Topic Three                         VOTING BEHAVIOUR.

Lectures 5-6

Robert Buddan

February 6-9


The study of voting behaviour must study the electorate - its size, age structure, racial and class composition, regional distribution, values and attitudes.

The study of voting behaviour is premised on the idea that the social characteristics of voters explain the way they vote, what parties are formed and what those parties stand for. This comes from the perspective of voter-driven politics as distinct from party-driven politics.

The popular view takes the perspective of party-driven politics, that parties determine the way people vote, the programmes they vote for and the policies of government, for good or for bad. It is that parties matter, not so much voters. Voters can and are often ignored.

The voter-driven perspective is that, because parties need votes to win they must adjust their programmes, images, ideologies, and policies in government to capture these votes. Voters matter, even if they don=t vote because they have the power or the potential to determine the fate of parties.

Take for instance the issue of politics and divisiveness. The party-driven perspective says that parties divide society. The voter driven perspective says that societies are already divided into classes and races and parties are forced to represent these divisions, thus taking on the characteristics of being race or class-based parties. It is therefore necessary to know the characteristics of an electorate to understand the politics of any country.

These characteristics determine the circumstances of voters and define the issues that are most meaningful to them. Voters help to shape a political system.


The Growth of the Caribbean Electorate.

From this perspective, the entry of voters onto the political stage is a major defining event of a country=s politics. Two critical periods marked the expansion of the Caribbean electorate.

(1) Universal Adult Suffrage, 1944-1953.

Under the old colonial order when voting was restricted to those of property, the political system reflected the interests of the propertied. However, two major breakthroughs occurred that changed the character of politics in the region.

First there was Universal Adult Suffrage won between 1944 and 1953. This meant that all citizens, 21 years or older, had the right to vote. This event opened up the arena of voter participation in the English-speaking Caribbean to a considerable degree. Before adult suffrage the number of electors was very small. In the 1930's the number of electors was about 3% of the population in ten English-speaking Caribbean countries.[1] It was about 5% in Jamaica, about 6% in Trinidad and 22% in the Bahamas.[2]

After adult suffrage, the number of electors rose to include all men and women 21 years or older. For instance, the Jamaican electorate increased from 61,000 in the 1930's to over 660,000 in the first elections under UAS in 1944. UAS marked the rise of mass politics - the entry of the Caribbean masses onto the political scene for the first time in their history.

This dramatically changed the character of the region=s electorate to include:

- the racial majority, mainly black;

- the underclass, mainly lower income, of lower education, lesser property and status;

- women, who had been virtually debarred by property qualifications which effectively excluded all but males;

- the new passions and issues of the masses were brought into politics.


(2) Lowering of the voting age, 1970's.

The next major event was the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. In Jamaica, for example, this happened in 1974. The 1976 elections were the first in which 18 year-olds could vote. In the 1976 election about 250,000 more people, mostly younger people, 18-22 years old, could vote and the number of persons who actually voted was about 270,000 compared to 1972. (In Cuba, the voting age really begins at 16, and Cuba is unique in this respect).

It is estimated that this reduction in the voting age saw an additional 30% growth in the electorate in Jamaica. Younger voters have become especially important. The youth have brought their own agendas and style to Caribbean politics and further enlarged the electorate, and since the 1970's the youth vote has potentially been very important in determining which party wins elections.

Voting Behaviour in the Caribbean.

The growth of the electorate is one thing, but it is important also to assess its level of voter participation in politics.  

Voting levels started from a low to modest level in the first decade of adult suffrage. It steadily increased and peaked in the 1970's. Then it declined from the 1980's into the 1990's.

In 11 Anglo-Caribbean states the average electoral turnout over the past decades have been: 66% (1950's); 68% (1960's); 76% (1970's); 74% (1980's); 66% (mid-1990's). Jamaica=s voting turnout was the same as the group average in the 1950's and 1990's but higher than the average in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's. In fact, Jamaica sustained the highest levels of voting between the 1970's and the 1980's, a level of 82%. However, the overall picture is that all of the Caribbean countries have followed the same trend of a rise and decline in voting levels. Whereas seven of the 11 countries had levels of voting of over 70% in the 1980's only one (Belize) had in the 1990's.[3]

In some of the most recent elections, and including the Latin Caribbean, the trend continues: Jamaica, 67% (1997), Grenada, 56.7% (2000), Dominica 59% (2000),Trinidad, 63.2% (1995), Suriname, 60% (1996), Haiti, 5%-30% (1997). Cuba remains the exception where voter turn-out in 1995 was 94%. 

