How and when did you decide? Part 3

Those who voted for the stronger opposition parties did so for three main reasons. They were (a) because they wanted to boost opposition presence in parliament, (b) because they liked what the party stood for, and (c) because they liked the candidates they had on offer.

Those who voted for the weaker opposition parties did so primarily for one reason alone: because they wanted to boost opposition presence in parliament. This shows how important it is, going forward, for the weaker parties to communicate what they stand for, and to take a hard look at the candidates they have representing them. Without getting these two other factors in place, they can’t move up.

As seen in Part 2, the stronger opposition parties had a larger base of hard support — always an asset.

Question 7 in the survey asked participants how important were six selected factors in determining their vote choice. The first factor given was the need to give the People’s Action Party a strong mandate. During the campaign, the PAP warned that more parliamentary seats for the opposition would result in blocking governmental action, raising the spectre of paralysis. How did different clusters of voters respond to this argument?

It is not surprising that those who voted for the PAP gave this factor greater weight.

As for those who voted for the various opposition parties, there’s not a lot of difference among them (except those who voted for the Reform Party, discussed below) but I thought it interesting that roughly 10 – 14 percent of them still said it was a very important consideration in their decision process. They do seem to believe that having more opposition members in parliament slows down the speediness and perhaps effectiveness of executive action.

Why does the bar for Reform Party look different? My guess is that it was skewed by the voters of Ang Mo Kio GRC, one of the two constituencies the party stood in. The PAP team in Ang Mo Kio GRC was headed by the prime minister himself, and voters likely gave more thought to the effect on the stability of the government even as they voted for the Reform Party.

Opposition parties may need to better communicate that unless the PAP is very badly mauled and loses a simple majority in parliament, it is hardly likely for government business to come to a standstill. That said, this can be tricky. There is a fine line between saying that the government will continue to function and that voting in more opposition members of parliament will make no difference at all, so why bother?


As mentioned above, the urge to increase opposition representation in the legislature was palpable across the board. Even about a quarter of those who eventually voted for the PAP rated this factor as “very important”; nearly eighty percent said it was “somewhat important”.

What this suggests — again — is that the PAP voters whom I managed to reach in this survey were not the hard-core ones, but the thinking, swing voters. Perhaps in their constituencies, the opposition offerings were just not attractive enough.


The next bar chart shows the opposition parties differentiating among themselves. Two of them — the Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party — had about half their voters saying that what the party stood for was a “very important” factor in their decision.

The party with the weakest connection with its voters in this regard was the Reform Party. It’s a bit of a paradox, because party leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam is a sort of policy wonk. What the survey shows is that having ideas is not enough. Communicating them is just as important, and Jeyaretnam’s heavy reliance on the internet — and even then only sporadically — is far from enough, especially when he is not an exciting public speaker ether.

What’s worthy of mention is how strongly those who voted for the PAP felt about the importance of what the party represents. The PAP’s branding is not to be scoffed at.


The next bar chart also shows differentiation among the parties, except that the Singapore People’s  Party now joins the Workers’ Party and the SDP as leaders of the pack.

We know why. Chiam See Tong was the team leader of the SPP team in the only group representation constituency they contested:  Bishan-Toa Payoh. Even in the single-member constituency of Potong Pasir, many hold his wife and replacement, Lina Chiam, in high regard.

A big unknown is whether the SDP’s high score in this respect is due to more to Tan Jee Say or Vincent Wijeysingha. Tan brought credentials, including a stint as then-deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s principal private secretary, but was otherwise a bit of a salesman on the rally stage, touting his economic plan without pause. Wijeysingha, on the other hand, was impressive as a public orator but without much by way of career track record. What do readers think?

As for the Workers’ Party, I’m pretty sure the voters of Aljunied would have held the party’s candidates in even higher regard than the bar shows. This is because the bar also reflects the input from voters in other constituencies who voted for the Workers’ Party, but who were not presented with the party’s  “A-term”.


Every election since the mid-nineties, the PAP has been threatening voters with economic loss should they return an opposition member of parliament for their constituency. Question 7(e) tries to measure how important this factor is, at least among the demographic — the relatively young and internet-savvy — this online survey reached.

As you can see , this remains a “somewhat important” concern for up to 20 percent of those who voted for the opposition. It is probably higher in the general population, as hinted at by the bar representing PAP voters. What this survey finding indicates is the need for opposition parties to deal with this fear among (some) voters head-on, but from what I can see, they have yet to find a reply. They shouldn’t be afraid of the facts, which may in fact help them. For example, see the data compiled by Bernard Leong and his Singapore Angle mates in the article Hougang constituency 4-room flats retain value well.


