Talk at the Post Museum: election perspectives

Beware: 3,726 words.

It was a big crowd for a very small space. People were hot and sweaty and many were seated in such a way they could not see the slides. Unfortunately, with civil society as impoverished as we are, it was not realistic to expect a better venue, as Braema Mathi, President of Maruah and organiser of the event explained.

I promised the audience that I would upload a version of the talk I gave in the event that they couldn’t see the slides clearly and therefore couldn’t quite follow. In any case, I do want to expand a little on what I said — I was limited by time — and writing is a good way of doing so.

So, here it is:

* * * * *

I carried out an online survey via this blog during polling day (7 May 2011) and about two more days after. In this talk I am going to tease out only a few of the results. Specifically, I am looking at the results that speak to us about parties’ brand values and what the findings can tell us about what needs to be done in preparation for the next election.

I am usually sceptical of online surveys. If we are unable to control our sampling, it is impossible to be sure what the responses represent. At best, we can only make educated guesses. However, one way of overcoming the problem is to get a massive number of responses. I’m not saying that the responses I got were massive, but they weren’t few either.

Total responses = 2,051

Of which, number who voted = 1, 756

Of which, number who voted for an opposition party = 1,609 (>90%)

Let me say straight off, it was a skewed sample. Few among the respondents voted for the People’s Action Party (PAP), when 60.1 percent of the electorate did. Furthermore, as an internet survey, I only managed to get responses from those who were online; these would be younger than the average population.

Just to visualise where the respondents were coming from, here’s a slide showing three age-bands of voters mapped against their political affiliations. It’s just my rough guess:

From these three age-bands, my respondents would be indicated by purple dots. That being the case, in this talk I will largely discard any data I collect about voting for the PAP, and focus only on those who voted for an opposition party.

How close to being representative was my sample to the opposition-voting population? Well, it certainly wasn’t fully representative because of age and internet-use skewing, but in terms of party preferences, it wasn’t too bad. The survey asked participants which party they voted for, and we can compare the distribution obtained against the electoral results.

As you can see, it’s pretty close. For example, 27.4 percent of my respondents said they voted for the National Solidarity Party (NSP) when nationally, 30.2 percent of those who voted for an opposition party did so. Another example: 34.3 percent of my respondents said they voted for the Workers’ Party (WP) when nationally, 32.2 percent of those who voted for an opposition party did so. Hence, I can say with some confidence that the sample from my survey is a reasonable cross-section of opposition-voting citizens. It is not skewed to supporters of any particular opposition party.

Now, let’s look at the first finding. These are responses to the question: If you had a free choice of all parties, including the PAP, to vote for, which party would be your first choice?

This question was asked of all 2,051 respondents, but some indicated that the PAP would be their first choice. Of the remainder,

The result is stunning. The Workers’ Party is far and away the first choice for the great majority of respondents. There’s also a clear runner-up — the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

This result echoes one obtained by the New Paper conducted in March 2011 — I do not know the details because I only read about it on the SDP’s website — that showed the same order, with the Workers’ Party in first place and the SDP in second place.

In the New Paper survey, about 42 percent said the Workers’ Party was “very credible” or “credible” while about 22 percent said the SDP was “very credible” or “credible”. The numbers however cannot be compared with my survey numbers because in my survey they could only choose one party as “first choice” whereas in the New Paper survey, participants could rate as many parties as they liked. It’s the rank order of parties that is pertinent, not the percentages.

Of those who chose the WP or SDP as their first choice in my survey, what were their second choices?

The area of the respective disks is proportional to the number of respondents.

What did I find most interesting about the above? It was this: a significant minority of those who chose WP as their first choice pointed to the PAP as their second choice. Hardly any of those who picked the SDP as their first choice picked the PAP as their second choice; the white slice in the smaller pie is just a sliver. SDP supporters were more determinedly anti-PAP.

Moreover, while the yellow slice representing the Reform Party in the larger pie was very thin, it was the second largest slice  in the smaller pie (even if it was just 5 percent). SDP supporters would consider migrating to the Reform Party when WP supporters would not. The significance? The Reform Party is one that also argues for liberal social values and human rights, like the SDP.

Question 7 asked those who voted for an opposition party why they did so. Specifically, what factors were important in their decision? This question had six subparts, but I will only touch on two today.

Question 7: How important were these factors in determining your vote choice?
(c) Principles, proposals and track record of the party I chose.

Respondents could choose for their answers Very important, Somewhat important and Not important.

The bar chart shows the WP and SDP standing apart from the rest. Respondents appear to have a more positive impression of these two parties, factoring it into their vote choice.

Question 7: How important were these factors in determining your vote choice?
(d) Quality/likeability of the candidates of the party I chose.

