This is just an addendum to the earlier post, in an attempt to estimate the weightage of the likely factors for success.
I had earlier said that persistent groundwork appeared to be critical to Workers’ Party’s victories in Hougang and Aljunied. Other factors like having strong candidates and clear party branding were also important. By how much?
Below is a table of the various contested constituencies in the general election of 7 May 2011 (uncontested Tanjong Pagar GRC omitted) sorted in descending order of opposition party vote-shares. Punggol East is mentioned twice because two opposition parties contested there. The dots are based on what I have heard or seen of their activities or the landscape.
The base level of support for any opposition party, borne out of frustration with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was probably 30 percent this election. You can see that the worst-performing results were around 30 percent. This in itself is quite interesting, because it seemed that people were really upset with the PAP, and yet the base level is not much higher than in 2006 when I estimated it to be around 23 – 25 percent. In other words, popular frustration alone does not guarantee votes, a point that I made in a few posts during the campaign itself in my attempt to communicate to the parties the need to speak about other issues like vote secrecy, fear of PAP retribution and idealism.
(I knew even then that groundwork would count a lot, but in the short time available to parties during the campaign, if they hadn’t done their groundwork by then, it was too late. So no use telling them that.)
Strong candidates, e.g. Vincent Wijeysingha or Nicole Seah, can make a significant difference but are not enough to pull the opposition team all the way to 50 percent. Arguably, voter affection/sentiment for a candidate is a stronger factor than credentials, as seen by the transferability of Chiam See Tong’s “magic” to Lina Chiam, and to his new ward of Bishan-Toa Payoh. Then again, affection cannot be earned without a reputation for groundwork. This is not to say that Lina Chiam herself had no reputation of her own. Having worked alongside her husband for years, people do have affection for her in her own right. But she threw some of it away during the televised debates when she did not impress, thus losing points in the “branding” and “messaging” columns.
The Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) approached branding and messaging in distinct ways. The former chose to present itself as middle-of-the-road policy-wise, thus a “slightly to the left of the PAP” brand position. Its manifesto was extensive, but during the hustings, it hardly mentioned any of it. Instead its messaging was stripped down to the need for an opposition presence in parliament and its dependability at the local level.
The SDP chose to trumpet its policy proposals in its messaging, thereby giving it some heft. With Danny the Democracy Bear and a strong internet presence, it partly succeeded, in branding itself as a serious, cutting-edge party.
I won’t say that one was a better route than the other. I think both worked. The key difference was that the Workers’ Party had a huge dollop of groundwork.
Less often spoken about is the factor I name “private properties”, referring to the percentage of voters living in private housing (as opposed to public “HDB” housing). Joo Chiat is 100 percent [correction: 99 percent] private housing. There’s a high percentage also in East Coast, Holland-Bukit Timah and Mountbatten. There is a considerable number of private homes along the Thomson corridor but I reckon these are heavily outnumbered by not one, but two HDB townships of Bishan and Toa Payoh. Tanjong Pagar too would have a significant percentage of private condominiums, but it was not contested.
Analysts have known for a while that the readiness to vote for an opposition party increases with educational level, though not any Tom, Dick and Harry opposition will do. Give voters a strong candidate or good party branding and they are relatively easy for the opposition to win over. Educational level correlates with income and housing type. One therefore sees this effect in places like Mountbatten and Holland-Bukit Timah where, even the absence of long-term groundwork, opposition candidates/parties got a noticeable boost.
For example, last night, speaking to the candidates and counting agents from the SDP, I heard that in the public housing parts of the constituency, e.g. parts of Clementi, Ghim Moh and Bukit Panjang, their vote-share was in the low-to-mid-thirties range (i.e. not much different from HDB heartland areas like Yuhua, Bukit Panjang and Sembawang where the party also contested). Yet, the SDP ended up with nearly 40 percent vote-share overall in Holland-Bukit Timah. Since press reports have given a figure of 70:30 public housing: private housing split in this group representation constituency, what it means is that the private housing areas probably gave a slight majority (50 – 55 percent?) to the party.
I sincerely hope opposition parties would be more strategic in planning for the next elections, and I hope a steady build-up of analysis helps.