How and when did you decide? Part 1

On the afternoon of Polling Day, 7 May 2011, my online poll “How and when did you decide your vote choice?” came live. It stayed open for slightly more then 72 hours, in which time 2,052 responses came in.

I will be reporting the results over several blogposts because it is such a massive exercise analysing the data.

In Part 1, I will provide the overall data about participants who did the survey.

Not all 2,051 survey participants actually voted. 1,756 claimed they did, but 25 of them refused to name the party they voted for. Nonetheless, that left quite substantial numbers that voted for each party.

You should not treat the numbers as any kind of popularity contest among parties. First of all, as an online survey, it was obviously going to attract mostly pro-opposition types, so the proportion who said they voted for the People’s Action Party (PAP) would surely be far below the national average in the election itself.

Secondly, which opposition party one voted for was primarily a matter of circumstance. Except in one single-member constituency (Punggol East), all other contested constituencies had only one opposition party on the ballot.

The purpose of the survey was to gain some insight into the decision process by which voters made up their minds, not who they liked or ultimately voted for. Moreover, we’re talking not about the average voter, but of the younger, internet-savvy type. That said, this is a growing demographic and even if no claim is being made that this survey is representative, I hope to be able to offer some qualitative clues into what is happening in the minds of a significant part of the electorate.

This part of the electorate is more male than female.

Strikingly, two in three respondents who voted for the PAP  were in their twenties, whereas those who voted opposition were more spread out over the 21 – 40 age group.

Question 11 in the survey asked how much attention they paid to political news outside of election periods. Of the 122 who voted for the PAP, about 32 percent said “almost daily”, and about 37 percent said they maintained a rough awareness, although they do not follow such news closely on a regular basis.

The graph for the 1,609 who voted for the opposition looks similar,again with about 32 percent saying “almost daily”, and 47 percent saying they kept a rough awareness.

* * * * *

The next bar chart is stunning. It contains the answers to Questions 1 and 2 which asked which would be their first and second choices if they were free to vote for any party that participated in the 2011 general election.

Looking only at the 1,609 who eventually voted for the opposition party standing in their ward (which might be neither their first or second choice), we can see the Workers’ Party far ahead of the rest.

71 percent said the Workers’ Party would be their first choice; 24 percent said it would be the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). The other opposition parties had such low scores for first choice, I won’t even bother to show the numbers on the graph.

For 96 percent of these respondents, the Workers’ Party would be either their first or second choice. For 63 percent of these respondents, the SDP figured in their first or second choices.

The natural question to ask would be: How many of those who picked the Workers’ Party as their first choice, also picked the SDP as their second choice? Is the SDP too “radical” for those who liked the Workers’ Party or is the love transferable?

Pretty much so. 53 percent said the SDP was their second choice.

As for the age profile of those whose first choice was the Worker’s Party, this was a shade older than the age profile of those whose first choice was the SDP, but both were heavily weighted in favour of the 21 – 40 age bands, not surprising for an online survey.

* * * * *

The survey form used can be seen by clicking the thumbnail image at right.

Analysis of the survey results comes in several parts.

Part 1: Overview of participants.

Part 2: At what point in the campaign did voters decide on their vote choice?

Part 3: How important were selected factors in determining vote choice?

Part 4: How important were selected sources of information in determining vote choice?

Part 5: What about Tanjong Pagar GRC?

36 Responses to “How and when did you decide? Part 1”


  1. 1 T 11 May 2011 at 09:27

    Hmmm, I like the Male, Female and Other categorization.

  2. 2 tweeds 11 May 2011 at 10:09

    Alex, thanks for conducting this survey and analysis. One point of interest amongst friends as the results were announced was the voter turnout, as well as the percentage of rejected votes. A <1% difference in turnout for an election that saw nearly double the number of voters is still impressive, but that percentage point would have translated into many more voters not going to the polls, and it might be interesting to find out the composition of that group as well as their reasons.

    Further, the class of rejected votes has come under scrutiny for the first time in recent memory, notably with the thin margins in Joo Chiat and Potong Pasir. Again, a study of the spread (geographical, perhaps, and then linked to the demographics of the particular ward or constituency) of rejected votes might prove insightful. This latter category is likely to be impossible to capture without data from the Elections Dept, unfortunately.