In this bar chart, the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) joins the WP and SDP as leaders of the pack. The SPP is led by the highly-regarded Chiam See Tong, and has also attracted some ex-government scholars and ex-civil servants.

In the interest of time, I’m not presenting the other charts, but in a nutshell the voters largely decided on their vote choice like this:

  • When they had the WP or SDP as the alternative to the PAP in their ward, they could decide on the WP or SDP on the basis of (a) wanting to boost opposition  presence in parliament or send a protest vote, (b) a positive impression of the party platform and (c) a positive impression of its candidates.
  • When they had the SPP as the alternative to the PAP in their ward, they could decide on the SPP on the basis of (a) wanting to boost opposition  presence in parliament or send a protest vote, and (c) a positive impression of its candidates.
  • When they had any other opposition party as the alternative to the PAP in their ward, they based their decision only on (a) whether they wanted to boost opposition presence in parliament or send a protest vote

Yet, in the actual vote score, the SDP did not do as well as these indicators would suggest.  The next slide lists the parties in declining order of vote shares:

Why is that happening? Why is it that despite having a recognisable branding that is relatively well-received, the SDP cannot translate that into votes? I don’t really know. My survey did not seek to fathom this.

What I am going to discuss next is basically a few hypotheses (not mutually exclusive) I have.

* * * * *

The first possibility is that much as voters might think well of the SDP, its candidates and its platform, some of them could not bring themselves to vote for a gay candidate.

The second is similar. Much as voters might think well of the SDP, its candidates and its platform, some of them were deterred by its history of a “confrontational” style. There’s a whole long debate about why Singaporeans think politics should not be “confrontational”, but now’s not the time to get into that.

These first two drawbacks are not difficult to overcome in time for the next election, but it does need a carefully planned and executed communication program, starting now.

The third possibility is that the SDP was not contesting in areas where its supporters were concentrated. This is hard to prove or disprove, for the simple reason that we have no data on the demographic profiles of (a) its supporters and (b) the swing voters who would be prepared to consider voting for this party.

The fourth reason I can think of is a systemic one. For this I first need to digress and speak about the political terrain generally.

* * * * *

In the Singapore context, we can plot political positionings of voters and parties on a map formed by two axes. The horizontal axis is economic, representing the spectrum from deeply interventionist for social reasons (socialist) on the left (thus “leftwing” in political jargon) to strongly free-market or capitalist on the right.

The vertical axis represents the values continuum. At the top end are values of individual responsibility, autonomy, liberty and human rights (in shorthand: liberal). At the bottom end are values that give greater weight to the group than to the individual. Such values are usually packaged in a way that expects the individual to demonstrate obeisance or make sacrifices to group interests; these values also include conformity, and where necessary, expect minority groups to defer to the majority. There is a preference for harmony and uniformity over liberty; a preference for group cohesion over rights, hierarchy and authority over equality.

What “group” are we referring to? It varies from one context to another, and from one country to another. In one place, or in one era, the group can be family or tribe; at other times, it could be the nation. Or it could be ethnicity, or religion. Most times, in fact, it is a mixture of all of these, with the common denominator the belief that the individual should subordinate his individual interests to the demands of the group.

The two axes thus create four quadrants, representing political philosophies which most of us would recognise without difficulty:

The Liberal Left believes in liberal values, but also believes that these cannot be achieved without affirmative action to counter the economic and social inequalities that a capitalist economy tends to produce. It believes strongly that the state has to play a big role in levelling the playing field, e.g. in education, healthcare, labour empowerment, but at the same time, it is careful to ensure that the implementation of such remedies continues to leave choice to individuals, for the goal is that of liberalism, i.e. freedom, not enforced betterment.

The Libertarian values freedom to such a degree that it is sceptical of state intervention, even for affirmative reasons. It believes that intervention tends to go down a slippery slope to enforced betterment, degrading liberty. It believes that the competitive environment of the market is capable of delivering freedom, choice and betterment and the purpose of the state is therefore to promote competition and private sector provision of goods and services, not intervene against it.

In a similar way, the Conservative Right also believes in a capitalist and free-market solution to economic questions. However, in social policy, this quadrant believes in using the coercive powers of the state to promote group interests rather than individual liberty. For example, it is natural to the Conservative Right to do means-testing on a family-unit basis (even extended family-basis) rather than restrict it to the individual’s  means. It is natural for the Conservative Right to see schooling as a means of inculcating group identity (e.g. religious identification, nationalism) rather than inculcating individualism, which includes a culture of questioning. It does not trouble the Conservative Right very much to demand that minorities, whether ethnic, sexual or whatever, defer to the wishes of the majority. It does not trouble the Conservative Right to apply censorship to shield the sensibilities of the majority from the speech of minorities.

