Our Readers' Opinions
January 22, 2016
Virgin Voters: Science, Maths, and Vincentian politics, 1994-2015

by Dr Garrey Michael Dennie, St Mary’s College of Maryland

The recent election in St Vincent and the Grenadines has brought into sharp relief two irreconcilable explanations of why the ULP won re-election to office. On one hand lies the extraordinary claim that the ULP stole the election, without a shred of evidence to validate this claim. On the other lies the claim that a mathematical analysis provides scientific certainty that the election results represent the true will of the electorate.{{more}}

Extraordinary claims, of course, require extraordinary proof. The idea that the most sacred right of Vincentian citizenship has been corrupted by a conspiracy involving not only the ULP’s candidates, but also the supervisor of elections and observers from the OAS, CARICOM, and the Commonwealth, falls within the category of an extraordinary claim. If true, this would reverberate across the landscape of the Vincentian and Caribbean historical experience, placing Dr Ralph Gonsalves in the disgraced legacies of former Grenadian Prime Minister, Eric Gairy and former Guyanese President, Forbes Burnham.

However, a mathematical approach to the analysis of the election undermines the idea that the election was stolen. Two broad sets of numbers guide this analysis. The first is the popular vote numbers in the six elections held between 1994 and 2015. The second is the vote numbers within the Central Leeward constituency. The choice of six election cycles is quite important for this reason: the NPD held power during the first three elections (1994, 1998, and 2001) and the ULP held power during the second three (2005, 2010, and 2015). This allows us to compare how the two parties performed in the popular vote count when the other party held power.

This comparison reveals that the ULP’s best electoral performance took place when the NDP held power. Similarly, the NDP’s best performance in the popular vote took place with the ULP in power. This suggests that if either party wanted to steal an election while it held office, they chose a rather contradictory way to do so. Of course, there is a second interpretation: no such malfeasance took place.

In the first three election cycles which command analysis, the Vincentian popular vote rose from 46,934 votes in 1994 to an astonishing 58,284 votes in 2001. More remarkable still, virtually all of the 11,350 new voters voted for the ULP. The ULP’s popular vote therefore jumped from 20,363 to 32,925, a staggering 12,562 extra votes. In percentage terms, the ULP had grown by 61 per cent. No party, before or since, has ever experienced such exponential growth in such a short space of time. And whereas in 1994 the NDP obtained 25,789 votes, in 2001 their votes fell to 23,844.

However, the single most important feature of this expanded electorate was the ULP’s monopoly of the virgin voters. It was their entry into the electorate that allowed the ULP to establish a 9,081-votes advantage over the NDP in the popular vote count. These voters also shared a crucial demographic feature: overwhelmingly, they were between 18-30 years of age. This meant that the ULP had constructed a voting bloc that would remain with the party for decades.

Political theorists have long known that the probability of virgin voters remaining with their party of first choice is very high. They have also known that the greatest threat to a party in power is an expanding electorate. In fact, in St Vincent we have seen this before. In the election of 1979 the St Vincent Labour Party won 17,876 votes. Five years later it won 17,493 votes. But whereas in 1979 the Labour Party won 11 of 13 seats, in 1984 it won only four seats, with virtually the same vote count. This complete reversal of their fortunes rested on a single fact: 8,824 virgin voters joined the electorate in 1984 and virtually all of them voted for the NDP.

These strong bonds of attachment between Vincentians and their political parties therefore predate the ULP’s courtship of this newest batch of voters. In fact, an analysis of the NDP’s defeat to the ULP in 2001 provides equally compelling evidence of this fidelity. For even as the ULP replaced the NDP as St Vincent’s governing party, only 4.6 per cent former NDP voters actually switched sides and joined the ULP. Instead, 95 percent remained faithful to the NDP.

The virgin voters of 1998 felt equally passionate about their relationship with the ULP. They manned the barricades in the Road Block Revolution of 2000. They swept the NDP out of power in the tidal wave election of 2001. And between 2005 and 2015 they remained completely resistant to the entreaties of the NDP.