This falling away of voting has given cause for alarm over the state of democracy in the region. In fact, many new or >third= parties have been formed to capture this growing number of >non-committed= or non=voters=. parties like the NDM in Jamaica have used this development to say that the higher levels of non-voting indicate a dissatisfaction with the established parties and the old style of politics. But even the NDM was not able to attract many voters to the electoral process.


What explains the trend.

(1) Socialization. Political scientists have long shown that family socialization is closely related to voting preference. Persons are very likely to vote for the party of their parents to the degree that both parents live live together, vote and talk about politics. But in the 1950's parents themselves were just becoming familiar with parties and developing the habit of voting. So, voting was modest to low among this first generation of voters. But voter turn-out increased with successive generations up to 1980's.

However, the fall-off since then might be partly explained by the breakdown of two-parent family households which were critical in reinforcing political socialization. The single-parent household has become typical either from the effects of migration, crime, higher divorce and separation rates, absentee fathers, greater teen-age pregnancy, more independent career-minded, self supporting women. This might explain the greater level of relative disinterest in and cynicism towards politics found in the Caribbean and the developed countries as well.

(2) Ideology. It is noticable that it was during the 1970'sand 1980's that voting levels peaked,the period in which Caribbean politics was most polarized ideologically. The socialist ideologies and the lowing of the voting age pulled out many more young voters while pro-capitalist parties mobilized the middle and upper classes. Socialist parties were committed to continuous mobilization and mass participation in politics and gave the poor a reason to become more involved. Since the 1990's, middle class politics has taken over and parties act more like voting machines, becoming active mainly at election time. Parties have become demobilizational.

(3) The youth vote. The lowering of the voting age in the 1970's had brought new numbers of voters into the electorate. This changed the character of politics. Levels of activism such as in the development of youth arms affiliated to the parties, youthful idealism and radical ideologies favouring mass political participation, explain the increase in voting levels in the elections in the 1970's and 1980's.

At the same time the youth vote is volatile and very sensitive to economic pressures. Young voters are less educated and skilled and do not have established careers and so are more insecure. They are most sensitive to unemployment and the lack of opportunities for education and training. It is they who would be most supportive of policies providing jobs, training and education but also easily alienated by the absence of these. The alienation has become evident because of the structural adjustment policies of the 1980's and 1990's and the more conservative policies of these decades.

Carl Stone points out the effect of the youth vote in Jamaican politics.[4] The lowering of the voting age to 18 years brought an additional 30% to 40% of new voters into the electorate. The youth vote was very important in the large PNP victory in 1976 and in the socialist zeal that characterised the party in the 1970's. This in turn helped to drive older and more conservative voters to the JLP. The JLP also launched an initiative to recruit youths to its party (Young Jamaica) and the youth element of both parties figured in much of the political violence that followed up to the 1980 elections.

The youth impacted on the PNP in certain ways in the 1970's. The government pursued large-scale social programmes targeted at the youth, mobilized young activists into participatory politics and recruited many into positions of community and party leadership. Jamaican politics came to reflect the youth factor much more than other Caribbean countries because Jamaica has a larger youth component in its population compared to all other Caribbean countries and one of the largest in the world. Jamaica therefore has a young electorate.

Jamaican governments are under more pressure to provide jobs, education and training to this sector of the population or else face alienation or even violent protests. This occurred from the 1980's under structural adjustment. As early as 1982, Carl Stone=s polls showed that as many as 50% of those between 18 and 30 years supported neither the PNP nor JLP.[5]

This alienation is further explained by the fact that unlike older voters who grew up with the parties and developed a loyalty to them, the second generation of young voters had no such loyal attachment. The youth is therefore more likely to vote on the basis of issues than on traditional loyalty and for that reason are quicker to switch their votes from one party to the next. The youth were willing to switch quickly back the PNP in the 1980's under structural adjustment and sustain a high level of voting in that decade. However, economic problems and the more conservative positions of both parties have brought high levels of anti-political sentiments to Jamaican politics in the 1990's.

This explanation establishes many things: why voting rose in the 1970's and declined after; why Jamaican politics is so much more volatile and prone to violence; why Jamaican politics has been more radical and ideological; why Jamaica had one of the highest levels of voter turnout in the radical period of the 1970's and one of apathy and anti-system protest in the more conservative 90's; why leading even up to the 1997 elections more older voters said they intended to vote compared to younger voters; why older voters make up a larger portion of the traditionally loyal voters of the established parties.