Where the Conservative Socialist differs from the Conservative Right is in the former’s readiness to intervene economically to achieve goals. Like the Liberal Left, the Conservative Socialist believes that the state has a major role to play in levelling the playing field, but where the Liberal Left would be careful to ensure that in so doing, individual choice and liberty are not infringed, the Conservative Socialist gives greater weight to the “greater good”, often defined in terms of group interests. For example, a Conservative Socialist, like the Liberal Left, might favour the idea of generous bursaries and government scholarships, but the Conservative Socialist would be more ready to steer (or even allocate by quota) students to prescribed courses. Likewise, the Conservative Socialist might be more ready to proscribe certain things on the ground of “morality” which itself is a group construct.

Through history, we have political ideologies that aren’t easily accommodated by my map. Among the “off the chart” ideologies I indicate three here, just to illustrate how each of the above four political philosophies can, at their extremes, create unusual belief systems. Don’t scoff at them either. Each is capable of inspiring millions and millions of believers.

But I digress too far. Let me come back to may main point.

I can place on the map the various parties with known platforms, albeit in a very approximate way:

I need to make two qualifiers:

(a) Parties articulate their positions in two ways — through a published manifesto and though speeches at rallies, media statements, etc. In the case of the Workers’ Party (but also true of other parties) what they say in their manifesto is often different, at least in emphasis, from what they say at rallies. The WP’s manifesto has more liberal elements than its rally speeches indicate, but since most people depend on public speeches for information than read a long manifesto, I am largely discounting WP’s manifesto position for the purposes of mapping.

(b) Where a party stands is independent of how well it communicates where it stands. The Reform Party, through party leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s blog postings and media statements, is quite clear about its positioning, but very few people have any idea of the party, for quite different reasons.

The SPP and the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) are not shown on the map, mostly because I am not clear about their platforms. I have the suspicion that the SPP is more or less where the WP is and the SDA more or less where the NSP is, but let me not put words in their mouths; let’s wait for them to articulate their own positions.

How does my map explain the SDP’s vote shortfall? Answer: In the way the SDP’s position is the furthest from the PAP’s. Indeed, the SDP expresses many people’s yearning for a more level economic playing field, and greater attention to liberty and rights, and that is perhaps why there is respect for the party’s position as indicated in the bar charts above. But voting for the party means going beyond respect to putting trust in where the SDP wants Singapore to go, and I have a feeling that many voters aren’t quite ready to do that.

It’s like this: Singaporeans aren’t equally distributed across all four quadrants. In their individual political leanings, Singaporeans create a centre of gravity that is slightly more socially conservative and pro-free market than the midpoint of the map:

It also explains how the PAP has created the gulf that exists. The PAP is, for some, too economically rightwing (to the point of being corporatist, as opposed to free market) than people want and for others, too conservative socially than people want. Compare the map showing party positions with the one just above.

The Workers’ Party is closest to the centre of gravity. For most voters who want an alternative to the PAP without radical change, the WP is not difficult to vote for.

The SDP has core supporters — those who are already in their quadrant — but for many others, the SDP’s position is too alien to their own. They can respect the SDP for the courage of its convictions, but it’s harder to give it their votes. It may simply be that the average Singaporean is a risk-averse animal; he finds it hard to vote for change, especially big change. Or he has been acculturated into a deferential animal; he finds it hard to vote for a party that through its reputation for “confrontational” politics, does not display the same deference to established authority — even if it’s an authority (the PAP) the average Singaporean chafes under.

* * * * *

It may seem that the thing for the SDP to do is to move its platform closer to where people are if it is to gain votes. Emulate the WP’s success. However, I would be careful about such a simple answer.

Major dilution of the party brand will lose it its core supporters, without any guarantee that it will gain new ones with the same ardour. All that hard-earned respect for the courage of convictions will vanish once people think that convictions have been chucked out the window and courage folded away. Furthermore, politics is not just about following the crowd; it’s also about exercising leadership. The most honourable politics is that of sticking to one’s beliefs while trying hard to persuade others to one’s vision. And this means:   communication, communication, communication.

Less clearly perceived is the enormous risk that the WP is taking by staking out a position so close to the PAP’s. If the PAP should reform itself, make itself more responsive and shift its policies slightly back to the centre of gravity, half the reason to vote for the WP will disappear overnight. This is a serious risk by the next election. Do not make any straight-line projections for the WP too soon.

Click to read the paper presented by Cherian George at the same Post Museum event

What about the other parties? The position staked out by the Reform Party (RP) is an interesting one. If we look at the way Jeyaretnam’s early policy proposals struck a quick chord with a fair number of netizens, there may be a political future there — if the party can get its act together.

