6% one year poll lead secures election win

The 2020 general elections are called for Thursday, September 3. All three polling institutions releasing polls show a strong lead for the governing JLP, but the PNP are indicating that they will defy the polls and come out victorious. It is worth looking back at public opinion polls that were released one year before elections and match that against the actual election results.
The going back to 1976 shows no political party in Jamaica losing a general election with a lead of more than six percentage points one year out. That a record that is not about to change any time soon.
Public opinion polls are snapshots of the current views or intentions of voters. That is what many would want to believe, but there is more to them than that. Using the Don Anderson and Carl Stone polls, going way back demonstrates the point vividly.
In Jamaica, data shows general elections are won a year out, unless support for parties is close, leading up to the elections. That was the case in the last three general elections. Even then, the last election had the winning party with an eight-percentage point lead, a year out from the 2016 General elections.
In a recent interview on MSNBC, a political expert makes the following the observation, “the records show that presidential elections are won in the spring and not in the fall”. He pointed to the winning candidates defining the losers in the spring and putting them on the defensive from which they never recovered.
He pointed to several instances going back to several past winners of presidential races to support that view. As it now stands, Trump is set to move out of the White House. He is already defined as a highly incompetent leader, amongst other negatives that he is carrying, that are weighing him down.
The vast majority of voters invest a great deal of emotion into supporting a political party. A lot of it comes from family traditions built up over several years. That emotional attachment takes time to establish and is difficult to erode. It just does not happen during a relatively short election period.

Polling data is taken form Stone and Anderson polls where applicable.

Polling data suggest that voters switching party support amounts to around two to three percentage points a year. When polls show that a ten points lead a year out from the general elections, that is a gap that is almost impossible to close. Data going back in Jamaica’s polling history, show that in no general election has any political party with a lead over six percentage points has gone to lose the election. Some may point to the last three general elections, but polls were showing close races from a year out, except for the 2016 elections. That was not the case in 1972, 1976, or 1989.

Peter Phillips leader of the PNP

The Don Anderson polls in December 2014 had the PNP at 17% and JLP at 25%, an eight points difference. In June 2015, it was neck and neck with the PNP 25%, the JLP 26%, in September 29.6% each. In January 2016, it moved to 27.5% for the PNP and 23.2% for the JLP and in February, the PNP was at 30.8% to the JLP’s 28%. The data except for June 2015 was suggesting a close election and it turned out that way, but it confirms that a large lead one year out is difficult to overcome. The 2016 election saw the parties garnering about 25% of the total electorate at the time, that ties in with the JLP numbers roughly a year out.
The Don Anderson polling data in February 2019, had the PNP support at 18% and the JLP at 29%. In February 2020, the PNP support moved to 22% and the JLP to 30% a difference of 8 percentage points. The lead is not one that can be overcome based on history, bearing in mind that if the last general election had just around 48 percent turnout at the polls while the support using the February 2020 polls adds to 52 percent. The bye-elections held in St Mary saw a three percent swing to the JLP and Portland Eastern in 2019 showed a swing of around 10 percent when adjusted for the low turnout in 2016.
The JLP, 30 percent support, shown in Anderson 2020 polls, is not out of line with a definite swing shown in the two bye-elections. If those numbers were to hold, then voter turnout would have to exceed 60 percent, which would require the PNP to gain a surge of more than eight percentage points in what may turn out to be less than a year and or the JLP support falls.
The polling data shows that governments in power have a bias in their favour. Polls tend to overstate the actual support for a governing party and understate that for the opposition. The data over time shows the bias to be around three percentage points for a PNP government and just under two percentage points for a JLP government. What this means is that the real party support is probably PNP 24 percent and JLP 28 percent based on the 2020 polls, that would translate to a JLP 55 percent and PNP 45 percent at the upcoming election. Other surveys done since then by other pollsters suggest more swing to the governing party, but history suggests that they may be understating the support of the PNP by about four percentage points.

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