IPS post-GE2011 survey, part 1

A rising political consciousness among Singaporeans has made more of us pay greater attention to the issues, but has also increased skepticism of political parties. This was the general impression I got from the data presented by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at a seminar held on 8 July 2011.

Another finding: A huge jump in citizens’ reliance on the internet as an influential medium.

In his opening remarks, Janadas Devan (right), the new Director of IPS, pointed out an intriguing overlap between the results map of the 2011 general election and that of the early 1960s. The areas where opposition parties did relatively well this year were the areas that supported the People’s Action Party (PAP) fifty years ago, whereas those areas where the PAP did well in 2011, were areas that had supported the Barisan Sosialis.

How to explain this?

He postulated that this pattern might be due to the fact that the districts that supported the PAP in the 1960s were the built-up areas while those that tended to support the Barisan were rural. Today, the former are areas with private housing, whereas the once-rural areas are mostly filled with public housing.

What this then suggests is that class distinctions are important in understanding political views. In my opinion, this is an angle that is relatively neglected in Singapore. We tend to pay more attention to ethnicity and age in analyses, and this may be misleading.

But I am running ahead of myself. This is a two-part series, and in Part 1, I am going to present three sets of data: issues, influence of communication channels and credibility perceptions of parties. In Part 2, I am going to discuss how age, education and income correlate with political views.

The seminar itself presented much more information than I can capture in two articles. What I have done is to select for discussion the most striking results. Other ways of slicing the data that produce less striking differences in voter opinions, I will have to leave aside in the interest of length.

The highlights were presented by IPS researcher Gillian Koh (left). She began with a statement about method.

This was a telephone survey with 2,084 completed questionnaires, conducted 8 – 20 May 2011, i.e. in the fortnight after Polling Day. The results were then re-weighted against the national profile for gender, ethnicity, age, household income, housing type and education level. Since a major consideration was that of getting data to compare with a similar survey done right after the 2006 general election, almost all the questions were the same as used in the earlier survey.

* * * * *

Influence of issues

Eleven issues were presented to respondents who rated them on a scale from “not at all important” to “very important”. These results were converted into a score where the higher the score, the more important respondents felt that particular issue to be.

The first notable thing is that there is an overall rise in “importance” across the board. The orange dots (representing 2011 scores) are, with only one exception, to the right of the yellow dots (2006 scores).

Notable jumps can be seen in four issues. Cost of living and job situation scored strikingly higher in 2011, indicating increased economic stress. These, together with jumps in issues in party manifestoes and upgrading, indicate greater political consciousness and perhaps more attention to the consequences of one’s vote choice.

It should be borne mind that there are significant contextual differences between 2011 and 2006. This year, nearly all constituencies were contested and 89 percent of registered voters actually voted. In 2006, there were more walkovers and a good part of both the electorate and respondents to the 2006 survey didn’t actually have to vote. It is therefore not surprising that on average, people were rating issues more highly this year simply because more of them had to think carefully in order to cast a ballot.

You can dismiss, for example, upgrading as a consideration when you don’t have to vote anyway. But it will inevitably figure in your mind when you do.

On cost of living, Koh pointed out an interesting finding. Those in the middle income brackets considered it to be a slightly more important issue than those in the lower or upper brackets. It contradicts the common belief that cost of living matters most to the lowest-income.

The movements in the Consumer Price Index validate the feelings of the middle class. The Statistics Department has different baskets of goods for different income brackets, reflecting their typical consumption patterns; these showed differing changes in 2010. Inflation affected the middle- and higher-income more than the lowest 20 percent of households.

In the discussion that followed, it was generally agreed that responses to the cost of living question reflected a more fundamental issue — that of income inequality and stagnation. Janadas pointed out that income stagnation is spreading to more and more income bands; it has now reached the 60th percentile. That is to say, a majority of Singaporeans are experiencing income stagnation.

Lam Peng Er, a researcher at the East Asian Institute, reminded the audience of Singapore’s high Gini coefficient, which is a measure of inequality. Singapore’s is 0.46 compared to China’s 0.41 and Japan’s 0.36. If China’s 0.41, he said, produces as much social unrest as it does, judging by newspaper reports, what reason is there to be sanguine about Singapore’s 0.46?

Chua Beng Huat, a sociologist with the National University of Singapore, said: “Poverty in Singapore is not a financial problem, but an ideological problem. Economists have calculated that $1.5 million will take care of it. But why is it not done? Is it due to stubbornness, not wanting to create a dependency mentality? As if people will happily want to live at the margin forever.”

I don’t know where he got that figure of $1.5 million (per year? per month?); it seems low to me.

* * * * *

Communication channels

The increase in importance of various communication channels, in my view, also signifies the rise in political awareness; people have been paying more attention and as a result are rating the various channels more highly. The influence of mainstream newspapers and television, however, has remained static.

