Voting on Economics

By Dr. Brian Francis

It is a commonly accepted position that general elections are decided not by a single factor but by a multiplicity of concerns. And that inference is true not only in Barbados and other small island states but also in the most developed countries throughout the world.

What is also true is that some issues are usually more important than others and can thus make a huge difference in outcomes when the actual votes are tallied.

Let’s take the case of the last Presidential elections in the United States. In his November 19, 2012 talking points memo entitled “Liberals and Conservatives ganging up on Mitt Romney,” Bill O’Reilly suggested that lower income individuals contributed significantly to the President’s election victory.

He then went on to state the following: “Ask yourself this question, what do you think those making less than $30,000 a year were voting for? What were they voting for? Do you think they were voting for massive debt? Were they voting for continued chaos in the Middle East? Were they voting for more government regulations that inhibit businesses from hiring working people? Were they voting for eight percent unemployment that keeps salaries down because there are more workers than jobs? Were they voting for any of that? No. Millions of lower income Americans voted for the candidate who they thought was going to directly help them financially. Not every Obama voter did that but many absolutely did.”

Indeed, the analysis presented by Bill O’Reilly suggests that many of the persons who voted for President Obama did so because they felt that their own financial circumstances stood to benefit from the President’s re-election.

By extension, their votes were not entirely an endorsement of the failures and unintended consequences of any of the President’s policies.

If, indeed, a comparison can be made between what transpired in the Presidential elections in the United States and our own situation here in Barbados, then, clearly, interesting times lie ahead.

Why? Given the current state of the Barbadian economy and the plight of more and more people (particularly lower and middle income individuals); it is not far-fetched to conclude that voting on economics could be the dominant factor in the upcoming general elections.

What this means is that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) now has to present to the public its specific policies (particularly on the tax side) geared toward improving the financial status of Barbadians because the Barbados Labour Party has already laid some of its cards on the table in that regard.

Remember, Mitt Romney and the Republicans mounted a robust campaign against President Obama’s economic policies, claiming among other things that those policies will increase the national debt and federal budget deficit, kill job creation, and destroy small businesses. Yet, Mitt Romney lost the election, big time!

In a similar manner, we have heard in Barbados strong reactions to the BLP’s proposed policies in terms of their potential negative effects on the fiscal deficit, the balance of payments, and the international reserves.

Therefore, as we have seen in the United States, will the Barbadian electorate vote based on the financial benefits to be derived from the proposals outlined by the various political parties despite some of the negative unintended consequences?

That question will surely be answered sooner rather than later!


(Dr. Brian Francis is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)


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