Criminals, liars and frauds is how Barbadian university students view politicians, according to a recent University of the West Indies study which also found that interest in political affairs among the country’s academic community was at an all time low.
The qualitative research study which was intended to examine the gender gap in political ambition in the region, has also revealed that Barbadian young people, for the most part have lost trust in local politicians and the overall political process which they believe has become riddled with underhanded, corrupt and illegal practices.
“We’ve seen that over a number of political administrations, high levels of cynicism have actually grown, where young people are becoming more apathetic against politicians, especially with regard to corruption. These are all things which affect political ambition,” said senior lecturer in Management at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Dr Dwayne Devonish, who conducted the study along with senior political science lecturer, Cynthia Barrow-Giles and psychology lecturer, Joan Cuffie.
The study examined a number of males and females across varying disciplines on the campus by placing them in five focus groups, to determine how males and females view politics and whether a gender gap still existed between them.
“What we revealed today in the presentation is that there was a clear gender gap in the perceptions of those in the OECS and Guyana where males were more interested in engaging in politics and things political (compared to females). It may not necessarily be running for office, but pretty much some level of political activism and other associated activities compared to females. We also found that in total, those from non-Barbadian countries were more likely to have political interests and higher political ambition than Barbadian students.
Some of the preliminary findings were revealed to students during a brown bag seminar at the university’s Roy Marshall teaching complex. The researchers indicated it was intended to contribute to the virtually non-existent pool of literature on the gender gap in regional politics.
While Devonish added that the waning interest was due to both psychological and structural factors, he indicated that while in other regional territories males continued to show a keener interest in politics when compared with their female counterparts, Barbadians students were simply disinterested across the board.
The researcher further pointed to the recent upsurge in new political parties like the Grenville Phillips-led Solutions Barbados and the Lynette Eastmond-led United Progressive Party (UPP) as evidence to support their findings.
“For example, it is not a coincidence that we had an upsurge in minor political parties in the last election. Usually when you have these types of indicators, they are symptomatic of a certain level of societal unrest or distrust in mainstream political parties. So all of these things collectively have significant effects on people’s political interest.
“In the other territories, we don’t have a significant upsurge in minor political parties. That would be indicative of some level of major distrust in politicians and perhaps might explain why those students or those persons in other countries in the region are still having a stronger political interest. They see politics as a civic duty. Whereas here, we have found that people more so see politicians as traditional criminals, liars, frauds and so forth. So that is something that we have to further theorize on,” said Dr Devonish.
Barrow-Giles contended that although women had long acquired the right to vote and even with the emergence of female political leaders, women have remained largely unrepresented in politics.
While the first stage of the research project primarily focused on young university students, Dr Devonish said the researchers would be broadening their sample population.
“We are going to do a stage two on this research looking at men and women, not only in the academic community, but across all walks of life to find out what are the structural and psychological factors impacting political ambition and their lack thereof.
“This same survey is going to be rubber-stamped across the region in countries like St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda and so on so that it can be compared across the board. We want to create the framework for a much greater level of insight into the factors influencing political ambition, the gender gap and so on,” he said.