    But once again, excellent work on YB. I know I speak for a number of readers when I say thank you for your efforts, especially before and during this past election.

  3. 3 Poker Player 11 May 2011 at 10:53

    I am not sure what to make of your analysis. 122 for PAP and 1609 for the opposition? Like all Singapore political surveys done on the internet, it has no connection with reality.

    • 4 yawningbread 11 May 2011 at 18:05

      Don’t be so “one-track mind”. Surveys do not need to be representative of the total population to be meaningful. A huge part of research is done with focus groups. Treat the online survey as a sort of focus group: a subset of the population that shares certain characteristics, in this case leaning towards opposition, internet-savvy and relatively younger. They make up only 35 percent of the electorate (according to one Straits Times survey) by they still have to be understood. All over the word, marketing is done like this: targetting section by section of the market. So is politics.

      For example, how come nobody does political research for within the Malay community, or among new citizens or among civil servants? See how impoverished we are politically?

      • 5 Adrian 11 May 2011 at 20:19

        You might want to add confidence intervals for your sampled proportions. For example, your sample size is 177, 35% votes for for PAP, then the 95% confidence interval is .35 +/- .35(1-.35)/177

      • 6 yawningbread 12 May 2011 at 00:40

        Since this is not a representative sample, I don’t think we should go there.

      • 7 Poker Player 12 May 2011 at 09:45

        Considering that your response included substantial caveats not included in the original article – and the fact that what you call a “focus group” would startle those who do this sort of thing for a living – I wouldn’t be so quick to say “one-track mind”.

  4. 8 twasher 11 May 2011 at 11:15

    I find it notable and not surprising that females are more likely to vote PAP than males are. It fits my anecdotal experiences and findings in economics/psychology that women tend to be more risk averse than men.

  5. 10 bioanarchism 11 May 2011 at 11:27

    This is mathematics, data analysis and Numb3rs all rolled into one!

  6. 11 twasher 11 May 2011 at 11:39

    What was the percentage of people who voted PAP but listed some other party as their first choice?

    • 12 yawningbread 11 May 2011 at 18:17

      55 percent of people who voted for the PAP listed another party as their first choice. The great majority of this 55% named WP as their first choice. I reckon what this means is that these people would have voted for WP had WP stood in their constituency, but since WP did not, they did not want to vote for any other opposition party, so voted PAP instead.

  7. 13 Mirax 11 May 2011 at 12:08

    Such a great effort Alex, wish there were more of you around.

    The WP stepped into uncharted territories this year – it captured the hearts and respect of Singaporeans. I have some aquaintance with the demographic a just a bit younger than the 21-year-olds, and it is only the WP that seems to have a mindshare (if we are not talking about Nicole Seah).

    Perceptions of the WP being somewhat ‘cheena’ appear outmoded to me, an Indian. Then there is the party’s historical context and association with such political heroes as David Marshall and JB Jeyaretnam. This is the party that provided the double A breakthroughs – Anson and Aljunied. Further to that is the sheer hard work put in through grassroot activity and party renewal. Yes, LTK errs on the side of political conservatism – but surely he is merely reflecting the voters’ instincts here right? Sylvia Lim mentioned in a rally speech this year that she rarely encountered locals bringing up such issues in her house visits. I gained the impression that if their constituents pushed forward such issues, the WP would be more responsive and proactive in this area. Then again, new WP entrants to parliament may chart a more ‘radical’ course.

    I am a hougang resident, I have always been grateful to the WP for offering me a credible choice and saving me from the utter nihilism of a spoilt vote. I have truly never been interested in the other opp parties, sad to say. The SDP was great this year (apart from James Gomez who may be a liability). The other parties still dont impress. They’d have my sympathy vote but not much else.

    I write all this as there already seems to be some sort of initiative on the part of the 3 smaller opp parties to work together – presumably against the WP as well as the PAP.
    It is a given that the PAP guns will be trained against the WP, now that it is a real contender. It would be a great pity if opposition unity is fractured and we lose against the PAP, as we always have had, because it is like herding cats with some of the personalities in the opposition camp.

    • 14 Robox 11 May 2011 at 23:32

      @Mirax, you said: “Perceptions of the WP being somewhat ‘cheena’ appear outmoded to me, an Indian.”

