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'Close poll'

Nasik Swami
Sunday, March 04, 2018

THE 2018 General Election is going to be a close contest between the ruling FijiFirst and other opposition parties.

This is the view of Professor Steven Ratuva, political sociologist and director at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Prof Ratuva made the comment in response to a Tebbutt-Times poll conducted from February 5-8 on 1000 randomly sampled people who were eligible voters.

According to the results of the poll on the public's voting intention, a staggering 34 per cent said they were not sure who to vote for, 8 per cent declined to answer the question and half a per cent said they did not intend to vote.

Thirty-two per cent said they would vote for FijiFirst, 22 per cent for Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), 3 per cent for National Federation Party (NFP) and 1 per cent for Fiji Labour Party (FLP). When looking only at the percentages for those who selected a party (removing the undecided voters), 56 per cent selected FijiFirst, 38 per cent SODELPA, 5 per cent NFP, 1 per cent FLP, 0.2 per cent Unity Fiji Party, and 0.1 per cent independent.

He said of those who expressed their party preferences, FijiFirst had a slender lead of 6 per cent with a total of 32 per cent (or 16 seats) compared with 26 per cent (or 13 seats) by all the other opposition parties combined.

"The interesting factor here is the large number of undecided voters totalling 34 per cent (or 21 seats).

"This is where the election will be won and lost. So very hypothetically, 21 seats are up for grabs," Prof Ratuva.

He said FijiFirst would need at least 18 per cent and above of these undecided voters to get over the 50 per cent barrier and win the election while the opposition parties needed 24 per cent.

"These results show that there have been a lot of movement's since the last election in terms of people's preferences as a result of changing perceptions of issues, perceptions of parties, experience of changing circumstances and how they respond to these.

"Whichever way the votes shift, we can be certain that the election might be very close. The next three political party-based polls will begin to provide a much clearer picture of where things are moving as campaigns begin in earnest and the elections come closer."

Analysing the results, University of the South Pacific (USP) economist Dr Neelesh Gounder said the support for FijiFirst had reached an all-time low since the 2014 election when it had received almost 60 per cent of all the votes cast.

"While Bainimarama's popularity has increased by 20 per cent in February 2018 compared with February 2017, FijiFirst party as the preferred choice has decreased by 5 per cent during the same period (from 37 per cent in February 2017 to 32 per cent in February 2018)," Dr Gounder said.

He said comparing poll results of preferred party with preferred PM, there was now a clear delink between the two.

"It seems there is no clear link between Bainimarama's popularity as the PM and FijiFirst party as the preferred party.

"On the other hand, both opposition parties SODELPA and NFP have gained in terms of the choice for preferred party.

"SODELPA, in particular, has strengthened its position with a 9 per cent increase in preferred party choice (from 13 per cent in February 2017 to 22 per cent in February 2018).

"Support for NFP has increased from 1 per cent to 3 per cent."

He said also interesting was the per cent of undecided voters.

"It now stands at 34 per cent compared to 40 per cent in February 2017. It is safe to assume that some per cent of undecided has been captured by both the opposition parties, but mainly by SODELPA.

"Despite the reduction in undecided voters, 34 per cent is large and can play a significant role in which party or parties form government after the 2018 election. The challenge for SODELPA and NFP is the continuation of the momentum towards attracting undecided voters towards their party and candidates.

"For FijiFirst, given how this scenario has evolved since 2014, it might be beneficial to have elections sooner than later. This strategy might avoid FijiFirst 2014 voters who are now undecided from moving to the opposition."

* Tomorrow: Reaction from political parties

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