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The future? It’s generation mixed

Sunday, September 28, 2014
Outside Track

There’s something very special about the 95,400 new voters able to mark their X for the first time at next year’s election. The largest group of young voters will not be Afro-TT or Indo-TT; a full 35 per cent will be ethnically “mixed,” or “other.” These young voters were aged 14 and up at the 2011 census. By next year, they will be old enough to vote.

Naturally, that 35 per cent is a true-Trini assortment; three-quarters of them are listed as “mixed,” and most of the rest are categorised as “not stated.” Vanishingly small numbers belong to a range of minority groups. The census has just 171 ethnic Chinese who will be 18-22 next year and 346 white (“Caucasian”); the latter must be putting in some serious visibility service at Carnival.

Categories of race and ethnicity are fuzzy. The census question works by self identification. For young children, a family member makes the allocation. But whatever the precise method and arithmetic, it’s a fair bet that most of the mixed-and-others will not base their voting behaviour on loyalty to hallowed Afro-TT or Indo-TT tradition. And that would also apply generally to the “not stateds.”

They will vote for someone they like, vote against someone they don’t, or just stay back from the polls. Their choices will flow from the perceived merits and demerits of those who stand. That’s also true, of course, for many Afro-TT and Indo-TT voters. Nigel Henry’s useful poll last weekend showed an ethnic alignment still in place, but fraying at the edges. Most Indo-TT voters went with the Partnership, most Afro-TT with the PNM—but plenty broke ranks.

The mixed-and-others voters and floaters already hold the balance; and more so next year than in previous elections. Looking further ahead, that 35 per cent of mixed-and-others rises to 41 per cent among those who were aged from zero to four on census day, 2011. Those tiny tots of 2011 will reach voting age in the late 2020s. 

A “one-race” parent can have either “one-race” or mixed-race children, depending who they partner with. A mixed-race parent can only have mixed-race children; and they will generally have a more complex ethnic heritage. A few years ago, I did an unscientific scratch-poll in a couple of high-school classes. I asked the question as a two-parter. First: “Do you identify with an ethnic group?” About a quarter of the students said, “No.” One said, “Sometimes.” For some Trinis, that “sometimes” says it all.

Next: “If so, which?” About a quarter of the original sample put some variation on Afro-TT. About a quarter had some variation on Indo-TT. And the rest? I got some fairly complex mixed-ancestry stories, Granny-this and great-grandfather-that. A different couple of schools, a different day—and I might have got some different answers. But that’s the way the wind is blowing.

Back to the census and the real data; among the over-48s, around a quarter are identified in the census as mixed-or-other. The proportion goes up with every succeeding younger age group. And check the youngest groups. The pace is picking up.
Oddly, the percentage identifying as Indo-TT falls off much faster. The Afro-TT proportion remains steady, at around one-third.

The group who will be 38 and up next year were young voters in 1995, when Basdeo Panday first came to power. Now, they are well into middle-age. The largest slice in this segment is Indo-TT. Afro-TT are the largest group among the over-68s, who first voted when Eric Williams was in his heyday. Tomorrow’s voters we know something about. But tomorrow’s new-ideas politicians? That’s anyone’s guess.


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