The position I mapped out for NSP is really a very subjective guess of my own. The NSP has never set out a coherent platform. Even during this recent election, the party adopted a “minister-specific strategy”, meaning that its message varied from one constituency to another depending on which minister it was competing against. Add in the Nicole Seah phenomenon with quite different sources of appeal and it gets really hard to figure out where the party stands. Generally, however, we know that the NSP never speaks about liberties and rights, so it is obviously not in the two upper quadrants. In fact, when thrown a question about Section 377A, it took an anti-gay position. The NSP has taken a rather anti-foreigner position too, a classic indicator of social conservatism. Where it has spoken on economic issues, the party has largely taken a position of state intervention, and for this reason, I’ve placed the NSP in the bottom left quadrant.

Here is the interesting thing: The famous Group of Eighteen that defected from the RP to the NSP in February and March went diagonally from the upper right to the bottom left quadrant. You would have reason to ask: What exactly do they believe in? I’m afraid I can’t answer that question; only they can.

There’s no need to discuss the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA); personally I’m not sure if they will remain a player going forward.

Lastly, as for the SPP, this party is undergoing a major transition at the moment. While it has a short manifesto on its website, I am told that at its election rallies, it mostly dwelled on its competence in running town councils, something that I saw for myself via video recordings. It may be a while yet before it consistently articulates its positions on issues. But it has to, soon. If not for Chiam See Tong’s standing, the party would not have made it to the top three in question 7(d). Chiam, as we know, is moving towards retirement.

You might ask: Didn’t the party’s good score for quality/likeability of candidates also depend on ex-scholars and civil servants like Benjamin Pwee and Jimmy Lee, who are likely to stick around? I don’t think they were that important a factor. Look at NSP with Hazel Poa, Tony Tan and Nicole Seah; these didn’t lift NSP’s candidate quality/likeability score by much.

So without Chiam, the SPP’s brand risks becoming nothing. That’s why it’s urgent to build a brand and enunciate its platform.

* * * * *

Between party brand and candidates’ allure, the temptation is often to rely on allure. The personality factor. This is short-sighted. This factor is always one scandal, one criminal conviction or one defection away from disaster.

Another problem is that no personality can stand in more than one constituency. How does one person swing votes across multiple constituencies? You should hear some of the comments made by voters in Moulmein-Kallang constituency about the Workers’ Party slate of candidates there. There wasn’t a lot of Low Thia Khiang magic to be seen. Don’t forget too, the SPP also contested Hongkah North single-member constituency. Without Chiam See Tong anywhere nearby, the party crashed to the lowest vote-share of any ward bar the three-cornered fight in Punggol East.

Brand value is portable and more lasting. Unfortunately, it requires much hard work. It requires intellectual coherence, discipline on the part of candidates and party members to sing from the same songsheet, a good sense of the ground and a capable media team. But I’ve never heard of shortcuts to lasting political success, have you?

40 Responses to “Talk at the Post Museum: election perspectives”


  1. 1 Vernon Voon 16 May 2011 at 17:15

    An incisive analysis. Thanks, Alex!

  2. 2 Gard 16 May 2011 at 17:43

    Perhaps I can offer a fifth hypothesis: that voters, being practical as they are, wanted a viable opposition that can turn its policies into reality.

    With the amount of bad blood between the monarchy and SDP – and (reasonably) assuming the monarchy will retain its grip on the government, every voter has to wonder if, say, SDP and the monarchy can overcome their differences and work together, or SDP can garner enough political support to ‘go it alone.’

    “Powerful people make war, ordinary folks suffer.”

  3. 3 Calculon 16 May 2011 at 17:44

    The charts are beautifully done. Like the black contrast, it helps dyslexic.

    Reminds me of the BBC documentary The Joy of Stats by Hans Rosling.

    http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/RJOAZALe4fw/

    When Sinagporean are not so politically naive, notionally understand what differentiate of civil rights and human rights, the day we see real change?

  4. 4 chazza boags 16 May 2011 at 18:55

    i almost threw up when i saw the NSP as left-conservative! those spots are reserved for old lennist and maoist parties.

    maybe you should use smaller circles to draw the parties onto the map/chart? the huge gaping void on the left should be a lot more visible.

    sorry, my cynicism does not extend beyond that one diagram into the rest of your analysis.

    • 5 yawningbread 16 May 2011 at 23:42

      You are right in that if you are interpreting the 4 quadrants from the perspective of European democracies then SDP, NSP, etc do not belong where they are. Instead Singapore’s parties’ placements would be more like this:

      where the SDP would be a perfectly centrist party by western standards, with everybody else being rather rightwing, except maybe the NSP (there are some unreformed socialists within the party, I assure you!), and where the PAP would stretch outside the map to the corporatist, even fascist end.

