PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley should be relatively pleased with the findings of the Express-commissioned poll on the fourth anniversary of his party’s election to office.
An approval rating of 50 per cent at this point in a government’s five-year administration, especially given the country’s straitened economic circumstances, is a solid basis from which an incumbent could launch an effective campaign in the home stretch to a general election.
But as the poll also shows, a majority approval rating, even on the eve of an election, is no guarantee of an electoral victory.
Dr Rowley’s predecessor, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, lifted her final year rating by six percentage points and still ended up losing the election. Unlike her, however, the polls show that while Dr Rowley was voted in with a marginally lower approval rating than Mrs Persad-Bissessar, he has so far not suffered the dramatic fall from grace she experienced over her first two years in office when her approval rating fell by 17 points before an equally dramatic recovery.
Conducted over the week of September 1-7, the poll by Solution By Simulation (SBS) would have picked up public sentiment on the Prime Minister’s firing of senior cabinet minister Marlene McDonald following her arrest on corruption-related charges. It may also have benefited from the public’s feel-good mood in the immediate afterglow of Carifesta XIV.
However, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s current approval rating, all aspirants to the leadership of the country should focus their attention on the public’s priority concerns. According to the poll, the population is consumed by anxiety over crime. With 56 per cent of respondents identifying the problem as a crisis and another 38 per cent as “major”, crime remains the top concern of 94 per cent of the population which may as well be counted as everyone. While the poll notes a “small but measurable shift away from anxiety over the economy”, the fact remains that roughly three-quarters of the population are worried about the economy.
However, the six-point decline in those who see the economy in crisis mode is important and suggests some lifting of anxiety following the shutdown of Petrotrin one year ago and about the economic impact of Venezuelan migrants.
How the political fortunes of T&T unfold over the coming year will depend not only on the performance of the Rowley administration but on what happens with the Opposition United National Congress, and on domestic and international events and currents. Crime and the economy can be expected to dominate the national agenda, with the capacity to influence political behaviour. The emergence of new political parties suggests that some individuals and groups are sensing a political vacuum.
Whether any of them, or any combination of them, can re-shape the political landscape remains to be seen. As the general elections of 1986 and 2015 demonstrated, political re-alignments in the form of alliances and partnerships mere months before a general election can shake up a campaign, depending on a large number of variables. With Local Government elections expected later this year, the electorate will soon have the chance to send a signal one way or the other.