      I can tell you this much: it’s not. Indeed, it is definitely one of the reasons the WP cannot appeal to me. (And I’m a very cosmopolitian individual who can easily mix with any crowd.) Then, the WP goes on to blunder in too many other areas that are important to me for me to have the distaste that I do for them.

      But neither you nor I can speak for all Indians, and for this discussion I can include Malays as well. Let the images of the various partes’ rallies speak for itself. The WP rallies did not seem to have a strong Indian or Malay presence. This seemed to also be the case with other parties’ rallies save the SDP rallies where not only were Indians and Malays more visible, despite some of the areas that they contested not having a higher than national average proportion of Malays especially, but also the proportion of women and the young (those in their twenties.

      I think that it is a desperate attempt to salvage WP’s “cheena” image when you go on: “Then there is the party’s historical context and association with such political heroes as David Marshall and JB Jeyaretnam.”

      That connection has been all but broken.

    • 15 Robox 11 May 2011 at 23:45

      Further to my point above, and since this is also a demographic analysis, someone in another recent discussion in this blog referred to – disparaged – the students who are attracted to the SDP as “kentang”. However, that “kentang” quality too is a factor in parties’ abilities in attracting Indians and Malays in greater numbers.

      The “cheena” image that individual members as well as parties themselves project is frequently associated with greater racism, and this a gut reaction that many Indians and Malays have based on our day to day experience.

      The visible presence of cosmopolitan Chinese – the “kentang” – in parties tend project greater inclusiveness, something that many Indians and Malays tend to feel more comforted by.

      And I dare say that all this will also become more evident when Singaporeans are given more choice, perhaps in the future if there are more three way contests.

  8. 16 Gard 11 May 2011 at 13:03

    I wonder if it is possible for you to publish the timestamp distribution. I gathered that you were still accepting responses when and after the results had been announced?

    Could you offer an example for ‘rejection of response (fabrication)’? Is it checking against IP addresses?

    • 17 yawningbread 11 May 2011 at 18:22

      All the rejected responses were of this nature: Respondent said they voted and named a party they voted for. But also said they were below 21 years old.

      • 18 Gard 11 May 2011 at 19:53

        Uh, by preference, I also refer to the preference to participate in the survey. But if the sample sizes are too small, never mind.

  9. 19 Mirax 11 May 2011 at 13:36

    Also telling that Chee Soon Juan’s article in the Guardian’s CIF section breathes not a word about the WP. So much for opposition unity!

    He is taken to task by some commenters for that lapse and some go further in condemning him harshly (quite unfair but still indicative of deep reservations about CSJ even amongst opp supporters)

    • 20 J 11 May 2011 at 21:50

      This whole ‘opposition unity’ thing is getting rather tiresome. Exactly what is it supposed to cover?

      Anyway, I think this term was something conjured up by random netizens, and not by any political party, so it’s not fair to attach this to any one of them.

    • 22 Robox 12 May 2011 at 00:00

      @Mirax:

      “Also telling that Chee Soon Juan’s article in the Guardian’s CIF section breathes not a word about the WP. So much for opposition unity!”

      Chee Soon Juan is the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, and not the Workers Party. When he writes about his party’s role – incidentally a role the WP has not played going by the descriptions he provided – he is not obliged to mention any other party in any article he writes, exept perhaps the party that SDP candidates contested agaisnt. (The Workers Party is exactly the same, isn’t it, along with all other parties when the comment in this or similar capacities?)

      Besides, why would YOU call for opposition unity when the party that you are obviously gung-ho about, the Workers Party themselves have NOT ONCE uttered those words? The WP also makes itself conspicuous in its absences at various joint opporition party events, especially those organized by the SDP, suggesting that they are too good for those lesser parties, portending the PAP’s elitist attitudes that they seem to want to emulate; the WP has signalled in no uncertain terms that they do want to distance themselves from the SDP.

      Why did you also omit to mention RP, SDA, SPP, or NSP in your comment? Dr Chee did not mention them either. Just like the party you support, it doesn’t sound like YOU care two hoots about opposition unity either.

      This was just another opportunity by a WP supporter to take a swipe at the SDP, something you people seem to do with an obsessive compulsiveness to it.