The other significant fear factor is that the vote is not secret. I saw the Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party talk about this in their rallies.

Like the question on upgrading and asset value, those who eventually voted for the PAP gave more consideration to this factor, but even among those who voted for opposition parties, there is a residual segment who continue to worry about this. We will need to keep addressing this issue for a few more elections yet.

* * * * *

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?

12 Responses to “How and when did you decide? Part 3”

  1. 1 nicebutwhat 13 May 2011 at 21:20

    Good insights. The government would have o predict the outcome the night before poll. It looks like they haalso done this exercise to find out how they should tweak their policies and election policies to ensure another mandate in 2016.\

    I am very surprised, they were still able td a big team of statisticians available to crunch the numbers in a complex modeling program. I heard the systems were purchased from IBM.

    I hope forward your reports to all opposition parties for their study too. I really hope a day where the outcome would surprise everyone, if the game is so easily manipulated, then it wont be fun anymore.

    2016 is still a long way, I think many changes will be applied and possibly these reports might not be too useful by then.

  2. 2 Ken 13 May 2011 at 22:46

    What struck me most about this post is the last chart – concern about voting secrecy. It’s interesting that SPP voters were the least concerned about having the secrecy of their vote compromised. Could it be because of the longstanding opposition presence in SPP stronghold Potong Pasir? I wonder if there is the mentality that “sure, they might check to see who we voted for, but even if they find out, they’ll have to deal with the neighbours too!” The safety in numbers syndrome? If so, this is significant, and could suggest that as opposition parties further entrench themselves in the constituencies they’ve won or came close to winning, the fear of voting secrecy will diminish over time.

    • 3 whos afraid of the astroturfer 15 May 2011 at 16:03

      As mentioned in Alex’s earlier posts during the Rally period before the Polling day, it would be beneficial for the Opposition parties spend some quadrants of their time to consistently educate the public that voting is secret and that rumours or urban legends that PAP will find it out and it will cost you your job or something is as it is, just rumours and urban legends that the PAP keep silent about since its for their benefit for the voter to be an ignorant and fearful one.

      I would also like to propose perhaps WP could continue to put pressure on the ruling party in Parliament that the Elections Department have not done an adequate job, if there are that many people so uncertain about voting secrecy and how exactly to vote without spoiling one’s vote ballot paper.

      Alex’s article on the process of counting ballot papers is very insightful for many people and Singaporeans who visit his blog.

      There are many reasons why the PAP government rule with a gentler iron fist, but nevertheless an iron fist. Many I believe stem from potential threats of our neighbours if our government is seen as weak and soft.

      We have yet to see if the present PAP government will really make a true change for the better of all Singaporeans, though I am really not that hopeful, but there is 5 years to go. So, lets hope that more and more Singaporeans will be more involved in being politically knowledgeable and FIGHT for what is right, that is our rights as citizens of Singapore.

  3. 4 Kusuriuri 14 May 2011 at 08:13

    I voted for the opposition because the PAP is an affront to my sense of fair play. While I know that politics is a dirty affair, participants should still possess some sense of decorum. PAP’s victory-at-all-cost measures disgust me and will, in my opinion, tear this country apart.

    PAP’s tactics:
    – Gerrymandering
    – Pork barrel politics
    – Breaking up the collective voting power of the Malays through the HDB ethnic quota
    – Operation Spectrum
    – Operation Coldstore
    – Fear mongering
    – The use of public funds for the People’s Association
    – Dangling the upgrading carrot
    – Suing opposition members and thus instilling fear in other
    – The subjugation of instituitions that should be non-partisan
    – Creating a compliant judiciary and press that should, ideally, act as a countervailing force to the government

  4. 5 gypsie 14 May 2011 at 12:23

    One of the biggest contradictions to deal with in the elections IS the point you brought up (but only occupying 1 paragraph): Opposition parties may need to better communicate that unless the PAP is very badly mauled and loses a simple majority in parliament, it is hardly likely for government business to come to a standstill. That said, this can be tricky. There is a fine line between saying that the government will continue to function and that voting in more opposition members of parliament will make no difference at all, so why bother?

    Firstly, for too long, “PAP” has been conflated with “Govt”.
    It results in situations such as: I’m unhappy with the govt, so I want to vote against the PAP. Then someone comes and says, voting against the PAP will not stop Singapore from running because the govt consists of the civil service which will keep Singapore running. Oh my gosh. How do I vote out the civil service?????

