What Americans Can Learn From the Recent Jamaican Elections

Woman holding voting sign

Jamaica has two political parties: the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party. Just by looking at the names, you probably already realised an important fact. These are both socialist democratic parties that share ideologies. This reflects how surreally united Jamaicans are, even if we do not often recognise this.

In fact, both parties fight each other mercilessly for power. Our PNP and JLP friends spend a great deal of time arguing during election season. Even in high school, parents and teachers warned us to avoid wearing party colours to stay safe.

PNP also ruled over Jamaica for a very long time. I was literally in college before I saw someone other than a PNP Prime Minister at the head of the country.

How the 2020 Jamaican Elections Made History

On September 3rd, not only did JLP win a second term, but the party won a landslide victory. Because political parties in Jamaica are not ideologically polarising, it would be unfair for me to draw any strict parallels between Democrats and Republicans.

Progressive Ideologies Won

However, PNP definitely draws an older crowd, while JLP attracts more millennials and zoomers. JLP also has a large number of women leaders in its body, which appeals much more to young liberals. So, for JLP to win the vote by a landslide, it gained the support of women, millennials, zoomers, and other contemporary progressives.

We Had a Record-Setting Win

So, what exactly is a landslide victory? There are 63 seats to be won in Jamaica. JLP won a whopping 49 seats, while PNP won an embarrassing 14 seats. The last time anything like this happened in Jamaica’s democracy was in 1983. That year, PNP thought it would be a good idea to “boycott” the elections. This led to a default victory to the JLP.

New Seats Won

This year, even the PNP town my family lived in was fully converted to JLP, for the first time in my lifetime. I turn 31 next October, so let that sink in. Many other people on Twitter shared similar stories about the communities they grew up in.

How Liberals Win Elections

When JLP won their first election in my lifetime, the year was 2007 and I was attending the Montego Bay Community College. This was the first time they won an election since PNP came into power in 1989, which is also the year I was born.

Not Trusting the Elections to Fate

When elections came around again in 2011, many JLP supporters felt that the results spoke for themselves and that the vote was in the bag. Subsequently, many JLP supporters did not vote and we lost to PNP. People lamented not voting, for years to come.

So, when 2016 came around, more of them voted and we won the election. This year, the coronavirus led to a very low voter turnout, but JLP continued with a lesson well-learned. They created one of the biggest political wins in our nation’s history.

Appealing to Younger Voters

Throughout JLP’s last term, we also experienced an unprecedented level of access to our ministers and other party leaders, because of social media. We can literally tweet the Minister of Health or the Prime Minister himself. Believe it or not, they often respond. Our tweets have affected policies countless times.

This more personable approach to politics humanized our Prime Minister. Before long, he earned the colloquial title of Brogad on Twitter, when he is on our good graces, and Anju, when he is not. This changed the political landscape for us, in the same that way Obama did when he made his appearances on talk shows and Buzzfeed.

Why Liberals Lose Elections Anyway

Again, both Jamaican parties are liberal. In my opinion, any conservative policies are a reflection of our Jamaican culture as a whole, not so much one party versus another. Even so, there are a few political parallels I can draw, especially when we treat JLP as the more liberal of the two parties.

Over-Confidence

Like I touched on before, JLP lost the vote in 2011, because so many supporters believed they did not need to vote. In 2016, America made the same mistake. Americans were so sure no one would vote Trump into power that many abstained. The end result is the mess we’re currently in.

Perfectionism

This year, political analysts and onlookers believe PNP failed to attract a strong turnout for elections because the people did not particularly like the party leader. After the 2016 U.S. elections, every liberal I spoke to, who did not vote, told me they disliked Hillary. You will never get your perfect candidate, so choose from the options you have.

Self-Righteousness

This is very closely linked to the idea of perfectionism. Once you dig into why liberals did not like Hillary, most had moral concerns. They abstained from voting because they felt they were too “pure” to vote for the lesser of what they considered to be two evils. Instead, they wanted someone who embodied all their values. Again, you will never get your perfect candidate. Choose someone or everyone else will choose for you.

Take a Lesson From the LGBTQIA Community

Fortunately, some Americans do understand how to win elections and why this is the first important step in ensuring liberal ideologies prevail. The group I have to give the most credit to is the American LGBTQIA community. Here’s why.

When Obama ran for office in 2008, that was the first year I ever paid real attention to American politics. I could not believe that America was potentially about to have a Black president. I was, however, disappointed to hear some of his initial thoughts on the LGBTQIA community. He very explicitly stated that he believed marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.

In spite of this, every American LGBTQIA person I knew was campaigning on his behalf. They were loud and proud about their intentions to vote. Quite a few times I drew them aside and asked why they would vote for a man who did not support their beliefs.

Every single time, they would just smile and say they felt confident that this was the president who would make the change. There were also several who believed he already supported the LGBTQIA, but was only holding his tongue to win the vote. They believed he would make changes in their favour, at a later date.

He almost completed his first term in office and did not appear to change his mind. I felt sure the LGBTQIA community would abandon him out of disappointment, but they held on. It was May 2012 before Obama finally became the first American President to openly support same-sex marriage. It was 2014 before solid protections took effect.

Maybe you are a liberal who does not support the LGBTQIA community. You might not even like Jamaicans. Even so, there is a lesson to be learned from both of us. Sometimes, you have to vote for people who embody most of your values, exercise other civic responsibilities and privileges, and then hope for the best.

I don’t agree with everything Joe Biden says and I have a personal and non-political dislike for Kamala Harris. However, compared to the current political situation, I think they are the better team for reuniting the country, steering us to safety, and preserving widespread American freedoms.

To add to this, as an immigrant, I have spent the past five years living in America under policies put in place by leaders other people voted into power. I look forward to the opportunity to have my own voice heard, for the first time.

