Political debates influencing decisions since 2007 — JDC

Political debates influencing decisions since 2007 — JDC

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

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THE executive of the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) says the national debates are still relevant to the country’s political landscape and that the upcoming debates will amp up interest in the upcoming general election, given their absence prior to the 2016 polls.

Chairman of the JDC Noel daCosta says that since the commission started its own polling the statistics for the 2007 and 2011 general elections and the 2016 parish council election have consistently showed that 60-67 per cent of those surveyed said the debates helped them to decide how to vote.

“We were expecting when we did that poll first, maybe about four or five per cent. We were startled when we got 20 something per cent and then for the next cycle the numbers were repeated so we feel that it [the debates] does make a significant difference,” daCosta told yesterday’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

According to the commission, 35 per cent of voters said they changed their votes to the Opposition party as a result of the debates, and 78 per cent said the debates addressed their issues.

Vice-chairman in charge of sponsorship, communications, and social media Brian Schmidt pointed out, too, that 78 per cent of respondents felt debates should be mandatory for elections. “So if you’re looking at nearly 80 per cent of the country saying debates are mandatory, it is telling you that debates have now become an entrenched part of the political culture,” he said.The JDC will be staging three debates, beginning with social issues on August 25, followed by the debate on economics and finance on August 27, and will close off with the leadership debate on August 29. DaCosta explained that third parties have not been included in the debates because they do not meet the JDC’s requirements.

DaCosta said the debates are expected to draw significant public interest owing to the fact that the political parties are not able to execute their campaigns in the usual fashion. “They have indicated to us that this debate is probably the only opportunity that they’ll have to address so many people at one time,” he stated.

Schmidt added: “The debates in this round are going to be stronger because this is going to be the main way that they will be able to compare the aspirants side by side and having not had a debate for the general election in 2016, that in and of itself is going to drive some interest for this one.”

JDC resource person Eleanor Henry said that in 2016 when no debates were held, the public expressed its disappointment.“The polls after showed [that] people really wanted debates, and I think both parties now are at the point that whether we ask or not, they will be debating,” she said.According to the commission, its survey further showed that 11 per cent of those polled either did not vote or voted for the party which they said they would debate.Meanwhile, daCosta said it will cost “tens of millions” to stage the three in-studio debates leading up to the September 3 General Election. He said so far $11 million have been pledged to the commission so far.

There is some indication, however, that sponsorship could be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s a struggle, but we will get there…the major companies and some of the multilateral organisations have supported us in the past and they are continuing to support us,” he said.




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