It also explains that governments are not judged only on their economic performance. Manley=s PNP was popular in the 1970's because it captured the imagination of the youth even though an economic crisis had begun by 1976, and Seaga=s JLP lost the youth vote heavily in 1989 even though the party went into those elections with four years of growth, the benefit of which however, were not going to the youth.

The youth vote shows the importance of intergenerational differences in voting behaviour. Older electors (30 years and over)vote more, and vote more out of loyalty to the parties, and are important  base of support for the parties and to electoral participation. Younger voters vote less and vote more because of issues and are more likely to swing their votes and so become important in determining which party wins an election.


Voter Orientation/Identification.

Apart from the question of how much Caribbean people vote is the other question of which parties they vote for and why.

Voters make a link between their own self-image and beliefs and a party=s image and what it says it stands for. On this basis they might develop a party identification or a voting orientation.

For example:

Cuba: Cubans identify with the communist party on the basis of ideology. The goals of the Cuban revolution and of revolutionary socialism are the only legitimate goals and the so the communist party is the only legitimate party. Class and race play an insignificant role.

Haiti: Class and colour play a much more important role. Haitians overwhelmingly identify with the Lavalas party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It has dominated elections since democracy was established in 1991. The party identifies itself with the largely poor and 95% black population against the mulatto elite who had formed Haiti=s oppressive ruling class for many years before.

Suriname, Trinidad, Guyana: Race is the overriding basis of party indentification. In Suriname, most of the 30% black population vote for the National Party of Suriname, the 36% Indian population support the Reform Party and the 15% Indonesian immigrant population vote for the Party of National Unity and Solidarity.

In Trinidad, the 40% Indians mainly vote for the United National Congress, and another 40% blacks mainly support the People=s National Movement.

In Guyana, the 51% Indians form the main support base of the People=s Progressive Party while the 43% blacks strongly support the People=s National Congress.

In these plural-like societies, racial divisions coincide with party divisions.

Jamaica, Barbados: In these countries, multi-class and multi-racial parties get their support base from all groups although the PNP in Jamaica and the Barbados Labour Party have stronger support from the black and poorer sections. Voters identify with the parties on the basis of their cross-class appeal, leading personalities, and voting traditions.

Race and class are usually interrelated to a number of more complex factors, such as urban/rural voting, levels of education, community, issues, and traditions. The more complex configurations of all these characteristics can be looked at.


Community/regional patterns.

Voting behaviour is sometimes determined by one=s location. One=s community or region might have a strong tradition of support for a party and he becomes socialized into that tradition through family and peers. One reason is that parties and their union affiliates might have first established themselves among sugar, rice or banana workers and so their strength is based on the social and demographic profile of persons in those areas. The People=s Progressive Party in Guyana has its strength among the rural Guyanese in the sugar and rice growing areas.[6] This, in turn, overlaps with race because historically East Indians have worked longest in these areas. The People=s National Congress gets its support from the more urban, Afro-Guyanese.[7]

Location overlaps with other social characteristics.  The rural population tends to be less skilled and less educated in contrast to the urban voters. So, there are differences between PPP and PNC voters based on location, race, and levels of education.[8]

In Trinidad too, the tradition has been for the People=s National Movement (founded by Eric Williams) to have more support from non-agricultural or urban regions. The United National Congress of Basdeo Panday gets more support from agricultural workers which his party was very instrumental in organising in the early days.[9] Again, there is an overlap with other characteristics. Agricultural workers are mainly rural East Indians of lower education compared to supporters of the PNM.

The association between race and community voting is shown by a study of voting behaviour in the 1976 general elections in Trinidad and Tobago.[10] The dominance of the PNM over the years could be explained by the fact that of the country=s 36 constituencies, 19 had Afro-Trinidadians making up 50% or more of the voters, 13 had Indo-Trinidadians in the majority and four had mixed-race populations. In 1992, for instance the United Labour Congress (UNC) won all the rural East Indian constituencies.[11]

In the elections of December, 2000, whereas the UNC won the majority of seats in Trinidad, it failed to win any of the 12 seats to the Tobago House of Assembly. This is because Tobago is mainly populated by Afro-Trinidadians.

Where people vote along racial lines as they tend to do in Trinidad, the party with a racial majority in more than half of the constituencies has a clear advantage. Because these constituencies are geographically concentrated in rural and urban regions there is also a geographical split in the vote and this reinforces the sense of two societies coexisting tensely under one government.

