Caribbean Research Service Praises Team Unity for Its Rare Vote Swing

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Celebrating Team Unity Win

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BASSETERRE, St Kitts (CMC) — The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES) says the six per cent swing recorded by the ruling coalition Team Unity in Friday’s general election in St Kitts-Nevis is a significant victory for the Timothy Harris-led Administration.

CADRES, which had predicted victory for the three-member coalition earlier this year, said the election was the first held in the English-speaking Caribbean during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and a state of emergency which was in effect for the better part of the campaign, “which was also an unusual occurrence”.

It said prior to the election, Team Unity, which had a 7-4 majority in the 11-member National Assembly, did not hold a majority of the popular support. But according to a CADRES report: “It has now reversed its fortunes, moving from seven to nine seats and recording a six per cent swing. This positive swing puts Team Unity in a somewhat exclusive club of electoral performances where an incumbent increases its majority and seats held.

“This happens rarely in the Caribbean as the trend is that governments normally lose support and seats after the first term. The most notable exception would be that of Dominica where Roosevelt Skerrit’s Dominica Labour Party recorded this improvement in 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2019, while in Barbados in 1999 Owen Arthur performed a similar feat.

“It has also happened elsewhere in the region; however, in most instances, the collapse of a third party is involved, and with no such party in this instance the Harris/Unity achievement is to some extent historic.”

CADRES said the fact that Team Unity was a coalition is also worthy of comment since coalitions are “notoriously fragile and this fact would normally complicate re-election efforts”.

It said across the region coalitions have been re-elected, as has been the case in Antigua, Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines; however, these coalitions have blended into one party as time has passed and have seldom increased their seat or vote count.

“In the case of St Kitts and Nevis, the three parties have maintained their individual characteristics, as was the case with the People’s Action Movement-Nevis Reformation Party (PAM-NRP) which governed as a coalition between 1980 and 1995.

“As is the case with Team Unity, the PAM-NRP coalition started out in 1980 with less popular support than the Labour party; however, by 1984 that coalition increased its seat count by four and popular vote to 58 per cent.

“The Team Unity achievement is therefore not a first in St Kits; however, it is nonetheless a rarity across the Caribbean and reflects a vote of confidence in a government which has served its first term.”

CADRES said that another noteworthy feature of the 2020 election is reflected in the voter turnout wherein 58 per cent of the population participated, which was a decline in participation of 19 per cent and is significant.

Comparatively, there was a 14 per cent increase in the numbers of persons registered, while there was a 29 per cent increase in the 2015 election in which the participation level was 72 per cent. Voter turnout is impacted by the extent to which the list is “clean” and not populated by persons who are unavailable to vote by virtue of their location overseas or because they are already dead or insane.

CADRES said as such, turnout data in St Kitts and Nevis, like elsewhere in the Caribbean, is seldom reflective of the actual participation levels and in this instance it is widely believed that the overseas voters who were unable to travel to St Kitts and Nevis were largely responsible for this low turnout.

“It is perhaps also important to reflect on the matter of public opinion polls conducted by CADRES with the benefit of the actual poll result, and in this regard CADRES has often raised a caution about the extent to which its polls could reflect the election outcome as the constituency margins were close and the overseas vote available to both parties was large.”

CADRES said that the complete absence of the overseas vote presented a unique opportunity to test the accuracy of its method, which relies heavily on the swing analysis.

It said the translation of a swing projection to prospective seats is also a point of interest in polling, and it can perhaps be recalled that the July 2018 opinion poll was accompanied by a comment that a seven per cent swing could effectively deliver all but Dr Denzil Douglas’s seat, while the November 2019 projection of a four per cent swing would have left the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) with two seats on the mainland island.

CADRES said that if therefore, there is an agreement that the polls were a reflection of the evolving levels of support for the Team Unity Government, it can be argued that the coalition was the most popular in July of 2018, although its popularity fell in November of 2019.

“In both instances, Team Unity would have won an election held at those times; however, the increase in support 2019-2020 is perhaps attributable to attractive initiatives in the December 2019 budget, along with public approval of this Government’s handling of the COVID crisis and a comparatively better virtual campaign.”

CADRES said that there was also much speculation about the impact of Sam Condor’s return to the SKNLP, along with concerns about the case involving two Team Unity members.

“These were certainly some of the more salacious issues presented by Labour; however, the result suggests that people were not negatively influenced and suggests that the population of St Kitts and Nevis is now less interested in this type of approach to politics,” CADRES added.

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