‘Declining voter turnout’ is now a regular refrain at every election, as analysts lament the fact that fewer Jamaicans are voting. Yet it is simply not so. The percentage of Jamaicans voting – as a proportion of the total population - has gone up from 27% in 1993, to 32% in both 2011 and 2016.

The overall average since 1962 is, you guessed it, 32%. Some may think this low, but there is where our democratic psyche has settled. Our voting percentage may go up as the median Jamaican age increases. It is now about 29, compared to roughly 38 in the US.


What has declined is the proportion of registered voters who vote. But this is because registered voters as a percentage of total population has increased sharply since 2007. Vox pops with regular folks and politicians suggest this is not due to a sudden surge in voting interest, but because the voter registration card is the most accessible national ID.

A couple politicians involved in the April 2019 Portland East by election, told me ‘both parties scoured the area’, and ‘not even 2,000 real votes were left out there’. Since about 20,000 votes were cast, the real registered voter turnout was about 20,000/22,000 = 90%, as opposed to the official figure of 54%.

In their view ‘Official voter turnout is also low because people move around for jobs or whatever, and many just register again in their new areas, without cancelling previous voter IDs, creating duplicates. Others don’t understand the system. They think once you register you can vote anywhere, not realizing you have to re-register in your new area to vote. So elections come, and they want to vote where they live now, but cannot.’

Artificially inflated registered voter percentages suggest pollsters should interview only those planning to vote – ‘likely voters’ – and ignore ‘ID card’ registered voters with no interest in casting ballots.

It’s often said, though less frequently these days, that ‘Jamaica is PNP country’ - meaning a majority have always favoured that party. This is a historical fact.

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Since 1962, 51.8% have voted PNP and 46.6% JLP. Of 12 contested elections (excluding 1983), the PNP has won 7 to the JLP 5. Apart from 1980, the JLP has never won by more than 1%, while the PNP has won 5 times by double digits. As Westminster amplifies differences, the PNP has claimed 60% of seats. The past, of course, is no guarantee of the future.

Many question the accuracy of polls. But every poll by late great Carl Stone was correct within the margin of error. Previous to 2016, our resident pollsters Don Anderson and Bill Johnston also did quite well, with Anderson having the edge.



They were wrong in 2016, naturally shaking confidence in pollsters. But polls are a snapshot in time, and as the 2016 election progressed, you could sense the JLP gaining momentum. First Andrew Holness provided public details about the house the PNP was questioning. Then the PNP foolishly ducked the debates. Finally, the JLP 1.5 million salary tax exemption plan caught the public imagination. Discerning observers felt these factors could create a closer election, and they did. Had pollsters gone out again nearer to voting day, they might have gotten it right again.

(‘Polls are useless’ scoffers often cite the US 2016 election polls, which predicted a Clinton win. Yet those polls cumulatively predicted about a 3% Clinton popular vote win, and she won by 2%. Only the crackpot US electoral college system made Trump president, despite him losing by almost 3 million votes - and it could happen again.)

Current Jamaican polls are the most lopsided ever. Cumulatively they have the JLP ahead by 28%, and no party so far in front has ever lost. Adjusting each constituency by this national swing - with 2016 results as a base - gives the JLP 50 plus seats. ‘Garrison’ realities mean seat movements might vary, but big national shifts are felt everywhere.


The bookies have the JLP at 1:4 and the PNP at 3:1, giving Labour an 80% chance to win, and Comrades 25%. But it’s never over till it’s over, and a week is a long time in politics.


Whatever polls say, reality right now is 34 seats JLP and 29 seats PNP.  If the JLP defends 32, it wins. For victory, the PNP has to hold its 29, and take 3 JLP seats. Here are the 22 ‘battlegrounds’ won by 10% or less in 2016.


As they say in boxing, let both sides defend fairly, no low blows, and may the best team win.


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