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Projections, not predictions: why the pollsters got it wrong

My last two columns, one titled “Rowley rising” and the other “Lament for a falling leader”, were seen by many of my readers as being almost prophetic in the wake of last Monday’s election results.

Had I made public another document in which I analysed the results in all 41 constituencies from 2007 onwards, using historical data and trends, and projecting the 2015 results—which I circulated only to close friends—I might have been accused of being an “obeahman” or “seer.”

Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on September 7, 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on September 7, 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

As someone who steers clear of the spiritual world and who certainly does not believe in “obeah”, I must say that my accurate projections—not predictions—were based on a scientific analysis of hard data, on my ability to read the mood of the electorate by monitoring public meetings and similar indicators, by assessing the two contending parties, their strategies, their leaders, and most of all by being objective.

Note well that I had long dismissed Jack Warner and the ILP and wrote as much repeatedly, saying that if Jack polled 1,000 votes anywhere, I’d be surprised.

Essentially, I argued that the election will be won on the results from eight constituencies, ranked by degree of marginality as follows: San Fernando West, Tunapuna, St Joseph, Barataria/San Juan, Mayaro, Pointe-a-Pierre, Moruga/Tableland and Chaguanas East.

La Horquetta/Talparo and Toco/Sangre Grande were never marginal. They were won by the PP in 2010 in an extraordinary general election that saw the coalition ride a wave of popularity, taking other PNM strongholds such as Arima, Lopinot/Bon Air, the two Tobago seats, and scoring very well in all three Diego Martin seats as well as in other similar constituencies.

Following its manifest decline in popularity that showed up in the 2013 local government elections, which pushed the PP back into its base—and even there it was under threat—the UNC, with the COP being a spent force, went into this general election with 14 safe seats, having to fight to win all eight marginal and sub-marginal seats if it were to win the election.

Photo: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

The PNM, on the other hand, having wrested all of the East-West corridor corporations as well as San Fernando from the PP in 2013, now had 19 safe seats, and needed only two to take it over the top.

I saw those two as San Fernando West and Tunapuna, which it won comfortably. Anything beyond that was gravy—which it got in St Joseph (by over 1,500 votes) and Moruga/Tableland (a close 533).

By similar token, the UNC won Barataria/San Juan by 540 votes, and Pointe-a-Pierre and Chaguanas East by approximately 1,500 votes.

One constituency in which I was dead wrong is Mayaro. I thought Clarence Rambharat had done enough, and with the UNC finally naming its candidate on Nomination Day, the PNM stood a good chance of winning. Clearly, the reshuffling of polling divisions before the election benefitted the UNC, which won the seat by 2,900 votes.

Now that the dust has settled—we can forget the UNC’s spurious challenge: if they do get the courts to rule in their favour and the country has to return to the polls, people’s anger will wipe them off the map—there are some questions to be answered.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago football fan Anselm LeBourne has more than the "Soca Warriors" on his mind at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals in New Jersey.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago football fan Anselm LeBourne has more than the “Soca Warriors” on his mind at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals in New Jersey.

Among the recognised pollsters, only Louis Bertrand called it right. The well-respected Nigel Henry cannot claim accuracy, having categorised La Horquetta/Talparo and Toco/Grande as marginal on the eve of the election.

Also, to the end, he stuck with 30 percent of the electorate being undecided, and worse, with hours to go, he asked people who they would vote for if the election were called then. I think Nigel needs to study Trinidad’s voters—and Tobago’s (there are differences)—more closely.

Others like Vishnu Bisram (NACTA) and certain analysts and columnists lost all objectivity, calling the election results the way they wanted them, not the way they were seeing them.

If they were bad, UNC apologists were worse. One Kama Maharaj wrote of the “whooping (sic) 147,000-vote licks” the PP put on the PNM in 2010, decreeing there was no way the latter could overcome that.

Political scientist Dr Hamid Ghany saw the PP leading in St Joseph, Tunapuna, Point Fortin and Talparo, with only San Fernando West and Toco too close to call. Is this a case of the “nutty professor?”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago pollster Nigel Henry (right) receives an award for his work.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago pollster Nigel Henry (right) receives an award for his work.

And on Election Day, UNC bloggers wrote of “exit polls” showing the coalition having a “commanding lead.” Really? Who conducted this US-style exercise, circus clown Rodney Charles?

Maybe it was he who had Kamla Persad-Bissessar saying that her party was leading at six o’clock but losing at seven!

Off with his head, Kamla: he made you look delusional in defeat.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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18 comments

  1. If the PNM led government keeps focus and delivers (not miracles) I don’t believe the UNC will ever make it back to power. Did anyone read Nigel Henry’s poll the day before the election, he stated that San Fernando West was to close to call???
    San Juan/Barataria shocked me though…

  2. Good read as usual Mr. Shah! I try to follow your articles on the other blog.

    I agree with you about how the pollsters got it wrong. Like an earlier comment, people lie over the phone because Trinis are very guarded when it comes to giving out information to a “pollster” over the phone, you just never know who it is or if it is the government of the day making mischief and whatever answer you give can be used against you.
    Mr. Shah did predict that Jack Warner would have lost his seat and I ran with that rhetoric whilst alot of persons that I know disagreed.
    I know for a fact that NACTA, Hamid Ghany, Guardian polls were biased, that’s why I tried to follow Nigel Henry, but his results didn’t sit too well with me because people on the ground said otherwise… Maybe that’s because I live in the East?

  3. Exactly my projections, although I was surprised that PaP, cHAG eAST and Mayaro were lost to the UNC. The figures did show that Barataria/San Juan was difficult to overcome for the PNM, but the strong Muslim votes were divided. Inshan Ishmael, tried his best but no no avail. The east west corridor vote was a decisive one and not an avalanche, had it been an avalanche, then Barataria/San Juan would have gone to Pnm.

  4. Thank you Live Wire for posting this columnist’s work. I lamented yesterday how I wasn’t able to read his column on the Express’ website (I would have liked to have read his previous 2 columns also), and I continue to be thankful that you are posting the columns from Sunity Maharaj and Martin Daly.

  5. Raf, I think you’re being unfair to Nigel Henry. I don’t know if you read his Express piece which explains why his research was telling him something that his gut was not telling him. He set out several reasons why his results might be wrong, making very clear that there were behavioural quirks/patterns which were not factored into the method he currently uses and so the real margin for error, he concluded, was much greater than the scientifically calculated one. I think that his statement contained a level of honesty and candour which is quite unprecedented among local and regional pollsters and submit that he cannot be dismissed as easily as you dismiss him here.

  6. Vishnu Bisram & NACTA is a waste of time..Nigel Henry was most disappointing though. I expected better of him

    • Let we doh even mention Hamid Ghany…..”Point Fortin is a marginal”…..my word…..he had to make it that obvious that he sold out?? Anybody call him to analyse anything since last Monday??

      He still teaching in UWI?? Still polluting our young minds with nonsense?? Steups!!!

  7. Simple ..because ppl lie when d pollsters ask them questions

  8. Nigel Henry they can’t stop calling your name! Anyone who has to denigrate others to show how great they are….well in my book it makes you look suspect!

  9. On point, I agree with him on Mayaro and I thought Point a Pierre was going PNM also. However, I was willing to take a bet that Jack would have gotten at least 1500 votes in Chaguanas East. Boy was I wrong.

  10. Love this guy! He’s so funny!