      The NSP’s position is quite unclear so I’ve drawn it with a fuzzy circle. But I disagree that Maoist and Leninist parties fall within the bottom left quadrant. Democratic Socialist parties belong there; totalitarian parties are outside the map — something that I had indicated in my article itself.

      However I said in my article that the map was drawn for the Singapore context, and there is really no need to confuse readers by laying in European perspectives, let alone American definitions which are different from European.

      • 6 chazza boags 17 May 2011 at 09:55

        hi alex, we could go on discussing this for ages, but i just want to thank you for taking the effort to redraw the chart.

        please don’t think i’m being overly-critical because i know how tricky it is to be trying to explain voting behaviour.

        btw, didn’t know there were any “unreformed socialists” in singapore.

  5. 7 YH 16 May 2011 at 19:22

    Hi Alex, thanks for the great article, analysis and all the number crunching. read all 3726 words!

    “Less clearly perceived is the enormous risk that the WP is taking by staking out a position so close to the PAP’s.”

    However, as you’ve mentioned, “The WP’s manifesto has more liberal elements than its rally speeches indicate,…” So if PAP changes, my guess is that WP will likely campaign on their other more liberal/socialist stands in the next GE.

    WP have clear stands on many things, but choosing to focus only on some during hustings probably means they know that the impression of being like PAP, but not so alike, is a really good strategy for them to swing votes their way.

    • 8 Anonymous 17 May 2011 at 12:01

      I agree with YH. Having read the manifestos for WP & SDP, I’m surprised at the low liberal-values positioning you have given the WP. At least from my impressions, they were straddling the line between liberal-conservative values, with a slight leaning towards communitarian interests. Due to the weak branding, organization and credibility of candidates for RP, I suspect that WP managed to capture support from a section of the libertarian quadrant.

      I’m skeptical about how much the PAP can reform itself and shift it’s positioning towards the left without alienating their right-wing supporters or appearing like a poor copycat of the WP.

  6. 9 Donaldson Tan 16 May 2011 at 19:49

    You are head-on about your description of libertarians andKenneth Jeyaretnam hardly fits the description. The Reform Party is not libertarian.

    • 10 yawningbread 16 May 2011 at 23:46

      By Singapore standards it leans that way. Libertarians do defend the core human rights, unless you are using the liberal left definition of human rights which extend to taxpayer-paid rights like free or subsidised health care, which naturally libertarians oppose. But it is not conclusively accepted that tax-payer-paid provisions are core human rights, so if liberatarians do not support them it does not mean they do not support human rights.

      • 11 Rajiv Chaudhry 25 May 2011 at 20:49

        Because of its support for a minimum wage and other redistributive policy proposals, RP is probably a little more to the left than shown in your chart.

  7. 12 R 16 May 2011 at 20:45

    I think in your previous posts you covered how voting fears played a large role in decision making. Considering the position that SDP is in, I won’t be surprised if fear played a part in not garnering votes. SDP after all, has a long history with running afoul with the authorities (the arrests, bankruptcy, detentions) that WP does not. A conservative and perhaps ‘shy’ voter would possibly not want to look too ‘radical’ and therefore vote for another party instead.

    Interestingly enough, SDP has just decided to contest Tanjong Pagar in the next election. I would like to vote for them, but none of the candidates have the same fiery charisma that Dr Chee has (which could turn into a big problem). Another possibility is this – people who vote for SDP are actually voting for Dr Chee, and since he is not standing for candidacy they won’t vote for the party that is ‘leaderless’. The candidates fielded by SDP are also rather bland and new, to really garner support they need to make themselves known. I did not even know who was standing for Tanjong Pagar/Holland-BKT until about a week before the elections, which is really not a good sign.

  8. 13 stephen 16 May 2011 at 20:49

    Nice analysis. Only thing I would quibble with would be the conflation of parties pressing for individual freedom with proponents of human rights. Full fledged libertarians push for absolute individual freedom, free from government intervention of any kind, with the intervention ranging from limits on sexual freedom to health care subsidies. Individuals are to be left on their own, for better or for worse. This does not go down well with proponents of human rights, including rights to basic health care or housing – both of these, e.g., would involve government intervention, something a libetarian would not want.

  9. 14 Alvin 16 May 2011 at 21:08

    Thanks for the Political Science refresher, Alex. Always a joy to read my own thoughts articulated in writing, and in much clearer logic!

