Why were the polls so wrong?

Here’s my regular chart updated with the election results (I’ve omitted the July 15th polls because it makes it hard to view because of the extreme jump between July 15th and the election results)

How did the PLP storm to victory and take the majority of the popular vote when the OBA were leading in the polls?  Certainly polls aren’t 100% accurate.  They’re completely reliant on getting enough random people to answer to get a good approximation of the overall electorate.  If you only focus on a certain segment, it can skew the results.  However, I still think the polls were reasonably valid and what we witnessed was a significant shift in support and a solidifying of the undecideds rather than a case of the polls being wildly inaccurate.  It is clear from the chart above that the OBA lost support and the undecided swing vote ultimately rallied behind the PLP.

I think the significant lead in the polls was a disadvantage for the OBA because it led to:

  • A decrease in turnout of supporters to vote because they think a win will occur
  • A shifting of votes of reluctant potential supporters who didn’t want them to win with a large majority to send a message that they are not happy and the party didn’t do enough
  • An energizing force for the opposition to turn out strong

In my personal opinion, many reluctantly supported the OBA in the lead up to the election for economic reasons but wanted to send a message to the OBA that they hadn’t delivered on most everything else. When the polls were showing a strong victory for the OBA people began to fear that it would give the OBA too much confidence.  They were already too overconfident in government despite having barely won the 2012 election.  They forgot that fact and governed from an ivory tower as if they’d won with a significant majority rather than a shoestring.  Eg:

“This Government was elected with a mandate to solve Bermuda’s very serious challenges”.  – Attorney-General Trevor Moniz

I doubt many wanted to see the OBA win with a significant majority so it wasn’t surprising to see a shift to the PLP to reduce margins.  The OBA didn’t help themselves with their governance or their campaign so seeing a landslide shift in support from undecideds wasn’t terribly surprising either.

It can’t however be said the PLP stumbled into victory.  The swing vote clearly rallied behind the PLP likely because the the PLP ran a strong campaign.  They telegraphed their vision long before the election and filled in many details with their platform. Their platform was frankly impressive and had quite a few good ideas. As to whether or not it will be feasible is a whole other discussion, but they certainly get credit for effort, ideas and clearly listening to the people.

The OBA’s platform, by contrast, was weak, lacked ideas and showed evidence that they might listen but haven’t heard what the people have been saying.  Based upon an analysis of platforms alone the PLP was a much stronger contender.  The PLP was also on the ground and rallying support in a way that the OBA haven’t managed.  Did the PLP take the “high road”?  Absolutely not, however I frankly doubt anyone expected them to. It is concerning that there was such overwhelming endorsement of such a divisive campaign for, as noted by the Cayman Compass in their concerning post election editorial, the PLP’s campaign and actions as opposition are concerning evidence of how the PLP could ultimately govern.

Did voters believe (or care if) the PLP’s modus operandi has changed since the party last was in power – indebtedness, divisiveness and short-sighted “us vs. them” political rhetoric? Even as an opposition party, the PLP attempted to obstruct progress at every turn by flexing their union muscle. They certainly shouldn’t be expected to govern any differently.

The thing is, the OBA went in with a lead and blew it with a terrible campaign.  The OBA might complain that they were held to a higher standard than the PLP but really that’s what they campaigned to be in 2012, something new and different, a new kind of politics for Bermuda.  They set their own benchmark and yet resorted to cheap tactics that I’m certain turned people off. They showed the people they didn’t believe enough in their own record and plans for the future.  Instead they didn’t focus on that and took the low road.

Having the Premier of our country post things like this are embarrassing.

Let’s be clear, converting this

 into this  is not “taking the high road”.  It was cheap and petty.  I can’t imagine who thought this was a good idea and would actually win them support.  There were a whole raft of posts like this, not from random ads or mysterious facebook pages and groups but from the Premier himself.  Further a whole debate could be had with regards to the sensationalizing of various PLP proposals.  Certainly one could have questioned the feasibility of some of the ideas but in many cases it came across as intentionally misleading rather than an honest and frank discussion of the merits of the proposals.

The OBA focused too much on highlighting and distorting the PLP’s proposals and not enough on their own.  All that did is highlight how empty their platform was of real solutions and ideas.  The OBA’s section on the economy, their supposed greatest strength in governance, was minimal and contained no real proposals for reigniting growth.  They attacked the PLP’s proposals for tax reform and yet sidestepped their own previous proposals for tax reform which were conspicuously absent.  How were they going to balance the budget?  Their platform lacked answers much like it lacked ideas and vision. There was nothing to get people excited about another 5 years of an OBA government.  So why would people support them?  As government, campaigning as “not the PLP” wasn’t good enough.

