, a historical frame of reference and even on their personal experience to explain the vicissitude of politics.

In a general sense, however, many Bahamians think of themselves as political pundits and equally possessed of the qualities that characterize those who more traditionally fit the definition. Virtually every Bahamian has a political opinion. Because Bahamians are generally well-informed on partisan and national issues, extremely interested in the body politic and politically astute, they are as eager to express their views as they are prepared to criticize or support government and opposition policies and decisions. And that is very healthy for our polity.


Pollsters on the other hand, as compared to pundits, attempt to provide a degree of scientific sophistry to political developments and issues of the day. An effective pollster will have a good understanding of mathematical and statistical methods to analyze and interpret events and to forecast outcomes. In short, pollsters have mastered the art that many politicians so often fail at. They actually ask people what they think about an issue, a policy or a national decision. Then they summarize the answers to the questions that they ask and present their findings based on what people actually think.

Some people are skeptical of pollsters, often objecting to the validity of the answers garnered from the poll, because the "doubting Thomases" question the veracity of persons whom they poll. It has often been suggested that Bahamians will provide the answers that they think the pollster is seeking rather than the truth of how the person polled actually feels.

However, there are techniques for pollsters to filter answers in order to arrive at a consensus position of persons who are polled. Furthermore, although polling in The Bahamas is a relatively new discipline, the politician who prefers to rely exclusively on his intuition or the “expertise” of the pundits do so at their peril. The fact of the matter is that politics has become more scientific in assessing public opinion and sentiment and polling has proven to be a very useful tool to accomplish that task.

Just this past week, the relatively new Bahamian market research firm, Public Domain, headed by Mwale Rahming, released the results of a poll that his firm conducted between February 16 and March 11, 2011. Public Domain indicated that 402 persons were polled, weighted by region, age and gender, in order to ensure that the population represented a good cross-section of the Bahamian adult population. The poll represented a five percent margin of error which is quite acceptable for such an exercise.

To the question: "If the election was held today, which party would you vote for?" the results were reminiscent of the Elizabeth bye-election. The respondents indicated that 28 percent would vote for the PLP and 25 percent for the FNM. What is even more revealing about that poll is that 21 percent indicated that they would vote for a third, unbranded party and 26 percent were undecided. The conclusion of that poll is that 47 percent, nearly one-half of the respondents, did not have an appetite for either the PLP or the FNM. The conclusion can be drawn from this is that there is a very large percentage of disaffected voters who are not happy with the two major parties. This confirms the perceptions of many political pundits.

Secondly, the respondents were asked "How satisfied are you with the current government led by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham?" The response was that 14 percent were very satisfied, 35 percent were somewhat satisfied for a total of 49 percent who were generally satisfied with the current government. Equally revealing was the conclusion that 21 percent were somewhat dissatisfied and another 25 percent were very dissatisfied for a total dissatisfaction rating of 46 percent. The remaining four percent did not know. This is very interesting when one considers how close today’s figures are to the percentage of voters who actually voted FNM in the last general election, nearly 49.82 percent, as compared to those who didn’t vote FNM but voted PLP, which was 46.98 percent.

Finally, to the question: "If a third political party presented a full slate of andidates with a mix of veteran and new candidates, how likely would you be to vote for this third party?" the responses were astounding. The response was that 32 percent were very likely to do so, 25 percent were somewhat likely to do so, for a total of 57 percent who said that they were likely to vote for a third party. In addition, 11 percent were not very likely to do so, while another 21 percent were not likely at all to vote for a third party, rendering a total of 32 percent who would not likely to vote for a third party. The remaining 11 percent did not know.

These poll results should give both the PLP and the FNM reason to be concerned about voter sentiment at this particular point in time and should also be very encouraging to Branville McCartney who, when this poll was conducted, had not yet announced that he would form a political party and that he would present a full slate of candidates in the upcoming elections.


We have always maintained that the next general election will be a close, fiercely contested and combative conflict. It is clear that politicians must fully understand the political landscape. The pundits will have much to talk and write about as the "silly season" unfolds, sharing their considered opinions and gut feelings with all and sundry. Finally, the pollsters will have an increasingly important role to play as they investigate and measure the actual feelings of voters, unraveling the variables and vicissitudes that will contribute to the success of the victor and failure of the vanquished in the next general election, whenever it is called.

Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to