If you do not intend to vote, I implore you to change your mind. There are millions of American residents and citizens who only WISH they could vote — and are counting on you to make a good decision.

PS:- Not all Jamaicans agree that JLP is the more liberal party. I am drawing my leftie calculation by comparing the demographics both parties attract. Can you imagine living in a country where you can debate about which party is more left? Ha!

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18 thoughts on “What Americans Can Learn From the Recent Jamaican Elections

  1. Thanks for the great post, Alexis. I am a politician in the US at the county level and I enjoy reading political matters. I find it refreshing that both parties are quintessentially different versions of each other rather than polar opposites. Thanks for the insight!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. It’s funny how different we think the two parties are on the island, but American politics definitely adds a new perspective!

  2. I have no idea why people look for a perfect candidate. We don’t have perfect spouses, perfect parents or perfect children, but we seem to get along fine. I have always voted for the person who most closely represented many of my views. I had to explain to my granddaughter about this. For religious reasons I don’t like abortions, but I dislike even more neglecting the children who are already here. For that reason, I told here, I am voting for Biden.

    1. I have no idea how any sane person can expect perfection from politicians. Every last one of them have blood on their hands. But, at the end of the day, they govern the world we live in. One way or another, the leader will be chosen. We might as well have a say in it.

      My vote will also be for Biden.

  3. You bring up thought-provoking points about how the election systems are similar/different between the US and Jamaica. Growing up in the US, I’ve only ever really learned about my country’s own voting rights, so it’s refreshing to see it from an outsider’s perspective.

    Your point about people being perfectionists got me thinking that both sides, whether Republican or Democrat, don’t see the big picture: we will never have the ideal candidates, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote period, let alone do cast-in ballots for third party candidates (which never work out and it jeopardizes the primary candidates from securing the majority of votes). I especially see this in my peers, many of us in our twenties and thirties and predominantly liberal, and I wish they could see that it’s not about idealism, but about voting for whatever choice you have.

    I personally have qualms about the candidates for the 2020 elections (i.e. I do not like either side’s), but I know that it’s important to vote and contribute my right…and hopefully, that can bring about a change, for better or for worse. Again, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thank you. While both countries are not good parallels of each other, I thought the similarities that do exist were worth exploring.

      I see a similar problem with millennials know here to what you’ve expressed. Just last night, I was saying to a friend of mine that I wish young people here would cast their votes as loudly and as frequently as they air their opinions on social media.

      Here’s to hoping for a better turnout this year!

    1. Agreed. What’s insane is how many Americans seem to thrive on the conflict and see absolutely nothing wrong with the direction things have taken.

  4. Interesting post and I appreciate the point you are making. What is the turnout like in Jamaica? The U.S. likes to present itself as the pinnacle of democracy but we have a pretty low turnout, a party that is trying to suppress votes and, most frustrating of all, we’ve had two presidential elections in the last 20 years in which the candidate who got the most votes didn’t win. Glad to have your vote this time.

    1. Thanks, Ken.

      Unfortunately, the voting turnout was VERY low. It was around 40%. One big reason for this is that Jamaica only really has one way to vote. You have to show up on the day and vote in person and you must do so in the area you’re registered. The coronavirus really made that risky for a lot of people.

      Another big problem we have is one similar to here: millennials and zoomers have plenty to say on social media, but don’t actually exercise their voting rights often enough. Whereas America is an aging population (most First World countries are), Jamaica is a young population (most developing countries are), so the effects of that is even worse for us. As an FYI, our Prime Minister is just 48 years old. I think he was in his late 30s the first time he assumed office.

      America definitely has a lot to fix. I’m still learning about what that is and what we can do about it, but I’m happy to be an active part of the potential solution this time around. ☺️

  5. first,,,,good post.
    second…for the first time in many many years, there is a big difference in the candidates for president in the usa. unlike local elections, the president is not elected by popular vote. well not exactly. since the president is elected by the electoral college and not by the public, sort of. lol the states set up how their electoral college is supposed to vote and generally it is based on the popular vote, which means who ever wins in that state is to get those electoral college votes. but, that is not how the 12th amendment says the electoral college is to vote.
    third…many voters may not like either of the main candidates and vote for an outsider or not vote at all. this generally tends to re-elect the incumbent. clearly the current president is a narcissus, racist, bigot, liar, and sociopath. just look at the RNC and it was his family and laced with lies, and half truths. no prominent republicans were shown at the convention. the president has a TOTAL disregard for the pandemic and the general public.
    i agree, biden/harris have their issues/faults but i feel have a better vision of direction for the usa, but also there needs to be a change in congress or we will be stuck.

    americans must vote. and they must dump trump.

    1. Thanks, Buddy! ☺️

      In Jamaica, we elect by both popular vote and our version of the electoral college. The 63 seats (spread out across 14 parishes) is a little like the electoral college, but still not an accurate parallel, for sure. I think our seats are well calculated. I have never heard of a candidate winning more popular votes but fewer seats or vice versa and I’m not quite sure what the protocol would be in that scenario. I should definitely look that up.

      As for voters complaining about the candidates here, they sound like broken records these days. They really need to just suck it up and make a choice. A choice is going to be made either way, so they might as well get a say.

      I have seen a lot of Republicans step forward to say they plan to vote blue, this year. Who knows how many actually will and how many those will add up to. We’ll see though. It’s a sad day when we can’t count on fellow liberals to exercise common sense and have to hope the Republicans will, instead.

      1. More of the prominent Republicans need to speak out against Trump. Too many of the people who work for The White House are afraid to say anything for being fired. They value their job over their personal values or the values of America as a whole.

      2. I think Republicans, on a whole, vote for their own personal interests. That’s one of the scariest things about the people who claim to put “God and country” first.

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