    I agree with your comments about the WP’s vulnerability to a leftward PAP shift. The WP is akin to early ’90s New Labour in the UK under Tony Blair: full of hope for the future, a worker movement that’s not entirely antagonistic towards capitalism. UK politics is much different from Singapore’s, of course, but just out of curiousity I’d love to see where Low Thia Khiang can take the WP.

  10. 15 bookjunkie 16 May 2011 at 22:26

    The most fascinating survey and analysis I’ve come upon in a long time. Glad to have participated🙂

  11. 16 CH 16 May 2011 at 23:12

    I think you are rather right on this. most people I know who voted for WP are really going for the “more welfare and social benefits/ equal distribution” stand. civil liberties are not really a factor. SDP is often branded as ‘crazy’ by people I talked to, many of them glad that CSJ is not standing this round. Almost all the angry comments I read are focused on cost of living, maybe one out of 30 comments make referrals to civil rights issues.

  12. 17 WeiHan 16 May 2011 at 23:56

    Actually, my opinion is that if we move towards western style socialism, we will slowly slip into the kind of financial economic plight that they are facing currently. Say no to WP if there isn’t any social liberalism but more economical socialism. We will be having the worse of both worlds.

    The world we are living in now and in many so-called capitalist countries isn’t really free-enterprise capitalism. First, they debauched the monetary system-they took it off the gold standard so that politicians can have free will in printing as much money as they like for all kind of fanciful social programmes and to fund unpopular wars. This is the root of inflation! And this is how the working class has been short changed. Their hard earned money which they saved was inflated away- a stealthy way by the government to “steal” their money for social programme. When the productive part of the economy is being starve of resource and instead unproductive programmes get all the funding in the expense of the production part, we become worse overall. In short, a true capitalist system will enrich everybody and the wealth gap will be closed up. Do not blame the current widening of income gap to free-enterprise capitalism. That will be just barking up the wrong tree.

    As Yawning Bread has said, the PAP’s principle isn’t really that of free-enterprise capitalism. Firstly, Singapore’s currency, like all other currencies in the world is a fiat currencies which is subject to government manipulation. Secondly, the government do have preference over certain type of industries and their policies look after the corporatist more. Thirdly, the government has a hand in almost any profitable industry. This is hardly free-enterprise capitalism.

    • 18 twasher 17 May 2011 at 03:50

      There are countries practicing “Western-style socialism” (e.g. Sweden, Canada) that are economically healthy. Meanwhile, other less socialist countries like the US are having serious problems. It’s not clear to me that current economic problems in developed countries are correlated with, let alone caused by, being more socialist.

  13. 19 Amy 17 May 2011 at 00:36

    I have a question on your diagram with the 2 pie charts. as you mentioned: “What did I find most interesting about the above? It was this: a significant minority of those who chose WP as their first choice pointed to the PAP as their second choice. Hardly any of those who picked the SDP as their first choice picked the PAP as their second choice; the white slice in the smaller pie is just a sliver. SDP supporters were more determinedly anti-PAP.”

    As I can tell, PAP is the bigger pie is 15% and NSP is 18%, so I m not following what you said in the statement, can you please elaborate?

    Second question, regarding the first diagram with the purple dots, it will be good to include a legend. I assume purple dots represent voters in that specific age category, but what does the horizontal axis mean?

    Also, maybe you have discussed before, but was there a analysis on the GDP growth in 2010? there are generally 2 approaches to the computation of GDP figure, it would be interesting to find out which component(s) in the either approaches contribute the most to the 14.5% growth. would be good to know the breakdown of citizen, PRs, foreigners figure between in 2009 and 2010 as it may help to explain the around 4% (not adj for inflation) growth in median income in 2010.

    Thanks for your work on the election analysis!

  14. 20 JR 17 May 2011 at 02:10

    What is wrong with the WP and SPP logos. The Republican & Democrats logos are an Elephant and a Donkey and they doing pretty well if not better by any count than most political logos.

    Its the PEOPLE running the parties stupid!!!! no offence just coining Clinton.

  15. 21 Robox 17 May 2011 at 02:18

    Wow, that was a massive read, but I will have to study your points more closely to comment more on it. In the meantime, a couple of points stood out for me.

    To the question you posed: “Why is it that despite having a recognisable branding that is relatively well-received, the SDP cannot translate that into votes?”

    One of the possible explanations that you offered was: “The first possibility is that much as voters might think well of the SDP, its candidates and its platform, some of them could not bring themselves to vote for a gay candidate.”

