If an election were held tomorrow, only 20 percent of the people polled by Public Domain said they would vote for the Free National Movement (FNM).
While there is a tendency by some to dismiss polling when it is unfavorable to them, the latest numbers from the Bahamian market and public opinion research firm should be tremendously worrying for the current administration, which will likely find it more difficult to govern if the trust deficit continues to widen.
The new numbers demonstrate the dramatic erosion of the FNM’s political capital so early in this term.
Those numbers come as arrogance sets in with the current crew in government – a group no doubt emboldened by its significant and stunning margin of victory just over a year ago.
The FNM secured 57 percent of the votes in the May 10, 2017 general election. It won 35 seats in the House of Assembly.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) secured 37 percent of the vote. It won four seats.
While 20 percent of respondents said they would vote for the FNM if elections were held tomorrow, 12 percent said they would vote for the PLP, seven percent would vote for the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and three percent would vote independent.
Six percent said they would not vote for any of those three parties.
Interestingly, 44 percent said they were unsure or did not know who they would vote for, and another seven percent refused to say one way or the other.
While just 12 percent said they would vote PLP, Mwale Rahming, president of Public Domain, said the news here is worse for the FNM than it is for the PLP.
“Public Domain has learned since we’ve been in the market – we’ve been in the market since 2010 – we’ve been through two election cycles, and one thing that’s very specific to The Bahamas, and I can’t tell you that it will always happen, but I can tell you what has happened in the last two elections: the undecided voters all vote for the opposition,” Rahming told National Review.
“We saw it in 2012, which was our first time experiencing where we had this. I think it was nine or 10 percent of voters who said they were unsure, and they all voted for the opposition.
“It normally breaks up by party. We definitely saw it in 2017 where there was a much larger [percentage]. I think somewhere around 30 percent of people were unsure, and they all voted for the FNM.”
Just one year after a dramatic and huge win, the swift pace at which the FNM has lost support is stunning.
These numbers suggest that even people who identify as FNMs are not feeling their party right now.
The FNM no doubt expected fallout after the government revealed during the budget communication on May 30 that it will increase value-added tax from 7.5 percent to 12 percent, but it ought to be concerned by the significant loss of support – even if it declines to acknowledge that publicly.
Speaking of the results for the voter intention question, Rahming said, “That would worry me if I were in government right now, because almost half the electorate is saying ‘I’m not sure’.
“If that remains the same way as the last two elections, those will be opposition votes, which would mean they don’t necessarily want to vote PLP, but they would vote PLP as opposition votes.”
Respondents were also asked whether The Bahamas is going in the right or wrong direction.
Seven percent said The Bahamas is going “very much in the right direction”, and 16 percent said The Bahamas is going “somewhat in the right direction”.
That means 23 percent of respondents believe our country is going in the right direction.
Thirty-five percent said The Bahamas is going “very much in the wrong direction” and 18 percent said The Bahamas is going “somewhat in the wrong direction”.
That means 53 percent of respondents believe we are going in the wrong direction.
Another 24 percent answered “neither” or said they were unsure.
“It’s not good for government,” said Rahming, referring to the fact that 53 percent believe the country is going in the wrong direction.
“And the other problem is only 23 percent of the people are saying right direction. That’s one in four. That means that there are three out of four people who aren’t saying it’s going in the right direction. That’s an alarming number for me.”
In that same poll, only 32 percent expressed overall satisfaction with the government (with seven percent saying they are “very satisfied”).
Fifty percent expressed dissatisfaction with the government, with 30 percent saying they are “very dissatisfied”.
Eighteen percent said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, or were simply unsure.
When this question was asked in Public Domain’s April survey, 44 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the government. That, at the time, was a nine percent decrease from the November 2017 survey, and a total decline of 18 percent since the May 2017 election.
Again, we asked Rahming how worrying it is for an administration that just entered the second year of its term for its satisfaction level to be declining so rapidly.
“I don’t know how worried they would be, but it is alarming for me, and I would be worried if I were in government; and I think they need to understand that this is such a vague question that this is not an evaluation of one particular thing that you’re doing,” he said.
“And I think you need to figure out a way to address this, more than addressing one particular item that you’re handling right now.”
On the point of satisfaction level, he added, “What’s really worrying there is we typically are used to seeing the satisfied get parked in the middle of ‘I’m not sure’.
“‘I’m not sure’ is going smaller, and the dissatisfied is getting bigger, so they’re skipping, jumping from the satisfied to ‘not sure’ and going into dissatisfied, and that’s dangerous.”
