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Demography and the Virgin Islands General Election

October 6th, 2018 | Tags: Dickson C. Igwe
Dickson C. Igwe. Photo: VINO/File
By Dickson C. Igwe

Politicians do not like to talk about demographics. Why: because demographics in politics are a factor usually beyond the control of politicians in an election campaign. Debates can be won. Utterances can get heated, and backfire.

Lies and scandal are brought to the surface. However, demographics, the composition and behaviour of population subsets, and tribes, in a society, change much more slowly.

Demographics are less fluid than the ‘’other’’ factors that determine the outcome of a general election. However, demographics are as important as economics and ‘’feel good’’ in deciding the successful outcome of an election campaign.

The wise politician does well assessing demographic factors before a general election campaign. What is his or her base of support? How strong is that support? How has this base changed from the preceding general election? What is the overall demographics in terms of population and unique population features? What is the proportion of voters under 50 years of age to voters over 6O? What is the ratio between male and female voters? More important: how will demographic changes and trends impact the vote outcome?

So who has the demographic advantage in the new seemingly multipolar politics of the British Virgin Islands? Will two-party rule end at the next General Election after twenty years of two-party governance? Will there be coalition government after the next Virgin Islands General Election as is being speculated on the ‘’proverbial street?’’ How will the heavy influx of migrants since the late 1980s impact the vote? And who has gained voter status among migrants, and from which countries? And how will these new migrant voters vote?

These are crucial questions that must be assessed by political pundits, voters, and politicians, before any type of political narrative can be established by the media that keeps the public abreast and informed of political matters and voting projections, leading into the General Election. 

There are indications that the next General Election will throw up a much different political arithmetic than in previous general elections. Heavy hitters in the Virgin Islands political world are ditching the two-party mould and forming their own parties. Will these subterranean politics change the two-party landscape permanently?

Demographics may answer the preceding questions.

Demographics are always pointers to the outcomes of political campaigns. In the USA, white blue collar male workers were once Democrats. Today they are overwhelmingly Republican voters: especially after the new social inequality that from 2000 has seen their standard of living stagnate. The aftermath of the 2008 Great Financial Recession and the loss of manufacturing driven by outsourcing that preceded that recession, has engineered great anger at the status quo by these white folk.

White men of a lower economic status blamed outsourcing for their troubles and watched with anger as inequality created a new patchwork of prosperity centered on the Cosmopolitan. This was a demographic change that benefitted the well-educated and highly skilled but left these workers, often dwellers of rural America, on the outside looking in.

Enter the orator and property tycoon Donald Trump, and there is today a pitchfork revolution that has driven these non-ideological white workers firmly into the Republican camp.

On the other side of the fence, white liberal men and women, and minority blacks and Latinas, including Arab Americans, have felt the brunt of this new racist and populist type politics. This has placed even more millions of voters firmly in the Democratic camp.

The US midterm general election in November 2018 will be a zero-sum game. Demographics will dictate who votes for whom. White men will overwhelmingly vote Republican. Whether white women vote strongly Republican or not will determine whether the House of Congress goes to the Democratic Party in the two-party USA political matrix.

Regions will further decide the outcome with the northeast and far northwest essentially Democratic strongholds. The southern states will remain overwhelmingly Republican. Consequently, the Midterm elections will be decided by a small number of states and how the demographics play out in those states.

In the UK, the Brexit Conundrum is driven by demographics. White blue-collar males in Britain have been the most anti-Europe group of voters. The over 50s are also not very much in favor of Europe. Then there is a geographical factor with London firmly in favor of remaining in Europe and a number of regional subsets. Old manufacturing centers in Northern England and working-class towns and cities favor Brexit. This is changing however with more regions understanding the damage Brexit will do to their economies.

However, in the UK, the under 40s are mostly remainders, and so are the well-educated upper middle classes, who fully understand the folly of Brexit.  This is a demographic time bomb for the Conservative party. Brexit cannot succeed when the under 40s are very much against it. 

Ok. The greatest demographic change the Virgin Islands has experienced since 1980 has been the massive population change caused by migration driven by tourism and financial services prosperity. Most of these migrants have arrived from nearby Caribbean islands. Then there has also been an Asian and Latin American migration to the territory.