So, were the polls wrong or did the OBA bungle things so badly the swing vote rebelled against them?  In my personal opinion it was more of the latter than the former.  It couldn’t be said that the OBA wholly handed the PLP a victory given the effort the PLP put into the campaign.  However, as I noted in my interview with the paper, the divisiveness of the election has likely damaged our island and voters are the real losers.  The tone and path of our local politics have been a tremendous disappointment leaving me questioning what kind of future we have as an island so divided.  As in the numerous other cases over the last 10+ years I’m left wondering the point of it all and if it is perhaps time to take a permanent break from blogging.

None the less, congratulations are in order to Premier Burt and the PLP for winning the election. Hopefully they will succeed in delivering a great future for Bermuda and manage to repair some of the divide that paralyzes us.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t vote this election.  For personal reasons I was off island from before the election was called and was unable to return in time for the election.

Real reform is desperately needed to return focus to the issues

When The Royal Gazette contacted me last week regarding commentary on the election campaign I figured sure, I can provide some filler content on a slow news day.  I threw something together based upon my earlier post (Bermuda Election 2017: Big on slogans, short on solutions) and submitted it on Thursday.  Nowhere in my wildest imagination did I expect to be featured on the front page, referred to as some sort of expert while overshadowing the OBA’s election platform announcement.  To be honest I am wholly taken aback.  I am certainly by no means an expert and am just someone on the sidelines commentating on the match.  It is shocking to consider what the implications are when the editor thinks the ramblings of a no-name blogger about our broken political system are more interesting than the OBA’s platform?  The thought is perplexing.

The overarching concern that I tried to express in my comments is that our political system no longer serves the people because politicians are discouraged from pursuing real reform.  All indications are thus far that both parties are wholly unprepared for this election, lack tangible solutions and are afraid of the people. Instead of working with the people they try to be as vague as possible in the run up to the election and at the last minute make some big unsubstantiated promises to try to win support.  It’s a recurring theme that is getting worse with each election.  In the meantime, many people who could participate stay on the sidelines as our political system renders a 3rd party or independent candidates impossible.

People seem to forget that in the run up to the 2012 election the OBA wasn’t geared up to win by a landslide, it was a very close race.  They produced a platform which presented a feel good promise of inclusiveness but lacked real substance, real measurable deliverables.  When the OBA realized it wasn’t going to win them the election they trotted out the promise that they would deliver 2000 jobs.  It wasn’t qualified what they meant by it but it is what the people wanted to hear and tipped the election in their favor.  The OBA didn’t explain that things like Americas Cup, the airport deal and pathways to status were the price to be paid to create jobs. Once the election was over people didn’t want to hear it, 2000 magical jobs were promised with no expectation of sacrifice.  The OBA in the end are paying the price for not having set expectations and failing to deliver.

People also forget that the 2007 election was the same in favor of the PLP.  It was pre-recession, the economy was overheating and people were being priced out of living in Bermuda.  The PLP weren’t set to win the election by a landslide.  So, 10 days before the election, they rolled out a platform littered with the word free.  Free day care.  Free public transport.  Interest free loans.  Free Bermuda college.  Free computers and dental coverage for seniors.  Nothing in life is free.  What we discovered was that not only were most of these promises not feasible, it was the taxpayer that was footing this bill in the form of millions in deficits and billions in debt.

This is ultimately the problem.  We want our politicians to do the impossible, fix things without changing anything or us having to make any sacrifices.  They sell us on grand unrealistic promises at the last minute and this is what we vote for.  We don’t want real reform.  We lament that capable people sit on the sidelines and don’t get involved but we don’t want to demand any kind of real change to enable them.  Our two party system ensures that independents or are third party simply aren’t viable.  We won’t see real change until we can convince our politicians that they won’t get elected until they reform our political system to make other parties and independents viable.  The problem is, politicians will never pledge to give up power unless they think it is the only way they can win the election.  Perhaps we can convince one of the parties that this year’s last minute pledge to tip the scales should be realistic political reform.

 

Full commentary regarding the election

Last week The Royal Gazette asked if I would answer a few questions regarding the election campaigns thus far.  Here is a copy of my full responses to a set of four questions they posed that delve a bit deeper than the portions selected for publication.

From what you have seen, what do you think of the OBA and PLP’s election campaigns so far?

Each campaign has been heavy on rhetoric and slogans but short on substance.  Neither has proposed tangible solutions to our predicament and are more focused on trying to discredit the other.

 

The OBA is touting their slow and steady track record but they lack discussion of new plans and new ideas.  Their slogan of “Forward together, not back” rings hollow as they have not lived up to being the inclusive party they campaigned they’d be in the last election.  It leaves one wondering who they mean when they say ‘together’?  How can we be certain that a future OBA government will move all Bermudians forward together?

 

The PLP are touting their Vision 2025 which is big on ideas but short on plans on how to actually achieve them.  They claim they are “standing strong, putting Bermudians first”, but we have witnessed the PLP putting political expediency over what will truly put Bermudians first.  Often times one gets the sense that their version of “Bermudian” only considers one segment of the population and not all Bermudians.  How can we be certain the PLP will stand strong for and put all Bermudians first?