In Jamaica, community and regional patterns of voting also exist. It is not based on race but on community loyalty to a party. For many years, the Jamaica Labour Party had been stronger in rural areas, especially in the traditional sugar and banana parishes (St. Thomas, Clarendon, St. Catherine) where BITU organisation had provided support among the agro-proletariat. The PNP had been stronger in Kingston and St. Andrew, capital cities, main towns and generally, the more urban areas.[12] The lesser significance of sugar and banana workers now mean that there is no safe JLP parish. In the last two elections, the PNP won the vote in all parishes.

Except for 1980, the PNP has always won the majority of votes and seats in Kingston and St. Andrew. It was  this that drove Mr. Seaga to carve out a garrison constituency in West Kingston to ensure continued re-election. This started the garrison phenomenon. But with its natural urban working class support, housing and social policies it was easy for the PNP to respond and outdo the JLP with its garrison constituencies.

Garrison constituencies and garrison communities within constituencies, have become the prototype of community-based voting. There are between 11 and 13 garrison constituencies. Party loyalty is strictly enforced by area dons. But constituents born into these communities are highly socialised into the pattern of party loyalty. The natural tendency to support a party along with the zeal of these supporters often lead to over-voting and other abuses to the electoral system. Violent forms of tribalism between garrison communities is typical.


(3) Race, ethnicity and class.

Race and ethnicity are the main contributors to party preferences in Guyana and Trinidad while class is more important in Jamaica. Greene=s study of voting in Guyana up to 1968 found two things. In the 1953 elections class was the main bases of political support. The Indo-And Afro-Guyanese working class together supported the PPP, including 92% of East Indians and as much as 80% of Afro-Guyanese.[13] However, after this the PPP split into two parties where the Afro-Guyanese element formed the PNC under Forbes Burnham. Between 1957 and 1961 a racial pattern of voting emerged. In the 1997 elections there was a high association between race and vote. It remains true therefore that race is the most important factor in determining voting behaviour in Guyana.

In the 1997 elections, the proportion of East Indians in the population closely matched the proportion of votes that the PPP received; and the Afro-Guyanese vote for the PNC also roughly matched its proportion in the population.[14]

In the case of Trinidad, about 40% of the population is Black, another 40% is East Indian and 20% is mixed. The dominant party since 1956 has been the PNM which has relied on the black and coloured vote. The East Indian party was formed in the 1950's by Indian businessmen. It was supported by East Indian sugar workers and Hindu religious organisations.[15]

However, especially from the 1960's the East Indian movement was split between Muslims who were more likely to support the PNM against the Hindu party; and so too were Christianized Indians and the more educated and urbanised (creolised) East Indians.[16] This further strengthened the PNM so that race voting was not as strict as in Guyana. The ethnic split between Hindus and Muslims kept the Indo-Trinidadian community politically weak.

The PNM=s dominance ended in the mid-1980's however with the death of Eric Williams, an economic crisis and a backlash against the policies of patronage which had been used to maintain the PNM=s support. By 1995, the growth of the Indian population, saw both the UNC and PNM winning the same amount of seats. The UNC formed a coalition with another party with two seats, and an Indian became prime minister for the first time. In December 2000, the UNC consolidated its support. By this time it had 14 safe seats, seats where Indians were more populous. It was then able to win five marginal seats, with Indians and the mixed populations vpting for it. It won the elections with 19 seats. 

Trinidadian voters are influenced by their demands on their government and how they perceive the government is responding. Many races expect the government to look after them; government=s respond that they cannot provide benefits on the basis of race; but voters still perceive that they do to the disadvantage of >their= race.

Also, where racial voting is strong, a dominant race keeps its party in power and there is less alternation between parties in government. This has been an important difference between Jamaica where racial voting is less important and where there has been more regular alternation of party governments.

Race is mixed up with many political issues in countries like Trinidad and Guyana. For instance, the Guyanese police and army are made up mainly of blacks. Whenever police brutality occurs and the victim is Indian, the event naturally takes on a racial dimension. Or, in the case of privatization, if a state company is sold to a group that happens to be of Indians, the charge of race-based corruption or patronage is made. Whereas Jamaicans do not normally make race a public issue, in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname, it often is tied in with many public issues.

In Jamaica, voting is determined by class more than by race. Although both main parties draw their support from all classes some classes tend to support one party more. The early JLP combined its working class support with that of big business antagonistic to the PNP=s socialism. The drift of the business class to the JLP became more pronounced after the radical period of the 1970's when it became identified as a conservative pro-business party.[17]

The early PNP drew its support from the nationalist middle class, the intelligentsia, and the working class. Its working class base increased during the radical 1970's while its middle class base declined.[18]

Class voting also overlaps with race. The JLP is supported more by the racial minorities who comprise the business class. The PNP is supported by Black Jamaicans.