    Secondly, could the civil service be part of the problem? After all, many people assume that civil servants MUST vote for the PAP. Why? Why do people think that it is the duty of the civil service to keep PAP in power? Why do civil servants think it is their duty to keep PAP in power? Why do people think the civil service is doing a good job? Why do people think that the civil service will be paralysed if and when PAP loses a simply majority in parliament? Is that how civil service works? It is just a mindless mechanism that takes input from above? How do other countries separate the govt machinery from the ruling party? Does the civil service perpetuate PAP rule because of the internal systems and the type of people that are promoted and retained in the service?

  5. 6 market2garden 14 May 2011 at 14:58

    Is this the beginning of PSEPHOLOGY in Singapore to study the election and voting behaviour. Yes, it’s quite comprehensive. Just wonder is there any analysis of “previous PAP supporter but now AP supporter” (not swing voters)? And the analysis of “Pro-particular AP not just anti-PAP”?

  6. 7 Ken 14 May 2011 at 15:27

    Is it too premature to mention the need for WP to form a shadow cabinet? The lack of such a shadow cabinet has been something that PAP has cited to argue that the opposition lacks the credibility or preparedness to serve as ‘co-driver’ when the need arises. Perhaps this should be a key item on the WP’s agenda in the next five – ten years, a major strategy in its effort to prove that it is up to the job.

  7. 8 A Singaporean 14 May 2011 at 18:40

    Hi Alex,
    I was both a polling agent and counting agent at this election, and had the privilege of seeing the voting system from start to end.

    There is something bothering me and I would like to know your experience, too. What I find is that the total number of voting slips issued in each polling station is not compared with the total number of voting slips counted for that polling station. While I don’t doubt the integrity of the election officials and everyone else who worked so hard in ensuring a fair election, I can’t help thinking that there may be a loophole.

    The theoretical loophole I envision is as follows: Prior to voting, a valid voter prints additional voting slips and bring it along to the polling station. After getting a valid voting slip, the voter marks on the voting slip along with the the other fake voting slips that was brought along. The voter then folds the additional fake slips with the valid vote and stuffs them into the voting box. Since the totals are not compared, there is no way to ascertain if there were a few fake votes in the box, isn’t it ?

    I should highlight here that at no time during my duty did I see this happening, but I believe we should try to improve the system before bad things happen, yes ? If the totals are actually compared, then I’m mistaken here. Do you know ?

    • 9 Presiding officer 15 May 2011 at 16:14

      Hi Singaporean

      It is the duty and responsibility of the polling official to ensure that the voter puts in only one ballot paper into the ballot box. His civil service job will seriously be at stake if he allows such a thing to happen.

      Furthermore, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to create fake ballot papers.

      Also if the ballot box does indeed contain additional fake ballot papers, during the counting process, they should be able to discover that the number of counted papers will not tally with their records of number of ballot papers issued out.

    • 10 Also a Singaporean 20 May 2011 at 13:43

      Hi, as someone who helped out at the back end, the parties do compare the numbers.

      The polling agent for the party would have the count of the number of people at the station. When the boxes are opened for counting, the party can cross check the total for the box with what the polling agents has recorded for the day. If there are significant difference they can raise an issue. (I don’t exactly know the process of this)

      Of course there are problems, a lot being that opposition parties often don’t have enough polling agents and the stations are left unmanned so the counts are inaccurate.

  8. 11 Vapex88 14 May 2011 at 21:13

    Chart Q7 (f) Concerned that my vote may not be secret, is interesting.
    About 30% of voters who voted for PAP indicated they have this concern while the opposition is less than 20% with the SPP less than 10% and WP & NSP about 14%. One of the contributing factors I believe is that both NSP and WP explained to the people the process and assured them that their vote is secret. They did this durnig their rallies. They cited personal experiences – example the Chairman of NSP. I was at their rallies. Does the PAP go to great lengths to explain and assured the voters of the secrecy of their vote? It may not be to their advantage to do this. So better to leave it aa it is. What if these 30% having been assured voted for the opposition? Then there may be more opposition MPs and PAP’s overall % would have been reduced – maybe mid 50%.

    Moving forward I think the opposition parties should continue to educate the people and assure them that their vote is secret. Remember in Aljuined GRC for example there are about 45% who voted for PAP and they need to be enlightened. Similarly for Joo Chiat, East Coast GRC, Bishan-Toa Payoh etc.

    I hope the opposition get to see this data.

  9. 12 Anonymous 14 May 2011 at 22:49


    I stand corrected that there is a 0 possibility that PM Lee will retire his father LKY from the new Cabinet. Officially from 14th May 2011, LKY remains as MP of Tanjong Pagar GRC!

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