 

Sadly thus far both campaigns have been wholly disappointing in their finger pounting and rhetoric compared to their lack of focus on solutions to the issues.  You would think we are gearing up for a football match between small town rivals rather than deciding our future.

 

Do you think voters have been given enough information about how either party would handle issues such as the economy, crime, education or social issues?

Voters seem to be given as little information as possible to allow politicians to avoid accountability on complex issues. Neither party have track records of great success because governance has become increasingly difficult thanks to the recession and the internet.  Politicians avoid admitting when they failed, they just spin it making feel good party statements, touting quick fixes and focusing attention on the failures of their opponent. We need real reform but the people don’t want to hear that. So the politicians tell us what we want to hear or avoid telling us as much as they can.

 

Our economy is broken, we’re deep in debt and there are no silver bullets. Both parties avoid admitting that we’ve become an expensive and difficult place to do business that struggles to be competitive. Countries like France under newly elected President Macron have realized the importance of reform to revitalize the economy.  Countries like the  US and the UK have fooled themselves with bold populist promises that struggle to match expectations.  Reform and accountability are necessary to revitalize our economy but neither party wants to admit it because it would not be easy or popular.

 

Our children’s future has become a political football.  Neither party has succeeded in fixing education.  Neither admits why they failed to fix it, what they learned and what they’d do differently.  We spend more money per public student than the fees are for private school.  The problem isn’t money.  Every time either government has attempted to make hard choices the people have opposed it.  We want our politicians to do the impossible, fix education without changing anything.

 

Crime is another complex problem neither has succeeded in solving.  We did not provide opportunity and support to a segment of our population so we are seeing the result when they create opportunity and support for themselves.  Fixing that in the long term requires fixing other issues like jobs and education.  Addressing crime today requires taking a hard look at how we respond to it and how it is funded. A hard line approach has not worked but conservative Bermudians are not willing to consider alternatives.  So politicians do all they can to kick the can down the road.

There is a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots which drives discontent.  There is a temptation for politicians to stir nationalistic and populist sentiment for political gain.  It is easy to point to the divide between rich non-Bermudians and poor Bermudians to sensationalize the divide of prosperity between white and black.  We can demonize foreigners who come here as the problem and make them feel unwelcome but driving out foreign wealth will not fix anything and will make everyone poorer.  What we really need is a hard look at only the divide between Bermudians.  We need to understand how this divide is growing and what we can do to reverse it.  We need to reform policies that only benefit wealthy Bermudians and evaluate how those policies negatively impact the average Bermudian.  Just as one party aims to leverage non-Bermudian wealth to drive the divide between us, the other doesn’t do enough to acknowledge the true divide between Bermudians.

 

Ultimately the people aren’t offered real solutions because we don’t want to hear them.  Real solutions require hard choices and sacrifice which can be politically unpalatable.  Our two party system is intentionally combative and encourages our politicians to make our election about who will do a worse job rather than working together to do better.  Thus it is no surprise that no clear plans or solutions have been presented.  Instead we hear vague quick fixes, feel good soundbites and blame for the other party’s inability to fix it.  The saddest reality is that this is what the people want to hear because we’re not ready to face the hard truths of our predicament and demand our leadership do the same.

 

How do you think voters are impacted when a political party places emphasis on slogans, gimmicks and flag-waving rather than talking about its platform on specific issues? Do you think that has been an issue in Bermuda at this election or at previous elections?

Focusing on party branding and loyalty emphasizes the divide between supporters of each party.  It makes people take sides where they view it more important whether you’re with or against.  If you try to stand in the middle and focus on the issues you’re the enemy because you are not with the party.  It encourages blindness to the issues and no accountability.  People focus more on voting against the other party than holding their own party accountable.  That lack of accountability gives politicians a free mandate to do as they please knowing that next election they can just rinse and repeat with the same opponent.

 

The trend of each election seems to progress more towards party identity and further from the issues.  The internet has made governance hard and public opinion can be ruthless and unforgiving.  Politicians are not allowed to be people and make mistakes.  Thus politicians don’t want to admit they were wrong even if they were well meaning because it is often just a google search away.  It creates a fear of being held accountable for pledging something that seems like a good idea but turns out not to be but now are expected to see it through.  Thus it is easier to make no pledges, no promises and instead focus on being cheerleaders.

 

How would you like to see the final few weeks of the election campaigns unfold?

I would like to see  a genuine admission of what failures each party has made, why things didn’t work, what could be done differently and how they will adjust in the future.  Alongside that I would also like to see well thought out platforms outlining each parties solutions for the issues.  What would they do, how will they do it, why do they think it will work, what are the expected outcomes and how will they identify if it isn’t working and adjust.