Winford James

Dr Winford James

I welcome the latest poll by Nigel Henry’s Solution by Simulation (SBS). I welcome it because I know how insufficient my analyses (as well as those of my fellow commentators) on public affairs can be, relying as they sometimes do on narrow personal snapshots of reality. When a news reporter asks me, absent a poll, if I think the Rowley administration is doing well, I am faced with a difficult question. What set of data should I use? Will the data be acceptably relevant and adequate? Will my personal observations be sufficient? Will I constrain my biases appropriately? Do I proffer a perspective that is likely to be pleasing to the Government or the Opposition?

I am an academic. Before I form an opinion, I try to get as much information, within the practical limits of weekly opinion construction, from local reporters, my recollection of local political and economic history, world news, perspectives of individuals in the society, and...pollsters.

Then I impose what I trust is good reason on that information.

On Sunday and Monday of this week, we were given information by SBS on the favourability of the prime minister and the performance of his administration—good, reliable information. The information came in the form of data via telephone from a sample of 401 respondents and also via interpretations of the data from Henry and his collaborators.

Some of the facts/findings are as follows:

• PM Rowley’s (leadership) is favoured by 50 per cent of the population.

• Only one in three persons is satisfied with the way in which the Government handled the closure and restructuring of Petrotrin.

• Only one in four persons supports the decriminalisation of marijuana and half of the sample oppose it.

• Forty-three per cent of the sample agreed with the registration of Venezuelan refugees and the grant to them of the right to work in the country for one year, while 38 disagreed; one in five persons didn’t proffer an opinion.

• Only 27 per cent of the sample support the Government’s decision not to set in motion hearings on the impeachment of the Chief Justice Ivor Archie while 29 per cent dissented, with a plurality (44 per cent) not expressing an opinion.

• Decriminalisation of marijuana is supported by 36 per cent of Afro-Trinidadians and by 26 per cent of Indo-Trinidadians.

• Seventy-four per cent of Indos believed the economy to be in crisis as compared to 12 per cent of Afros.

• Seventy-nine per cent of Afros approve of the PM as compared to 23 per cent of Indos.

• Twenty-six per cent of Afros think crime is a crisis as against 77 per cent of Indos.

• Fifty-seven per cent of Afros have confidence in the education system.

• Sixty-seven per cent of Afros have confidence in the President as compared with 26 per cent of Indos.

Using these facts and others not reported here, SBS opines as follows:

• “The public is largely unsupportive of the Government’s major policy initiatives over the past year.’’

• “(T)he country is deeply divided along racial, socio-economic and, in some cases, generational lines.’’

• “(T)his poll finds a jaded society with but few sources of optimism.’’

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• “There is an overwhelming sentiment that crime, the economy and corruption are problematic, reception to Government policy has been lukewarm at best, and after three straight years of plummeting faith in the national institutions the upward movement is within the poll’s margin of error.’’

• “In the midst of apathy and scepticism, the population remains deeply divided.’’

• “(E)ven in (the) few improving areas, the majority of the population still maintains either a neutral or negative view.’’

The data, analyses, and opinions provided by SBS must make grim reading for the Government, if not the Opposition. The Government cannot feel good in the face of the rejection of its major policies by large percentages of the sample (read “population’’) and the bulk of Indos. And if one of our societal goals is to keep bringing the races (and classes) together, then the stark racial polarisation of views on so many issues is quite troubling.

In T&T in 2019, what does race have to do with it? Will dissenters please stand up?

The bulk of Indos are saying they don’t like anything this Afro government is doing while the bulk of Afros are saying we support this Government. Overall, the bulk of the people are silent on what the Government has been doing, and if not silent, then negative.

Apart from the return of race with a vengeance, a key meaning is that the Government has been governing, on too many issues, apart from the people. Legally and constitutionally, it can do so, but politically, it can only do so at its own peril. The population seems to be resisting the practice of government that sidelines civic groups and assemblies after the vote.

I think the bulk of the non-Indo population are sending the message that the Government should put in place effective consultation mechanisms, whether in its practice or in our Constitution, to garner extra-governmental views to help it better inform its policies. It is saying, “Count me in after the vote. I am still here, willing and able.’’

The time for relying only on the discretions of a few to run this fractious place is over.

Let’s do this thing together.

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