Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is drowning in a sea of unpopularity among Jamaicans, with a plurality believing that Andrew Holness, the leader of the Opposition, would do a far better job than her as prime minister at this time.
By nearly a 2:1 margin, Jamaicans surveyed in a Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll conducted on September 6-7 and 13-14 said Holness would do better than Simpson Miller in leading Jamaica through the present stormy waters.
The poll was conducted among 1,208 residents of Jamaica and has a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent.
Coming at the midpoint of the People's National Party (PNP) term in office, the poll also shows that most Jamaicans - 73 per cent - believe the country is heading in the wrong direction under the leadership of Simpson Miller.
Responding to the question of 'who do you think would do the better job as prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller or Andrew Holness?', 46 per cent of respondents said Holness, 26 per cent said Simpson Miller, and 28 per cent of those polled were undecided.
The poll results could provide well-needed breathing space for Holness who, despite a bruising fight last year to retain his position as leader of JLP after he was challenged by Audley Shaw, is struggling to inspire and unite his party.
It spells bad news for Simpson Miller and her party, which Holness and the JLP have accused of failing the people's test.
"Since she became party leader, the PNP's chances have always risen or fallen on her popularity, and right now her popularity is at an all-time low," noted Johnson.
The pollster said that the PNP will have significant work to do in order to turn around Simpson Miller's fortunes. He noted that the reason for Simpson Miller's poor showing in the polls will be revealed as The Gleaner releases more and more poll findings.
The previous Bill Johnson poll, conducted on the eve of the December 2011 general election, also had Simpson Miller trailing Holness when Jamaicans were asked who would do a better job as prime minister. Then, 42 per cent of Jamaicans selected Holness and 39 per cent said Simpson Miller.
Simpson Miller would, however, lead the PNP into a landslide victory at the election, winning 42 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives.
Before the 2007 general election in which Bruce Golding led the JLP to a 32-28 win over Simpson Miller's PNP in the then 60-seat House of Representatives, Golding had a 41 per cent favourability rating to Simpson Miller 32.
According to Dr Lloyd Waller, head of the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and deputy director of the Centre for Leadership and Governance, the perception that people have of leaders is influenced by several factors, such as their ability to focus and not let outside circumstances distract them.
Waller said that following a survey of 1,500 persons across Jamaica's 14 parishes between January 2012 and April 2012, his department found that there was hardly anything that separated Simpson Miller and Holness.
"I am guided by the data, which sees most of them having no substantive difference. People feel that Portia is the more caring and more compassionate leader, and she is more likeable, and more outgoing than Andrew.
"Andrew is seen more as a visionary and somebody who is more contentious and more competent," said Waller.
He, however, said that in politics, the ground can shift "very rapidly and politicians are good at rebranding and transforming themselves to meet the needs of the time".
Waller also noted that while his survey found little differences between the leaders, with more than a year having elapsed since that study, and several factors, such as an International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement been entered into by the Government, both leaders may now be viewed differently by the population.
The Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll is the first national survey done by the newspaper since the PNP's 2:1 win in the 2011 general election and similar mauling of the JLP in the March 2012 local government polls.
It also comes at a time of great fiscal austerity brought on by the nature of the IMF programme. With the country sitting on a knife's edge due to its economic fundamentals being out of whack, the Simpson Miller administration engaged the IMF in May 2013 for a four-year Extended Fund Facility to provide balance of payment and other fiscal support.
The programme, however, has resulted in higher taxes and fees, wage freeze for public-sector workers and a significant cut in government expenditure.
This could be part of the reason why the majority of Jamaicans who believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction, with 65 per cent of them putting the need for jobs atop the needs list, have given a failing grade to the PNP president.