Voters Focus On Long Term Well Being

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By Hon. Sir Geoffrey Henry, KBE Prime Minister, Cook Islands

The Cook Islands Press earns praise for running what appears to be a reasonably accurate political survey for the fourth time. However, given the same set of numbers, the editor and I ended up with quite different interpretations. For example, although the lead article was headed, "DAP Maoate holds clear majority," I found in the text that DAP Maoate received 19% while the Cook Islands Party was 17%. With something like a four point error built into 100 person telephone surveys, it's quite possible that the two Parties are neck and neck at present, or even that it is CIP which has the "clear majority."

I also noted that a full 34% of those interviewed found government doing an "ok or good" job. I say hallelujah to that. It's truly satisfying that my Government now enjoys such confidence even after two years of revolutionary-- but necessary -- reforms. And, this even before the turn-around of the economy is fully apparent.

Another indication that we CIPs have begun to reap the harvest of our labors is that 86% of those polled last year thought we were not doing a good job while this survey nearly halved that figure to 45%. If this trend were to continue, next March would find 96% believing that we are doing right by them. I will not hold my breath awaiting that result, but it is encouraging. It does make one want to work even harder.

One fact is certain, that opposition parties worldwide poll better in non-election years. There are several reasons for this universal behavior. Often, the party in power is still working on various social and economic improvements that have not yet been seen or felt. Also, criticism comes easy while results are somewhat harder. Lastly, it is because we humans tend to think that the grass will be greener on the other side of the fence.

Happily for hard working Governments, most voters think more carefully as election day approaches. The "greener grass" myth vanishes before the facts as fog fades before the sun. Hard questions like "Which party has a firm policy and knows the direction in which it is going?" and "Which party is most likely to continue our return to stability and economic growth?" emerge to supersede the innate tendency in all democracies to condemn those in power.

What matters with polls is not so much results but trends. The current trends revealed by the CIPress survey are welcomed. New Zealand went through its own painful reform a decade ago. With the hardships, temporary unemployment and upheavals it caused, few could have anticipated that the incumbent Government would have been swept in with an increased majority at the following election. That result was testament to the fact that on election day voters look past temporary self-interest and focus instead on the national good and their own long term well being.

March 29, 1998

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