Opinion: Sentiment surveys of citizens

POSTED: 04/3/14 3:02 PM

St. Maarten does not shine in the field of data collection. A country that needs years to complete a census is hopelessly behind the times. Our 2011 census is still not completed and it does not look like the results will become available any time soon. The same is true for the so-called family survey that is underway – a condition that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

We need data for decision-making, and we need data for the marketing of our tourism destination, but the highly anticipated Tourism Statistical Information System (TSIS) is, in spite of repeated promises, still dead in the water. The preparations for the 2021 census are rumored to be in full swing. Given the speed, or rather the lack of it, with which the results of the 2011 census are being (mis)handled that sounds like an excellent idea.

How different all this is in a rich country like the Netherlands, where the Social Cultural Planning Bureau has already published the results of its Continuous Survey Citizen’s Perspectives over the first quarter of this year – and that quarter is not even finished yet.

Said survey contains some good news and who knows, as the saying goes – when it rains in the Netherlands, a few drops may hit St. Maarten. Since the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008, the number of respondents that is positive about their country has never been higher. Currently four out of ten participants in the survey are optimistic, versus 29 percent three months ago. Researchers conclude that economically speaking the worst part since the crisis is finally over.

In the survey, researchers examine the confidence of 1,100 participants in each other, in politics and in Europe.

The improved sentiment is mainly due to developments in the economy. Of the participants, 73 percent thinks that the economic situation will remain stable this year, or that it will improve. One year ago this percentage was just 40, and three months ago it stood at 45. Especially among participants with a higher education and above average household income, the mood has improved. A majority – 58 percent – is satisfied with its own financial situation.

While the mood among the participants in general has become more positive, a 54 percent majority is still of the opinion that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Researchers say this number is historically low because in the past two-third of participants have expressed this sentiment.

The question is whether this group is simply pessimistic, or realistic. The researchers say that the 54 percent is unable to square rosier economic reports with what they see in their environment in terms of unemployment, temporary contracts and increasing costs for healthcare and sustenance. Supporting their view is a report in Trouw on Friday, saying that every day the number of unemployed in the Netherlands increases by 430.

Negative feelings about immigration are a recurring theme. Even before PVV-leader Geert Wilders elicited the “fewer, fewer, fewer” chant from his supporters at a meeting in The Hague last week, four out of ten participants indicated that the Netherlands would be a more agreeable country if there were fewer immigrants. This percentage has been stable for the past six years; we note that a 60 percent majority does not share this sentiment.

Participants have limited trust in political institutions. Almost 45 percent sufficiently trusts the government (and, we’d like to add, more than 55 percent does not share this feeling), while almost 50 percent trusts the Second Chamber. It sounds good but in fact it is a pretty bad report card for politicians.

Researchers say that citizens often reproach politicians for a lack of decisiveness, but that the sentiment has turned more positive after the successful nuclear top in The Hague – a conclusion we find slightly mystifying.

The upcoming May 22 European elections are not doing Europe any good, the survey shows: participants have started to think more negative about Europe. Support for membership of the Union has been on a slight decrease since 2009. In that year, 45 percent embraced the euro during the crisis, now sympathy for the European currency stands at a mere 31 percent.

A majority of 57 percent supports the notion that politicians have transferred too much power to Europe. In early 2012, this percentage was 42.

Politicians – also in St. Maarten – could learn a lesson from the following finding in the survey: 43 percent is of the opinion that politicians are treating each other indecently. Last year 48 percent had this opinion, but the researchers have an explanation for the difference. Last year the survey took place after Geert Wilders had said in parliament to Prime Minister Mark Rutte “Just act normal man” (Doe toch eens normaal man); this year, the survey took place before Wilders made his highly criticized statement about fewer Moroccans.

Participants in the survey feel powerless in terms of politics. Almost two-third of them says that they are unable to influence the work of the government. On the other hand, 52 percent is positive about political compromises. In previous surveys this percentage was lower.

Lastly, only 35 percent of the respondents are looking for a powerful political leader. This percentage is lower than three months ago and higher than three to six years ago.

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