How the LGE vote will go

How the LGE vote will go
Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev

The Disciplined Forces just voted in the LGE. While the turnout was light – as it usually is at LGE’s – the pattern will follow historical trends – as will the vote on Nov 12 - and cleave along ethnic lines. The AFC will be wiped out. Those who rail against this tendency foist on the general Guyanese population, an awareness of politics and its nuances and an integration of that knowledge into their political behaviour that investigators have found absent in even the most highly “sophisticated” populations in the world.

               In 1964, Philip Converse published a landmark paper, “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics”, which for the first time provided hard evidence – from extensive polling data collected by Michigan University Survey Research Centre – of the almost total lack of familiarity by ordinary voters of esoteric variables such as “ideology” in making their choices in elections. This shook the world of democratic theorists to the roots since they had always assumed that the informed and knowledgeable voter formed the bedrock of modern democracies. More recent investigators in this new millennium, following up on Converse’s work, have shown that average voters are actually unaware of even elementary political information such as what policies are being offered to them in “manifestoes” and what were the rationales behind them, much less knowledge of ideologies.

               In politics, or of any subject for that matter, there would always be a bell-curve distribution on the possession of knowledge of the given issue. That is, there would be some individuals who are very well versed in the subject even if in relative rather than absolute terms. In politics, these are typically the political elites – especially those ensconced in Universities and think tanks – who are the ideologues. Research has shown, however, that the problem with these ideologues is that their worldview is influenced inordinately by the tenets of their ideology. They literally see only what their ideology tells them to see. Contrary data and findings are dismissed as ‘anomalous” and a few even dismiss the messengers as being “biased”!  Luckily, their numbers are always very small – some 2% at maximum.

               So what does the general public depend on in making up their minds to vote? One should not equate “political ignorance” with ignorance tout court. Generally, according to Converse and his successors, they go on the basis of their feelings about members of “visible social groupings” (in Guyana, read ethnic groups/race), “the nature of the times”, political parties etc. The voters would have experienced specific circumstances, which guide them in choosing what, on their hierarchy of needs, they believe to be most threatened.

Typically, voters form a heuristic or shorthand summary in determining their political behaviour and voting choices. In Guyana, we have labelled this heuristic the “Ethnic Security Dilemmas”. This use of a heuristic has been demonstrated in many polities. I have written about the “Black Utility Heuristic” in the USA that emanates from the notion of a “linked fate” that is shared by most African American, regardless of their class position. Based on their history, most African Americans are still convinced that their individual fate is linked with the fate of the group. Now that they’re losing their majority, whites have also adopted this position.

               In terms of the votes for the AFC in the 2006 elections, this had more to do with the frustrations of many African with the leadership of the PNC and their strategy for change than any fundamental change in their heuristic. It was the same for the “cross-over” Indian voter in 2011 and 2015. If a party is out of office for any sustained period, its constituency will look around for alternative leadership. This does not mean that there are not “non-racial” Africans or “non-racial” Indians. But based on the data from voting patterns, they are few and far between.

 There is talk, as usual, of the imminent launch of another “third force”. With the meltdown of the AFC and the regrouping of the PNC in the APNU coalition, there might be some support for this gesture – which is all it will amount to – from the small number across the divide, dissatisfied with Montagues and Capulets.