(4) Issues.

A number of issues motivate voters. However, the attraction to many issues depends on the voter=s social characteristics and location. For instance, the issue of unemployment is of more direct importance to the less skilled and the younger voters. The attitude to patronage depends on whether one=s social group is a beneficiary or not. The attitude to crime depends on whether one lives in a high-crime area.

Public opinion surveys tend to show that the most important issues in Caribbean politics tend to be: unemployment, economic management, crime, inflation, corruption, leadership, education, justice, police behaviour, economic inequality, race.

Issues are important to the voter depending on his/her circumstances.

Voters who are materially poor and socially or racially alienated from those who have power are more responsive to issues like police brutality, political victimization, basic hospital care, water supply, jobs, job security and pay increases, personal security in crime-ridden neighbourhoods.

Often the more materially dispossessed classes/races are less interested in means and more so in ends as compared to the better off voters. For instance, they might support patronage and demand that their politicians deliver material benefits in exchange for the vote. They might support garrison constituencies in order to make their community safe for the party that they expect to obtain benefits from. They might vote for politicians of their own race in order to ensure that their race is looked after. Or they might participate in electoral abuse to make sure that their party wins an election.

For voters who are less dependent on patronage they would be interested in ending the system of patronage politics as politically motivated use of resources. They are more likely to see the police as forces of law and order than as agents of brutality. They might see the need to end garrison constituencies and electoral abuse. It is the middle class therefore that takes up issues of constitutional and electoral reform. In this sense, the issues related to poverty are those of the poorer classes and the issues related to democracy are those more of the middle class. Political parties draw their support mainly from these two classes and their character and programmes often show the tensions and contradictions in attempting to serve sometimes conflicting objectives at the same time.


(5) Tradition.

Traditional voting refers to the practice of voting for a party based simply on loyalty to the party. The traditional voter consistently supports that party and forms a core of support for it. Traditional voting is said to be giving way to issue voting so that the traditional support base of parties has declined. In Jamaica, it used to be as high as 40% or so for both the PNP and JLP. Today, it is about half of that for the PNP and even less for the JLP. Traditional voters tend to be people who were with the party from its formative phase and who developed the habit of voting for it. It is based on gratitude to the party for some vital benefit obtained from the party=s policies, or devotion to the leader, including the founding leader. Traditional voters therefore tend to be in the older age group - the group that has had a long association with the party. It is the traditional voter who forms the core base for the survival of many parties. Such a voter might describe himself as >born PNP or JLP=, or a >die-hearted= supporter of a party.



Voting behaviour is complex because people vote, usually for a complex set of reasons. Most Caribbean political parties appeal to voters as multiracial and multi-class parties in order to obtain mass support. These parties are sometimes said to use >catch-all= strategies to get support from as many voters as possible to accumulate votes in enough constituencies to win elections. These parties, however, usually identify more with some sets of voters as against others.    

The main patterns of voting that influence the political systems of the region seem to be age/generation, race/ethnicity/class, issues and loyalty. The loyal voter might or might not base his support on class, race or generation.

[1] Richard Hart, From Occupation to Independence,1998, p.109.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Trevor Munroe, ADemocracy and Democratization: Global and Caribbean Perspectives on Reform and Research,@ in Social and Economic Studies,46,1,1997,p.45

[4] Carl Stone, On Jamaican Politics, Economics and Society,1989,pp.7-9

[5] Ibid.

[6] Edward Greene, Race vs Politics in Guyana, 1968, p.25

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p.22.

[9] Percy Hintzen, ATrinidad and Tobago: Democracy, Nationalism, and the Construction of Racial Identity,@ in C. Edie (ed), Democracy in the Caribbean: Myths and Realities, 1994, pp.65-66.

[10] Selwyn Ryan, E. Greene, J. Harewood, The Confused Electorate: A Study of Political Attitudes and Opinions in Trinidad and Tobago,1979, pp.152-153.

[11] P. Hintzen, op.cit, p.72.

[12] Carl Stone, Democracy and Clientilism in Jamaica,1980, pp.111-157

[13] E. Greene, op.cit., p.38.

[14] Selwyn Ryan, The Winner Takes All, 1999, has a fuller discussion, pp.143-180.

[15] Percy Hintzen, op.cit, pp.59-74.

[16] Ibid, p.67

[17] C. Stone, Democracy and Clientilism, op.cit., pp.111-138