UK, North American, and Western European migration is not significant enough in terms of numbers to change the demographic when compared with the large migration from the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic.

Now demography - tribal politics - should not become a crutch for any of the two main parties. Demographics drive general elections more than any other factor: Yes. However, post IRMA the voting public will be looking for the leader and party that promises to offer a better future for themselves and their families.

Which leader and party possess a vision and strategy to pull a devastated community into social and economic prosperity? What has been the track record of incumbents and opposition? How credible are the men and women vying for political power? Which political party best promises to deliver? The preceding are the questions, apart from the politics of the tribe – demographics - that will determine the next General Election outcome.

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4 Responses to “Demography and the Virgin Islands General Election”

  • E. Leonard (07/10/2018, 12:39) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    The reality is that due to both immigration and emigration the VI/BVI (why not an official name change from VI to BVI?) is experiencing a demographic shift or transition. Starting in the mid 1960s, the VI commenced the transition from a subsistence agricultural economy to a service-based economy——-tourism and financial services. Tourism started to blossom in the mid 60s with financial services in the early to mid 80s. This economic transition and red hot economic growth and development created new jobs and new job skills. With a small population and an increasing demand for labour, coupled with emigration (brain and skill drain
  • E. Leonard (07/10/2018, 15:06) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
    Admin: 1st submission was truncated.

    The reality is that due to both immigration and emigration the VI/BVI (why not an official name change from VI to BVI?) is experiencing a demographic shift or transition. Starting in the mid 1960s, the VI commenced the transition from a subsistence agricultural economy to a service-based economy——-tourism and financial services. Tourism started to blossom in the mid 60s with financial services in the early to mid 80s. This economic transition and red hot economic growth and development created new jobs and new job skills. With a small population and an increasing demand for labour, coupled with emigration (brain and skill drain), it had to import labour. The VI currently is what the USVI was in the 50s and 60s. It is the small destination of choice; immigration is still full steam ahead with a 100 plus different nationalities now calling BVI home. The VI has one of the highest standard of living, quality of life and per capita in the region.

    Moreover, over the decades, many temporary residents made the VI their permanent home, attaining citizenship and the right to vote. Many residents taking up permanent residence in the country they immigrate to is a universal occurrence, ie, UK, US, Canada, Antigua, USVI.....etc. For example, France the 2018 Soccer World Cup winning team had a multicultural team. Trevor Noah, a late night TV show host, took some licks for pointing out the make up of the French Team. Further, the BVI has a large diaspora overseas; with emigration, a void was created that was filled by expats. Expats contribute to the growth and development of the territory and are an integral part of the community. Thus, future elections will field candidates who will have at least one parent or grandparent who was born outside of the territory. Further, on a historical note, other demographic shifts are occuring around the globe, ie, it is projected that by 2050 people over 65 will outnumber people under 5 for the first time in history.
  • two cents (07/10/2018, 15:48) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    We are the Virgin Islands, let other group stick to their official name.
  • Political Observer (PO) (08/10/2018, 02:58) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, indeed, there is a dynamic demographic shift occuring in the territory. A indigenous Virgin Islander on a stroll through historic, quaint Road Town’s Main Street, Wickhams Cay and other areas would only recognized a few familiar faces. This experience is a different but not a bad or alarming experience, for as noted and because of economic growth and development immigration has exploded, increasing the population from a little over about 9,000 to 10,000 in the 60s to approximately 30,000 today.

    The population growth is good medicine for the economy; economic growth and population growth typically occurs together. Economic growth needs population growth to sustain it. In the VI, the growth of retail businesses, ie, apartment complexes, resturants, retail shops.......etc are fueled by the population explosion. Nevertheless, on the other hand, the VI, a small locale ( 36 islands, 59 square miles), must effectively managed population growth, as economic growth, to avoid over stressing its limited resources. It must also effectively manage population growth to temper unnecessary social changes and disruption. Nevertheless, the VI must anticipate, embrace and prepare for population growth by planning for and constructing of additional facilities, ie, schools, medical facilities, fire stations, sports facilities and other amenities.


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