    I was in university in Canada at a similar stage of the development – the early 1990s – of LBGT political clout there when their own first gay candidate, Sven Robinson whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet, ran for elections in Vancouver. (He won at the first go and retained his seat for a couple more elections.) I would like to think of myself as someone who pays close attention to the dynamics at play at such – and other – political events so I will proffer my own thesis: For every one person who will NOT vote for a gay candidate, there are many others – who exist in a ratio of 1:X, with X being a number greater than 1 – who will swoop in to take the place of the lost votes: they are keen to vote for a candidate BECAUSE s/he is gay.

    Those are the personal and political allies of LGBTs whom I have I have said several times before outnumber LGBTs themselves by many to one. (I could provide even examples from my own life – family and friends – and their support for the SDP based on the same reason.) In other words, it is frequently a net gain for a party if a gay candidate runs for that party’s ticket, particularly if s/he is also the first openly gay politician. (Later openly LGBT candidates become increasingly measured over time against the normal benchmarks for all politicians: normalization of queerness in other words, and a primary goal, I would say, of the gay rights movement.)

    I don’t think that it is a mere coincidence that individuals well known to the Singapore public, which included many local celebrities, a group well known worldwide for their openly staunch support for LGBT rights, publicly alligend themselves with the SDP at the recent elections; they then begin to draw others in who have previously not supported a party with an openly gay candidate, though I give that this stage might not have been reached – or even exploited well – in Singapore with respect to the SDP. (I am also reminded of similar roles played by Bollywood, and in the West by a slew of celebrities that include Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.)

    This is a scenario that has been repeated throughout the Western world and then later spread to other countries, especially in Latin America and some E Asian countries as well as India. It looks set to be repeated in Singapore, if it hasn’t already had some of that effect.

    In short, this is an aspect of the SDP’s brand that is more likely than not to translate into MORE, not less, votes for it; it signals a commitmment to true inclusiveness to the general population that are receptive to the idea of inclusivesness.

  16. 22 reservist_cpl 17 May 2011 at 03:02

    Hi Alex

    I disagree with your positioning of both the PAP and WP.

    PAP is not really economically right-wing. Its knee-jerk instinct to solve problems by regulation and more regulation should mean that it is closer to the centre of the economic axis. Perhaps, it is even more towards the centre than the WP which advocates for more economic freedom in some areas (e.g. Taxis). The PAP also intervenes a LOT in the economy through GLCs. Corporatism is not necessarily economic freedom if many of the big corporations are largely controlled by the government; soft law like company policies are used to regulate rather than statutes. Economic regulation is not necessarily meant to facilitate income redistribution (though actually the PAP does a limited form of this too – giving away money in the Packages). Another term used to describe what you call conservative socialist has been “authoritarian”.

    As for the unwillingness of voters to vote for the SDP, I believe it is focusing on the wrong group. It should have expended more effort targeting the older voters, who apparently care more about social policy (government accountability), and the 30 year old swing group, than younger voters (100% economic concerns, what a state is our Singapore in!). Political views also change with age (Singapore is probably different from western countries in the way it changes). The new media focus is insufficient without enough house visits (and not just at election time, there must be a continuous presence), which you have talked about before.

  17. 23 james lim 17 May 2011 at 09:05

    I enjoy reading the second part of your analysis. Personally, i am a true blue democrat but looking at the ground sentiment, i felt that singaporeans have no time to waste and the luxury of choosing which opposition versus the incumbent, that time is over. Thus i felt the urgency ‘to throw in the lot’ with the opposition party that has the greatest chance of beating the incumbent. I hope in the coming future and in better times, i can join the party where my heart truly belongs. Thanks Alex for your write up.

    • 24 SingaporeGirl 17 May 2011 at 13:28

      Dear James
      What is a “true blue democrat” in the Singapore context?
      And which political party is closest to your political ideal?

  18. 25 James Chan 17 May 2011 at 10:20

    While it is indeed true that WP is at risk of a PAP leftist swing, the PAP is faced with an added dimension of complexity, i.e. execution on top of talk. Normalizing for town council efficiency, the future electorate will be measuring their success a lot harder than the talk of WP in parliament and during rallies.

    The PAP also has legacy internal structure (CEC, Cabinet, MPs, Civil Service, NTUC, People Association, Grassroots) it has to contend with. The captain of the Titanic that is Singapore will have a harder time making the entire ship veer left as he wills it. It’s a classic change management/organizational behavior problem.

    The WP, on the other hand, can remain relatively nimble, like Singapore’s founding fathers of old. And their talent stable will only continue to grow over the next 5 years.

    What I’d be interested in, is a smart way to extend your survey across all households in Singapore as a grassroots initiative and collect voting preference data anonymously over the next 5 years, like an electorate census poll, to provide the information to all parties to level the playing field.

