The results of an Open Current poll conducted in recent weeks in the Sea Breeze and St. Barnabas constituencies in New Providence that found the overwhelming number of those polled saying The Bahamas is going in the wrong direction are likely reflective of the wider country – and are also not surprising.
These are difficult times and these difficult times happen to coincide with weak and arrogant political leadership.
This is a toxic mix.
Open Current — a Bahamian company that provides research-based advice to governments, investors and organizations – said it conducted door-to-door surveys between July 9 and July 15, polling 409 residents in Sea Breeze and 391 in St. Barnabas.
It said the sample size of a single constituency is comparable to the sample size of some national polling.
Only 23 percent of Sea Breeze residents and 22 percent of St. Barnabas residents believed the country was going in the right direction.
“Overwhelmingly, it seems residents of both constituencies think the country is going in the wrong direction – 54 percent for Sea Breeze and a whopping 70 percent for St. Barnabas,” Open Current said.
Sea Breeze is currently represented by Lanisha Rolle, who won the seat with 58 percent of the votes in 2017. Rolle was overlooked for renomination amid controversy surrounding her unexplained resignation from the Minnis Cabinet.
The Free National Movement (FNM) has since nominated communications specialist Maxine Seymour for that constituency, but Seymour faces a tough time as the FNM is tremendously unpopular, unemployment remains troublingly high, and her campaign started months behind the highly organized and seemingly well-funded Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) candidate Leslia Brice.
St. Barnabas, a traditional PLP stronghold, is represented by Shanendon Cartwright, who won the seat with 56 percent of the votes and has seemingly been a standout member of Parliament. But he, too, faces a tough time for many of the same reasons, including the fact that many Bahamians are anxious to cast a vote against Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.
In every election over many years, good MPs have been sent packing because voters have been unable, or unwilling, to separate an MP’s performance from that of the government and party leadership.
As Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine stated recently, “If they mad at the leader, they mad at you.”
The dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in recent times has forced the prime minister to put on hold plans to go into a general election, according to individuals close to him, but it is feeling increasingly unlikely that Minnis and the FNM will be able to fight against the tide of discontentment that continues to build.
The prolonged and worsening COVID crisis makes the chances even more of a long shot.
The surge in cases has stunted the prime minister’s already feeble efforts to convince Bahamians that the economy is “roaring back” and better days are ahead under his stewardship.
The FNM in a series of social media ads and memes in recent weeks has declared, “Good leadership brought COVID numbers down”; “COVID down. We are doing better under good leadership”; and “Right decisions made on restrictions to save Bahamian lives.”
The FNM is now blaming Bahamians socializing over the independence holiday weekend earlier this month for the spike in cases.
Of course, voters place different levels of priority on issues that shape “right” or “wrong” direction – the economy and cost of living issues, the crime situation, state of education, lack of access to quality healthcare, lack of reliable and affordable electricity supply, and the behavior of those in political leadership factor in in different ways for different people.
But it is perhaps their own personal economic circumstances that most strongly shape how Bahamians view the country’s direction.
“This is literally people talking about their own lives, how they feel their lives are going in this country right now,” said Joey Gaskins, senior partner at Open Current, “how they feel, as citizens of the country, the direction of the country as a whole. It’s meant to be a broad question. It’s meant to capture sentiment more than point to any specific reason”.
The top concern for the polled Sea Breeze residents was employment and job opportunities (45 percent), followed by healthcare (39 percent), and economic growth (37 percent).
In St. Barnabas, the top priority among those polled was employment and job opportunities (63 percent), economic growth (58 percent) and healthcare (39 percent).
Respondents were able to select more than one priority, which accounts for the total percentage exceeding 100.
While we know many workers in the tourism industry and in other industries that had been halted during the pandemic are back to work, many are not, and even some of those working are burdened as they attempt to catch up on their obligations.
Indeed, “wrong direction” is shaped by a sense of insecurity around jobs, the inability of many to feed their children, their sense of the inability of their children to advance in the country through opportunities for good jobs and affordable, decent housing and a sense that the government is just taking from them through taxes, and returning nothing.
There is a deep sense of hopelessness among many as they feel they are the target of policies that make their lives more difficult, and there is not a sense among many of general safety and well-being.
Hope is critical in any society. The lack of hope can destroy a country. A leader’s inability to inspire hope will likely doom an administration and its members to the political graveyard.
There is a collective view that there is no plan in place or policies being implemented that advance the lives of the everyday Bahamian. Many see a deep separation between the haves and have nots. Many see the haves getting more and more and more at what they perceive is at their expense.
Many cannot afford quality healthcare. One of the things we don’t talk about enough are the many non-COVID medical services placed on hold because of the strain and challenge the pandemic is presenting to a system that was already deeply fractured prior to the pandemic.
Arbitrary restrictions in the absence of any data also increase frustrations among the public and reduce buy-in and compliance with the measures put in place to curb the virus.
While the Open Current poll does not address the impact of the politicians’ failure to fulfill promises, and the manner in which they treat the electorate, these factors no doubt contribute to what is clearly widespread disenchantment toward the Minnis administration.
When a leader in opposition constantly promises things like fixed election dates and term limits, then comes to office and displays an unapologetic disregard for such pledges, that eats away at credibility and fails to inspire confidence.
When a leader in opposition decries a regressive tax policy, calls it lazy and unimaginative, then comes to office and raises it higher, that fosters the feeling that we were duped.
When a leader in opposition slams a government’s lack of transparency then comes to office and makes decisions without respecting the people enough to explain those decisions and lay all of the connected information on the table, and tells us by his actions that information is none of our business, then we begin to feel we have the wrong person in the chair and it is time for change, even if we are not quite comfortable with our options for change.
When voters see increasing evidence that they were used, that their concerns were exploited for someone’s political gain, then the obvious conclusion is we are going down the wrong path – that we are the people but it is NOT our time.
A grave mistake made by Minnis and his team – and there are many – is their failure to use the opening years of their administration more wisely, to focus on achieving more of their big-ticket promises and to respect the electorate, the various professional groupings and civil society enough to engage them in a kind of partnership to set our nation on a more hopeful track, notwithstanding the unforeseen looming COVID crisis and monster hurricanes.
Many voters understandably feel the campaign ran by the FNM in 2017 was a fraud. Of course, it was clear to us all along that many of what was being said and what was being promised was not based on any genuine conviction, but was part of a well-crafted strategy to win over voters.
While the right messaging and the angst of the electorate toward an incumbent administration play well for the opposition, when the election dust settles, when the confetti is cleaned up and the victory rally stage broken down, it is only then that it is truly showtime.
And when difficult situations arise, the true mettle of leaders is tested.
Telling us your leadership brought us through a pandemic and is resulting in a roaring economy does not make it so. That message can be touted until the cows come home, but if the milk is not being delivered then the message is futile.
Philip Brave Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party might be smelling blood right now as they seek to capitalize on the FNM’s unpopularity and voters’ disillusionment.
If voters decide to deliver a strong vote against Minnis and the FNM, then we would see once again a change in administration.
While we have seen changes in administrations at every election over the last 20 years, what we have not seen is a change in direction for the country. This is troubling for us all – FNMs, PLPs, DNAs, and all others, including those who have no political leanings.
We hope that the PLP takes seriously the prospects of governing The Bahamas once again, possibly by year’s end, depending on the timing of the election and what the voters decide to do.
In shaping their message and mounting their efforts on the campaign trail, Davis and his team must think deeply and meaningfully about the task that would be ahead of them.
We are tired of parties and political leaders who want to win, but who are not prepared to govern.
At some point, we must all acknowledge that this game of musical chairs is not working for any of us.