The mathematical proof of this is compelling. After accumulating a popular vote count of 32,295 votes in 2001, in the three successive elections up to 2015, the ULP’s popular vote never fell below 32,000 votes. And at no time did the NDP’s popular vote ever rise to 32,000 votes. This fidelity of the ULP’s electorate is therefore completely consistent with the fidelity of the Labour Party voters of 1979 and the NDP’s voters of 1984.

In this we see a simple truth: to win Vincentian elections a party cannot rely on poaching voters from the opposition party. Instead, it must expand the electorate, precisely what the ULP’s virgin voters did in the 1998-2001 election cycles. However, this path would not be available to the NDP. Basically, over the next 15 years, the Vincentian electorate would grow by only 8,735 voters, clearly not enough to neutralize the 11,350 voters who had joined the ULP. For the NDP, this was a demographic trap it could not escape.

This deceleration in the growth of the electorate, of course, had nothing to do with Dr Ralph Gonsalves. Even his detractors and admirers would admit that he is not God. He cannot determine when Vincentians come into this world. He cannot determine when they leave this world. He cannot determine when they choose to migrate. He cannot determine when they choose to return home. But this deceleration in the rate of growth of the electorate, however, placed the NDP in an iron electoral grip: to win the popular vote in St. Vincent, they would need the ULP’s virgin voters to do something that had not been done in St Vincent in at least 40 years: they must divorce their first political love. This they refused to do.

This analysis of the popular vote is central towards understanding the electoral outcomes in St Vincent. As the sum of the constituencies’ votes, the patterns observed at the national level would replicate themselves at the local level. However, peculiar to the Vincentian electoral equation is the political behaviour of the Grenadines constituencies. For in the Grenadines, demographic and geographical isolation have produced a history where these constituencies are essentially impervious to broader changes within the mainland electorate. Through 50 years they have remained completely committed to the founder of the NDP, (James Mitchell) and his successors. And nothing suggests this would change anytime soon.

On the mainland constituencies, however, geographical contiguity and the transportation revolution have worked to produce political osmosis. As people and ideas crisscross the island, the mainland constituencies fully reflect the changing political sensibilities of the country. I, therefore, direct attention to an unacknowledged phenomenon of the 2015 election: in the mainland constituencies, the ULP crushed the NDP by 4,954 votes.

It is a scientific certainty that such a result must reflect an increase in the ULP’s vote account in almost every mainland constituency. Or framed another way, it is mathematically impossible for the ULP to have achieved such a result without increasing its vote in almost every mainland constituency. In fact, the NDP controlled Central Kingstown constituency was the only mainland constituency to have escaped the tidal effect of this phenomenon. Everywhere else the ULP increased its strength. And the Central Leeward constituency was no exception.

An analysis of the growth and distribution of the votes in the Central Leeward constituency proves this point. Between 1994 and 2015 the growth patterns in the Central Leeward electorate broadly mirrored both the acceleration and deceleration patterns in the national electorate. In fact, between 2005 and 2015 the national electorate increased by 13.3 per cent. And in almost perfect symmetry the Central Leeward electorate also grew by 13.1 per cent. And here too the demographic bottleneck that squeezed the NDP at the national level operated with equal force and identical effect. In 2001, the ULP defeated the NDP by 770 votes. But over the next 15 years, only 674 new voters entered the electorate, clearly insufficient to erase the ULP’s lead. The NDP’s predicament at the national level was therefore the same predicament at the local level: to win the constituency, the NDP needed to persuade the ULP’s virgin voters of 2001 to become politically promiscuous. This they could not do.

This brings us to an inescapable conclusion. Mathematically, the outcome of the election in the Central Leeward constituency in the 2015 election aligns with the parties’ performance in the popular vote. On the mainland the ULP defeated the NDP in the popular vote by 54 per cent to 46 per cent. In the Central Leeward constituency, the ULP won 53.34 per cent of the popular vote. It therefore stands as the best barometer of the heartbeat of Vincentian politics. And here, as elsewhere, the virgin voters of 1998-2001 continue to give their hearts to the ULP. Unwittingly, the ULP themed 2015 campaign, “The Power of Love” celebrates this marriage. For the virgins of 2001 had become the chaperones of 2015.