In the diagram below, the orange dots represent 2011 scores while the yellow dots represent scores from the 2006 survey.

In 2011, the internet became the third most important channel overall for news and views. However, among those under 40 years of age, the internet was the most important communication channel, ahead of newspaper and TV. It ranked third among those aged 40 – 54, sixth among those aged 55 – 64 and tied with friends and families for last place among those aged 65 and older.

IPS Deputy Director Arun Mahizhnan, speaking of the mainstream media, observed that the volume of coverage increased this year compared to previous elections, “but was the tone, the slant, different?”

As for the internet, this was the first election that parties and individuals could use it to a considerable extent. Despite earlier fears on the part of the government, users did not run amok. “Parties behaved like normal parties though individual behaviour was more varied.”

“Did new media make the PAP lose six seats?” While there was a noticeable ground shift, he reminded the audience that “media and the ground are interacting all the time; it is not a one-way process.”

Overall, what is happening in Singapore is a returning to a normal state of politics, he concluded.

* * * * *

Credibility of political parties

With the rise in political awareness, there are signs of increasing skepticism about political parties, though there are only four data points from 2006 for comparison. The credibility of the PAP slipped while that of the Workers’ Party remained about the same as in 2006 — this despite a stronger slate.

In the diagram below, the orange dots represent 2011 scores while the yellow dots represent scores from the 2006 survey.

That of the Singapore Democratic Alliance fell considerably, but then the SDA of 2011 is not the same as the SDA of 2006. In the previous election, it was a bigger party comprising the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP) as well. Despite splitting away, the credibility scores of the SPP and NSP in 2011 were still a distance below that of the SDA in 2006.

The one exception was the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Its credibility score improved markedly in 2011 over 2006.

There was virtually no discussion at the seminar about credibility perceptions of opposition parties. As for the PAP, Lam Peng Er mused about how it would struggle to be an opposition party should it lose an election. It has no mass base, he said, having depended for so long on the People’s  Association and the civil service for groundwork. Once out of government, it would lose these bases of support. What would it be left with?

The numbers supporting the above graphs — numbers given out by IPS at the seminar — can be seen by clicking the thumbnail at left.

8 Responses to “IPS post-GE2011 survey, part 1”

  1. 1 Bhavan Jaipragas 11 July 2011 at 12:11

    Hi Alex, did Chua Beng Huat say million or billion? I kind of remember him saying billion, which makes more sense…

    • 2 yawningbread 11 July 2011 at 12:25

      He might have said billion, I can’t be sure. However, he repeated the same comment at a later point and then again after the seminar when a group of us were having drinks, and on all occasions, I thought I heard ‘million’. I wished I had asked him there and then to clarify.

      But that is really a side issue. Depending on what solutions one applies to poverty, it will cost different amounts. The more important insight that he brought was that solving poverty was not a technical problem but an ideological one.

    • 3 The 11 July 2011 at 17:17

      I think should be million. It does not take much per household to cross the poverty line. Multiply that by the number of families below the poverty line – maybe, in the thousands.

  2. 4 Sprechen Sie Singlisch? 11 July 2011 at 12:11

    I really like your infographics design. Simple and clean yet able to present the key trends in the data with a cursory glance. Ranked in order of importance in 2011 then distance between contrasting dots for change between elections. Kudos for bring a quantitative approach to a general audience.

  3. 5 liewkk 11 July 2011 at 14:08

    Hi YB,

    Beng huat has discussed this several times in other forums. What he meant was that the government has sufficient financial resources (perphaps based on interests earned from reserves alone) to provide free housing and healthcare for many Singaporeans. But, due to what it sees as the European effect of sloth and laziness from the ideology of welfarism and the demands it places on the state to look after the individual, it opts for an system based on an “Asian family values” type of “self-reliance” that continues to burden the family significantly, especially on health cost.

    • 6 yh2 11 July 2011 at 20:26

      The thing is that for all its talk about not creating a “dependent mentality”, the PAP govt is sure making hard for people to become self reliant – look at all the rigid rules concerning rental flats for example.

      I begin wonder if it’s because the govt and their footsoldiers in parts of the civil service are too woolly headed/ not bothered enough to review their policy implementations. Whatever it is, people start begging their (PAP) MPs for help and of course a portion will be extremely grateful whenever they receive help and a measly handout at budget time.

  4. 7 jax 11 July 2011 at 14:46

    lam’s comments are surely the most fascinating.
    he’s talking about a party with thousands of
    activists to work for it, that has been in power for
    more than 50 years, that came into power becos
    the masses supported it, not having a mass support
    base today!!

    perhaps one day, the bones of this ruling party
    will be exhibited in the museum of natural history,
    next to those of the insanely expensive dinosaurs.
    pple of the future can then contemplate what
    caused it to be wiped out.

  5. 8 anon 11 July 2011 at 19:06

    When did Janadas leave the ST to become IPS’s new dir?

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