Political Scientist and pollster Peter Wickham has called for more research on development issues to be conducted in the Caribbean, declaring a “tragic” absence of academic work on the subject.
Wickham was delivering a lecture on Wednesday night at the Christ Church Parish Church on the topic Politics and Polling: The Caribbean experience, as part of the Oistins Festival.
The regional pollster used the event to discuss the findings of several social research studies done by his polling organisation, Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), on a range of issues, from homosexuality and spousal abuse to corporal punishment and the death penalty.
“In the case of the University of the West Indies, what was the Institute of Social and Economic Relations, which was the main institution that did polling, has now become the SALISES and it is now a teaching unit which is led by Dr Don Marshall.
“SALISES has little time for polling, largely because there’s not a lot of commercial interest in it. The persons who work there have to teach and as a result there is less polling done in that instance, he said.”
Wickham said his firm has been able to conduct a number of studies on social developments in the region.
He pointed to a 2008-2009 domestic violence study in Barbados, which aimed to establish the rate of gender-based violence here.
“In the days when I was teaching I would tell my students there are a couple of things that are really really hard to research and I look forward to the day when I can research all of them.
“Part of the problem with doing domestic violence research is you cannot ask someone ‘Do you beat you wife’. Well you can but they’re probably not gonna answer you. It’s probably even harder to ask the person’s wife ‘Does your husband beat you’? Worse yet, if you had to say to a man ‘Does your wife beat you?’”
To counter the problem, Wickham and his team undertook an ‘informant approach’ where researchers asked people to share experiences they were familiar with, rather than their own experiences.
“We came to the conclusion that around 30 per cent of Barbadian households have had incidents of domestic violence over some time,” Wickham said. “But the whole fascinating thing about that research is the extent to which things that people did not think were domestic violence were in fact domestic violence.”
Another study on social trends undertaken by CADRES was on attitudes towards homosexuality in 2013, which was sponsored by the Barbados Government, while UNAIDS funded the study in nine other Caribbean territories.
The CADRES pollster told the audience: “What we discovered were less than ten per cent of Barbadians were homophobic and the rates of homophobia in Barbados were the lowest in the region [and] our rates of acceptance were among the highest in the region. We did not study Jamaica – I should make that point.
“The other thing that we were also unable to establish was the whole size of the homosexual population of Barbados, and again that’s a challenging research question.”
Support for corporal punishment in homes and schools was another body of research done over a decade, between 2004 and 2014.
“When we started the research in 2004 we had the majority of Barbadians supporting it [and] we now have a situation where a minority of Barbadians support corporal punishment and it is continuing to decline. And the influences are gender and education.
“So we found that women especially were more inclined towards corporal punishment; we also found that people who were more educated were less inclined to beat their children, and people who were less educated were more inclined to beat their children.”
The trends are the opposite for public support for the death penalty, Wickham said, commenting on surveys done between 1999 and 2010.
He noted that support was at the lowest during times of low crime, while it increased significantly when crime escalated.
“Of course 1999 is the year crime and violence declined; 2010 was Campus Trendz,” he said, referring to the incident where six young women were killed after the clothing store where they worked was firebombed by thieves.
The most recent study by CADRES, in 2017, was commissioned by UN Women on gender and leadership. Surveys were conducted in Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and St Lucia.
“We asked people what they thought about women in leadership [and] what I found interesting is that the vast majority said they would like the idea of more women leading. The challenge however is that people instinctively see leadership as something that men do.
“When we asked people, in relation to women, the type of women they see as leaders, they identified women that had what I would call the more male characteristics in the context of the political scenario. So single, unmarried… the children were big. Women who could be loud and boisterous if necessary. That’s the kind of women that people seemed to want to identify with. And certainly it was interesting to make that observation even as we were saying we want to feminize our politics, we seemed to want to take people back to that [masculine] perspective, ” he said.
Stressing that such studies should be valued more greatly by Caribbean academics, Wickham revealed he had presented a proposal to UWI principal Professor Eudine Barriteau for consideration.
“I would like, going forward, to see us in the Caribbean, us in Barbados conducting more [such] research. I would like to see us get back to these days where the University of the West Indies has an institute that studies these issues,” he said.