kamla rowley

CONCERN over the coronavirus pandemic has overtaken concern over crime which had previously polled as the most pressing national issue for almost a decade. The pandemic now polls as the most important issue at 39 per cent, with crime a distant second at 19 per cent. More voters say that they intend to vote the party best able to deliver government services and programmes, compared to those who intend to vote on policy issues or quality of parliamentary representation. Among the policy positions polled, the administration has received overwhelming 74 per cent satisfaction with its handling of the pandemic, and 66 per cent want to continue the policy of restricting nationals who wish to return from overseas. There was no major difference on any of these matters across age, gender and employment status (with the exception that older voters are even more concerned about the virus than the average citizen), but public opinion concerning all issues and policies polled is correlated with race and partisanship.

Which is most important when you decide who to vote for?

The party best able to perform Government programs & services 40%
The party that agrees with me most on issues & policies 28%
The candidate best able to represent me in Parliament 20%
The party most likely to prevent the worst party from winning 7%
Other considerations 5%

Covid-19 is now the top national issue

The coronavirus pandemic has overtaken crime as the predominant issue facing Trinidad and Tobago today, according to public opinion. A 39 per cent plurality identified the coronavirus pandemic and/or public health as the most important national issue, followed by a statistical tie between crime (19 per cent), the economy (16 per cent) and corruption (15 per cent). National infrastructure such as the development and maintenance of roads, drainage and public utilities matters most to 8 per cent of the population.

Concern over the pandemic was pervasive, named as the top issue by a plurality of every gender, ethnic, geographic and employment status group in the country; although only narrowly so among persons of East Indian descent, whose concern is equally split between the pandemic (24 per cent), corruption (20 per cent), the economy (20 per cent) and crime (19 per cent). The group most likely to mention the virus is persons over 65 years old, 44 per cent of whom consider the pandemic the most pressing issue, ahead of crime is at 19 per cent. Opinion over which issue is most important follows a clear partisan divide. Likely voters who believe the pandemic is the most important issue favour the PNM over the UNC by a 65 18 margin, while those who are most concerned by crime, the economy or corruption favour the UNC 50-31 over the PNM.

What is the most important issue affecting the country?

The coronavirus pandemic/ public health 39%
Crime 19%
The economy/ unemployment 16%
Corruption 15%
National Infrastructure 8%
Other 4%

Previously, crime had been identified as the issue of highest national attention in every annual government approval poll commissioned by the Express Newspapers from at least 2011, pre-dating Solution by Simulation conducting the Express- commissioned poll since 2014.

Performance in office is what counts

When voters decide how to cast their ballots, the most popular consideration is the parties' ability to execute programmes and/or provide government services. This was mentioned by 40 per cent of respondents, followed by 28 per cent who are searching for the party that most agrees with them on issues and policies, and 20 per cent who will decide which candidate is best able to represent them in Parliament; 7 per cent will vote for whichever option will ensure that the worst party does not gain power. All other considerations combine for the remaining 5 per cent.

The relative ranking of these considerations- namely, performance first, followed by issue-based voting, quality representation and settling for the least bad option-is fairly consistent across sex, age group, employment status and geographic region of the country. There is, however, some difference based on race. 'Performance' polls in the low 40s among all ethnic groups, but quality representation ranks second (26 per cent) among mixed-race voters ahead of policy issues (18 per cent). In contrast, among voters of African descent, the share of issue-based voters is twice that of representation-seekers (31 per cent vs 16 per cent) while within the Indo-Trinidadian community the two considerations are roughly equal (25 per cent vs 21 per cent).

Performance-minded voters and issue-based voters arrive at very different conclusions of which party to support, with the UNC leading performance-minded voters 50-37 over the PNM, and the PNM leading among issue-based voters 64-27. The minority of voters who value quality of representation over other concerns tip towards the UNC, with the PNM and Undecided statistically-tied within that group.

The PNM excels at Covid-19 management, the UNC with building infrastructure

A clear majority (57 per cent) of likely voters believe that the PNM is the better of the two major parties to protect the country from Covid-19 and public health emergencies. The UNC trails far behind at just 24 per cent of voters, while 18 per cent of respondents believe neither party has any unique advantage in that area.

No other area of competence reveals such a large divergence in public perception between the two parties; the next-closest being the perceived ability to build and maintain infrastructure in which the UNC leads the PNM by an 8 per cent margin. Opinion of the parties' relative competence to provide social services, to fight crime and to manage the economy is statistically tied in the low 40s (except for the UNC conceding a few percentage points to 'equally capable' in their ability to reduce crime).

This perceived advantage in public health crisis management, the most predominant issue of national concern, appears to translate into a modest but measurable effect in support for the PNM. Seventy-four (74) per cent of the clear majority of the population who believe the PNM is more capable of handling the pandemic intend to vote for the PNM, compared to just 43 per cent of wider electorate. The UNC leads among those who believe the two parties are equally equipped.

Overwhelming opposition to reopening the international borders

The Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and their decision to close its international borders, even to its own citizens, has been widely favoured by the public.

Almost 3 in 4 voters are satisfied with the Government's handling of the pandemic, with only 1 in 5 opposed. A 66 per cent majority of voters believe the Government should continue its policy of only allowing case-by-case exemptions to nationals who wish to return to Trinidad and Tobago, with a notable minority (30 per cent) opposed to the practice. Virtually all citizens are on one side or another; only 1 in 20 voters are undecided on these issues.

On the other hand, citizens are wary of any possibility of an open trading relationship between Trinidad and Tobago and its neighbour, Venezuela. A 44 per cent plurality of voters believe that T& T should honour the resolutions of its allies in the Americas and limit such trade. This view polled slightly ahead of the view that Trinidad and Tobago should decide its diplomatic relationship with Venezuela on its own terms without regard to its relationship with the United States; held by 37 per cent of the population. A sizeable 19 per cent minority of the polling sample was unsure or had no opinion.

The issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement has no relevance in the context of Trinidad and Tobago, according to 3 out of every 5 poll respondents, far exceeding the 1 in 4 who believe that they do.

Opinion on all of these policy issues is moderately correlated with partisanship. A unanimous 98 per cent of PNM supporters are satisfied with the administration's management of the pandemic, and 91 per cent of PNM supporters agree with the administration's decision to keep the borders closed, even to nationals who wish to return. In contrast, among UNC supporters, satisfaction with the Government's Covid-19 response is split evenly, with 44 per cent satisfied and 48 per cent dissatisfied. Likewise, 55 per cent of UNC supporters want to open the borders to all returning nationals and 40 per cent do not.

There was a similar moderate correlation between race and the other two issue areas polled. Persons of African descent believe T& T should decide its relationship with Venezuela on its own terms, by a 56-27 margin, and believe that Black Lives Matter issues are relevant to Trinidad and Tobago, by a 50-32 margin. The reverse is true among persons of East Indian descent. Support for an open trading relationship with Venezuela polls 15-64 among IndoTrinidadians, and the relevance of Black Lives Matter issues at just 16-73.

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