We asked him what he thinks is accounting for the swiftly growing level of dissatisfaction.
Rahming responded, “We didn’t ask why, so we don’t know what this particularly is, but this is also a worrying trend for this government.”
Much of what we are seeing and feeling with respect to the Minnis administration reminds us of the mood that had set in against the Christie administration around mid-term.
In an interview with us last month, former Prime Minister Perry Christie acknowledged that his administration had so turned the electorate off that it was just impossible to get many Bahamians to listen or to believe anything he and his ministers were saying.
Rahming said the Minnis administration appears to be heading in this direction.
“I think that the danger when people form governments is that they go into a bubble and they don’t see what people are really saying on the streets, or in the barber shops or getting their boiled fish, and they don’t hear that people are dissatisfied,” he said.
“I think they need to understand that maybe, outside of your bubble, there’s an attitude going around that you need to address. And I think the message that I would give to them is step outside the bubble a bit and understand, because the last administration had this exact problem, where outside of their bubble, they didn’t realize how dissatisfied the people were, and they had an election that they thought would go well for them and it didn’t.
“I think there is a tipping point that, when you get to that point, it doesn’t matter what you say anymore; I’ve tuned you out. I won’t hear anything you try to offer me, and all I’m doing is biding my time until I can vote you out.”
The Minnis administration, in seeking to sell its new budget to the people, contends that in three years it will balance the budget and save The Bahamas from going off the fiscal cliff.
The pain of 12 percent value-added tax (VAT) is necessary at this time to avoid calamity in the future, it asserts.
The government is rolling the dice with the expectation that, come 2021, the economy will be on a roll and the budget will be balanced.
It is banking on these factors feeding a pro-FNM mood.
But that is a big gamble.
The pain of the VAT increase – of driving up the cost of living so sharply – will likely sour the electorate even further.
On Monday, we also reported that 73 percent of respondents oppose the plan to increase VAT to 12 percent; 73 percent believe the level of taxation the government is seeking to impose on gaming house revenue is unfair and only seven percent agree with the government’s characterization of its new budget as “The People’s Budget”.
We agreed that calling this budget of pain the people’s budget was wholly insulting to the electorate.
Days in advance of the budget, the prime minister characterized it as such. In so doing, he unrealistically set expectations that there was something in the budget for the people.
While the government announced it will eliminate VAT on breadbasket items, come August 1, and also eliminate VAT on medicine as well as electricity bills and water bills under a certain amount, there is not a widespread feeling that the budget has significant benefits for average Bahamians – not for the poor and not for the middle class either.
In fact, 76 percent of those surveyed believe the budget will help wealthy Bahamians. Sixty-two percent said the budget is designed to benefit special interests within the FNM.
This is not surprising to us.
Despite the government’s spin, the burden of the 12 percent VAT is not eliminated or cushioned in any significant way by the exemptions being offered.
Public Domain conducted a telephone survey between June 2 and June 6, 2018. The budget was brought to Parliament on May 30.
Eight hundred respondents throughout The Bahamas were interviewed.
As noted earlier, there is the temptation for those who do not find the results favorable to attack the researchers and dismiss the results entirely.
But Rahming pointed out that 800 is a respectable sample size for The Bahamas’ population.
“Once the number is over 400, much less important than the number of households that were surveyed was the fact that they were randomly selected,” he noted.
A poll of 1,500 randomly selected respondents is considered a respectable sample size for the United States population, which exceeds 300 million.
We once read that you don’t have to have all of your blood drawn for the doctor to be able to tell if you’re in good health. An acceptable sample gives a pretty good idea of that.
While some FNMs may be dismissive of these latest results, in September 2016 after we reported that a poll conducted by the firm showed that FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis scored higher than Christie and other political leaders, FNMs were quick to use it to their advantage.
Their lack of excitement over the current data is understandable.
However, they may ignore the results at their own peril.
It is important that they seek to preserve political capital, as they are still early in their term.
Just how difficult is it to govern in the absence of trust?
“Ask the last administration or the one before that,” Rahming said.
“Once people stop trusting or believing what you’re saying [then you’re in trouble]. The last administration tried to do something that was very, very PLP brand: free healthcare for everyone. They tried to give that to us, and we were like, ‘We ain’t on your run’.
“We really did not pay attention to what they were trying to do, because of all the other stuff that had happened.
“I think that’s the danger of where we’re headed right now with this administration.
“We’re going to get to a point where the people are no longer listening, and that’s a dangerous tipping point, because you can’t govern effectively [without the people trusting what you’re saying and doing].”