  10. 23 elijahlau@yahoo.com.sg 11 May 2011 at 16:34

    One possible reason for the WP/SDP 1st-2nd choice nexus is that both parties have clear platforms and good branding, which speaks of a higher degree of professionalism. I think that the educated 21-40 demographic may be more inclined towards parties that have actually thought through and articulated a coherent platform even if they may not agree with the actual details. This is where a party like NSP loses out, even if it has identifiable (well, one identifiable) candidates.

  11. 24 Calculon 11 May 2011 at 17:53

    The survey is actually rather accurate…

    Of the survey participant who voted for the opposition, the breakdown of counts fit nicely to official results.

    From ChannelNewsAsia, of overall votes.

    WP:12.82% (1.0) (YB – 552)
    NSP:12.04% (0.94) (YB – 441, 0.80)
    SDP: 4.83% (0.38) (YB – 187, 0.34)
    RP: 4.28% (0.33) (YB – 194, 0.35)
    SPP: 3.11% (0.24) (YB – 136, 0.25)

  12. 25 sarek 11 May 2011 at 20:30

    How many of those who picked the SDP as their first choice, also picked the WP as their second choice?

    Is there any info in the survey that may explain why those chose WP as their first choice, also picked the SDP as their second choice?

  13. 26 YH 11 May 2011 at 20:47

    I’m one of those who answered WP #1, SDP #2.
    It’s very clear what they’re standing for. I also like their policies, and careful thought that went into it. Hence, there is no #3 for me.

    reasons why WP#1, SDP#2 (and I’m obviously not alone in this ^^):
    1. I stay where WP has been contesting on and off the past 20+ years. They are a household name.

    2. I see the current WP as conservative – which i like. pragmatic but with a heart and with ideals.

    3. I’m a recent convert to the SDP. They are a close #2 because
    3a. of their focus on human rights and the democratic process. (WP take similar or neutral stands, and less focus on these issues this campaign)

    3a. SDP is a little too collectivist (is this the right word?) for me – a capitalist tax payer who wants to work in defence ^_^. Some of their policy proposals are open to abuse imo (a key problem in welfare states). Though given our sorry state, some policies (eg min wage, health care, education) should be implemented; and all their proposals should be debated in parliament.

    3b. SDP won my heart this GE because in I saw how they appealed to the our kindness, and not to our greed and fear. And I love that they want Singapore to ‘move confidently into the future with no one left behind’.

    Is the love transferable? Well, as the parties currently stand – my vote is definitely transferable😉 It will probably depend on the state of the economy and the standards of our quality of life. The candidates may have a part to play too.

    I’m very open to the idea of a WP/SDP coalition govt. But not a merger, as I see them as very different parties.

    @Calculon – nice… Alex had mentioned that this poll is skewed toward pro-oppo voters. Nice to see the distribution for the opposition side close to actual distribution.

    @Alex, Thanks for doing this! very insightful. Q: you have 30 respondents for spoiled votes. would you do an analysis on these? (just asking, not demanding! thanks!)

  14. 27 nicebutwhat 11 May 2011 at 20:56

    Let me give you an extended dimension to the survey. Basically, the PAP is worried about the young generation, below 40, especially below 30. Why?

    The older generation, above 40:-
    1. A lot of them went through post war, they think Singapore without PAP wont be what Singapore today. If you ask them, they keep comparing to Singapore to Indonesia or Philippines. So Singapore is always win, PAP is the best.

    2. Above 40, most of them have a shelter, they bought at reasonable price from HDB, less $100k, $100k or even $200k, not the current BTO prices at half million. So they dont have housing issues.

    3. They live in fear, they always think if a vote goes to opposition, they will be penalised, their upgrading or jobs at stake.

    They are pap die hards but their mindset wont change unless a stone hit them. For example, they lost their job to a FT or they were marginalised badly by government policies.

    To conclude, the education system in Singapore inculcates materialism and obedience. So those in the 30s and 40s were strongly influenced.

    The top earners in Singapore are not likely to vote opposition, mostly in the 30s and 40s. Upgrading, money and career are more important than democracy. A lot of these earners are in civil service or GLCs. If they arent there, they are with MNCs. They will only support the team that can protect or enhance their career or financial, democracy is last thing on their mind. But of course, they will never admit in public.