    • 26 SingaporeGirl 17 May 2011 at 13:25

      The most accurate poll would be one that is conducted by bi-partisan or neutral professional pollsters (with + – margin of error). The sample would then be a randomly selected and balanced one. Having said that, YawningBread’s passion and engagement in the evolving political landscape of Singapore is remarkable and admirable.

  19. 27 Pyts 17 May 2011 at 11:23

    2 points. :-

    1. Your political ideology chart is strangely reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons alignment chart. D&D players will know what I mean.

    2. In this election WP positioned itself as the “spare wheel” and/or “co-driver”, implying that they would take S’pore down the same road, only being there as a safety feature; checking and balancing potential arrogance/abuse by the PAP.

  20. 28 gypsie 17 May 2011 at 11:41

    are your graphics under creative commons or copyright?

  21. 29 WeiHan 17 May 2011 at 12:29

    Canada is saved from the current economic plight partly because it has plenty of natural resources from gold, silver to oil sands, from rare earth to natural gas, copper to zinc, nickel. The last time I checked, both canada and sweden has very high debt level as well. It is just that USA and the PIIGs eclipse them. Socialism itself maybe alright but it tends to go down the slippery slope and in the end, the government takes on debt to fund public programmes. In other words, they are taxing the economy more than it can afford.

  22. 31 Sprechen Sie Singlisch? 17 May 2011 at 12:41

    Should point out that as a gay/human rights activist, your blog does attract greater attention among the human rights crowd with respects the the general population. This would probably skew your results towards the SDP and RP direction among some of your indicators. So I am not entirely surprised that SDP polled well in your survey yet did quite badly in the actual elections.

  23. 32 market2garden 17 May 2011 at 12:51

    Just wonder is there any significant Demographic (value-based) shift (4-quadrant)in GE 2016 & 2021 as there are many more Post-65 voters? Then is there any political parties don’t have to do much (just remain as it is) if the demographic shift after 1 or 2 further election cycle to their advantage.

    • 33 reservist_cpl 17 May 2011 at 15:45

      There is a chance that it might shift to PAP’s advantage.

      I think Alex’s white shapes for 40s and 20s should be swapped. That would better match his sample data. New voters are apparently quite pro-PAP.

  24. 34 Strength of character 17 May 2011 at 14:56

    Mr Low and the WP have voters’ respect by their ability to rein in their anger and “fight” for our rights within the restrictive muzzle enforced by pap. They value voters’ trust and won’t jeopardize their freedom and WP’s standing by reekless acts just to make a point even when provoked and for this reason WP will always be the first opposition party of choice for me and many singaporeans.

  25. 35 Stephan Ortmann 17 May 2011 at 17:08

    The results in your survey are similar to mine, only your response rate is even better! I also asked some questions on the media. Here is the link: http://sites.google.com/site/aisuru2001/research However, honestly, I like your survey even better! Congratulations on the good work.

  26. 36 wikigam 18 May 2011 at 00:03

    Well Done. It is a compulsory chapter if you into Political.

    The core point of successful LGBT community is we care of all layers’s right beside GAY right.

  27. 37 Sam 19 May 2011 at 02:25

    Brilliant brilliant article. The most intellectual article I read this year bar none. Answered all the question correctly bar 2 (IMHO). Suspect an unwillingness to point correctly due to possible obstinance or bias. Author is too intelligent a person to have missed in his assertions. Identified market distribution and party placement to a tee. Unfortunate that education in sg curtails the massing of liberal lefts like us. Unlikely to see a notable increase in this quadrant even in next ten years. Like to hazard a guess/point that I suspect author was unwilling to address. The large number of core SDP who choose WP as second choice despite totally opposite political ideology. Which incidentally moi falls under. 2 non mutually exclusive subsets. Anti-PAP and total contempt of the rest of opposition capability. Accurately depicted by the 5% of 2nd choice choosing RP based purely on ideology. Brilliant discourse of political situation in sillypore.

  28. 38 Nina 21 May 2011 at 21:51

    This election has helped me realise that I’m anti-PAP because of a fundamental difference in my values and theirs. It’s also unearthed the SDP as the party that does share my vision for what Singapore could be. And your charts explain exactly why I feel the way I do. Great job.

  29. 39 Nina 21 May 2011 at 22:12

    Oh and as to why the SDP couldn’t translate popularity into votes, my theory is the simplest one – wrong GRC.
    If as you’ve demonstrated in your charts, the SDP is diametrically opposite to the PAP, then choosing to contest Holland-Bukit Timah, where the people who benefit from the current system live, wasn’t the smartest choice.

  30. 40 K James 2 October 2012 at 16:34

    Does this mean that nearly all the 40% who voted for NSP in seats such as Tampines GRC and Marine Parade GRC really did not want to vote for them and would have voted for another opposition party if they had the choice?


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