Voting Behavior – By: Hubert Pipersburgh

Honest Assessment Needed

While relying on empirical data to predict election outcomes has proven to be sound, even with
the utilization of regression analysis and the null hypothesis, the accuracy of such polling data is
reasonably inaccurate because of intangibles that cannot be quantified. In addition, it is useful
to analyze Belize’s voting patterns within the context of post independence voting behavior. It
gives us a more nuanced understanding of voting in Belize as it relates to election outcomes.
This understanding of voting patterns which contributes to the overall electoral process in Belize
is what is lacking most. It can be argued that a more inter-disciplinary approach is needed to
gain better comprehension of Belizeans’ choices in the voting booth. By that I mean sociological,
anthropological, psychological, and economical factors. They are all important in an honest
assessment and they are not mutually exclusive. Since independence, elections in Belize has
mirrored a certain pattern–of the 5 elections held there have been three landslides . The UDP
have won two and the PUP one. A closer examination of those elections showed a positive
correlation between successfully outlining the issues and the outcome of the election. Perhaps,
what needs to be examined is Belizeans’ behaviors and attitudes while casting their ballots. What
are they influenced by? What drives them to make the choices they do?

Driven By Perception

In the ‘84 cycle UDP brandished the issue of PUP being out of touch and corrupt. In the ‘98
cycle PUP’s use of the Killa Vat and the retrenchment of government workers leading up to
Christmas of ’95 resulted in UDP’s devastating loss. In the ’08 cycle the UDP highlighted PUP
corruption and largess with the Venezuelan moines and the universal hospital fiasco, along with
Mr. Musa and Mr. Fonseca as the centerpieces of that argument.
Those three cycles stand out because it shows voting in Belize is often driven by Belizeans’
perception or lack thereof as it relates to their choice of party. Often times they cast a protest
vote which leads to these landslides. In the ‘89 cycle the PUP used the Coca Cola land deal to
recapture momentum by dubbing UDP as greedy sell outs. The ’93 cycle (which UDP won by
a very close margin) is an anomaly only because PUP’s top brass mis- calculated the resolve of
the electorate. The people were still not convinced that the PUP had the answers to their issues.
Also, they were not prepared to trust any party with more than one term in power.
Of particular interest is the ‘98 and ‘03 cycle. This was the only time since independence that
either party could argue definitively that they were the true majority party. I reference this
to argue that Belizeans’ decisions in the voting booth are driven by very basic and primitive
concerns. Their choices are based on their perceived notion that the spoils system determines
their choice. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may be helpful to explain this attitude. At the
very base of that pyramid is the need for security, survival, and physical needs. Hence,
physiological needs take precedence and dominate behavior. Rational choice theory and some
variation of standpoint theory might also explain Belizeans’ voting behavior because those are
based primarily on self-interested individuals who in this case exercised their franchise against
their own economic interest. In other words, their decision is based purely on what they can get
and not what is necessarily best for the whole. It also reflects a growing feeling that voting does
not make a difference.

The Two Party Spoil System

The spoils system recently defended by Mr.Barrow is one of the major influences in the way
Belizeans’ vote. Mr. Barrow has set out to ensure that the spoils system plays a central role in
his quest to convince Belizeans that the UDP is now the true majority party and should be given
a second term. All his major public policy initiatives and promises since the election points to
that fact. In short, Mr. Barrow knows that Belizeans respond to the beat of the spoils system
when faced with conflicting imperatives. Another possible explanation is that elite opinion
usually drives mass opinion. Thus, when presented with conduct unbecoming of a particular
party, Belizeans bypass the working through the process of resolution and summarily arrive to
public judgement. The underlying assumption being that public judgement is far more permanent
than public opinion and its implications more longterm.
This has led to the watershed electoral cycles that I have discussed so far. Political parties in
Belize are often times undone by their own actions such as corruption, nepotism, cronyism,
and disastrous machine politics. Image matters more than substance. For many Belizeans, the
major parties are superficial and unresponsive to their major concerns. The elitist character of
these parties obstruct a broader view of what democracy really is and the role that citizens must
play to make it meaningful. Thus, for the disenfranchised and marginalized masses, electoral
democracy becomes an empty charade unless accompanied by structural reforms to our system
of governance and jurisprudence. Worse still, the party apparatus is indistinguishable from the
government itself.

Myopic Tendencies
Historical irrefutable evidence shows that both political parties in the context of the Westminster
model that was grafted upon Belizeans take advantage of the spoil system. This pattern of
behavior perfected over the past thirty years have created and solidified a culture of voting
that perpetuate myopic tendencies and self-degradation. Both parties points out the flaws and
weaknesses of the system when they are in opposition, but quickly develops a kind of selective
amnesia towards said flaws when handed the reins of power. A classic case in point; the mass
registration of immigrants that we are now presently witnessing just before the announcement of
a major election. To this end, it illuminates the fact that our entire political structure in Belize
undoubtedly is the problem and in need of serious reforms if Belize is to ever make that great
leap forward.
The Belizean electorate isn’t sophisticated and/or informed or aware enough to absorb and
discern the complexities of the politics involved and therefore are easily swayed to support
the parties who appear to address their physiological concerns most effectively leading up to
elections rather than the party who proves to be most effective and qualified. This is evident in
their voting patterns since the country’s independence where they continue to rotate one corrupt
regime after another. They appear completely inept in how to create and maintain a successful
government. This naiveté has been the key factor in them obviously electing corrupt individuals
devoid of any moral compass ever since. Politics vs. government….government is what runs a
country and politics is what runs the government. Surely government administration should take
precedence over politicking.