    The young people in SG are largely an internet based education. They are glued to internet and learnt a lot from internet. So it is difficult to brainwash them through education as they gain access to non-controlled news.

    The young also face 2 key issues:-
    1. Unaffordable housing, now already cross half a milion
    2. Job prospect, lower and lower pay and facing intense competitions from millions of talents.

    • 28 yawningbread 12 May 2011 at 00:43

      You wrote: “The top earners in Singapore are not likely to vote opposition, mostly in the 30s and 40s. Upgrading, money and career are more important than democracy

      This may be an urban myth. The data from the election itself supports the opposite theory.

      • 29 Nicetalkbutwhat? 12 May 2011 at 07:19

        Top earners in GLC and public service will not support oppositions. They are worried reprisals. Outside GLC and public service, might cast with conscience.

      • 30 Nicetalkbutwhat? 12 May 2011 at 07:23

        The issue is a lot of people said they supported opposition but at the poll, they casted for PAP. You need to know a lot of people are brave online but after going off, their balls cramped.

        How about you conducting another round of survey of POST GE to find out the truth?

      • 31 Magi 12 May 2011 at 13:41

        My experiences are of course not statistical. But all the SME owners I know of are anti-pap. Two of them, to my great surprise, were very active in promoting the opposition days before polling.

    • 32 whatu1 12 May 2011 at 14:06

      I am over 40 but I don’t vote for the incumbent since gaining voting rights. So all said are myths. It is up to the individuals and their own political awakening.

  15. 33 patrick 11 May 2011 at 22:49

    “Strikingly, two in three respondents who voted for the PAP were in their twenties, whereas those who voted opposition were more spread out over the 21 – 40 age group.”

    I suggest this is because motivations for going online are different for people of different age groups. People in their twenties go online and check out politics as a routine part of their lives, so that neither pro-PAP nor pro-opp are disproportionately represented. However, most older people don’t see the internet as an essential part of their lives and usually do so for special purposes, such as voicing frustrations with the government. On the other hand pro-PAP older people may find no motivation to go online. So PAP supporters are concentrated in the younger age groups, while opp supporters are more spread out.

  16. 34 Rabbit 12 May 2011 at 02:37

    @nicbutwhat, you said: The top earners in Singapore are not likely to vote opposition…

    I disagree, East Coast GRC and Joo Chiat almost lost to WP with a close fight. These are places with many private properties owners. You have insulted their intelligent for saying they like the current ruling party.

    I think one of the reasons they could no longer stand PAP bullying those staying in HDB flat even though the rich and educated are not affected by it. Afterall, we are all Singaporeans and should be treated equally. The educated will tell you that what PAP did to the people and the needy citizens (as in potong pasir and threats used on Aljunied)are wrong and not ethical or to bluntly put, cruel. They voted with their conscience and not their wealth.

    If a two-party systems is created, you probably need to thank those staying in the eastern zone of Singapore.

  17. 35 notapapsupporterbutvotesforpap 12 May 2011 at 12:09

    I don’t have a chance to participate in this survey but I will like to share how and when I made my decision.

    I decided just after nomination day when I came back from work and see all the PAP posters already up but no sign of the posters from the opposition party competing in the GRC I stayed. Surprising the opposition party across the road already got their banners and posters up.

    Further reinforcement of my decision was because on 2 May, the PAP advisor who was an ex-MP for my GRC visited my house and I knew that he had done a lot for my GRC as I stayed in the same GRC for thirty over years although in a different area in the past 5 years.

    Another point that reinforce my decision was that the albino eldest son of my current MP who struggle to see under the bright light had also came along with the PAP advisor to garner votes for his father.

    As for my MP, I only saw him from afar for a few occasion in the past 5 years during major events for the GRC. I don’t have a chance to see him up close and personal as I guess he is too busy running the show for the whole country.

  18. 36 zhengyu 12 May 2011 at 13:57

    Interesting results. Thanks for sharing!

    As to political alignment, I reckon you will need to pass the various party’s manifesto through the political spectrum to determine where to stand.

    With regards to the PAP, in the beginning, they were probably center-left with an authoritarian bent, but over the years due to retirement of the Old Guard and the slavish subscription to Anglo-American economic theories, they have migrated to probably authoritarian far right.


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