Survey asked about my “confidence in the Lee Hsien Loong government”

A week ago, I heard from a friend who heard from another friend (whom I also know – this one’s in academia) that the People’s Action Party (PAP) was confident it had regained lost ground since the 2011 general election. Its confidence stemmed, it was said, from a huge survey that it had been conducting over the past few months and which, by the next general election, will have reached every household in Singapore. By ‘household’, it may mean every citizen household.

A million households

The term ‘resident’ comprises citizens and Permanent Residents, but I can’t find any figure specific to citizen households. However, since citizens outnumber Permanent Residents 6.3:1 (Straits Times, 28 Sept 2014 reported by means of an infographic that there were 3.34 million citizens and 0.53 million PRs in 2014), we can assume that the great majority of the 1.15 million resident households were headed by citizens.

Official statistics from the 2010 census indicate that there were 1.15 million resident households (see link). There are probably more today since population has grown in the four years since.

This survey that is quietly being carried out must be a huge and costly exercise, I said to myself.

Then I thought nothing more of it. It didn’t seem possible to speculate further with no other information.

* * * * *

Four days later, there was a knock on my front door. I opened it to find a middle-aged man with greying hair who knew to speak to me in English. This alone was unusual. Most door-to-door saleswomen – and there are more women than men doing this – are more comfortable speaking in Chinese; almost always, they initiate the conversation with Mandarin when they see a Chinese-looking face.

The gentleman explained that he wanted to do a face-to-face survey. He had tried a few times at my door but I was not home, he said, and eventually found out from my next-door neighbour that Sunday might offer him a better shot at success. My (nosey) neighbour is a little old lady who has nothing better to do most days than to watch television and monitor my movements which, though a little intrusive, has its uses. She might also have told him that I speak English – but that’s just me guessing.


The survey gentleman showed me a letter with a People’s Association letterhead, titled “Survey on the People’s Association Programmes”, providing credentials for this survey-taker from Degree Census. It would take about 30 minutes of my time, the letter said. I normally do not entertain surveys, but since he had made a few attempts before, I decided to make an exception for him, and invited him in.

He had with him a clipboard with a questionnaire that comprised several pages. I sat nearly opposite him about a metre (or slightly more) away, so could not make out what exactly was on the form. I would later wish I sat in a place with a better angle.

The survey began innocuously enough with questions about how long I had been living in this neighbourhood, how much I interacted with my neighbours and what I thought of the local Town Council’s responsiveness.

There were a series of questions about what I thought of the “grassroots leaders” of the area – whether they were doing a good job, that sort of thing – which were largely impossible to answer since I didn’t know who they were nor cared to find out. Images of Chinese national (and Singapore Permanent Resident) Yang Yin flashed through my mind. He has been acknowledged by member of parliament Intan Azura (Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency) as one of her grassroots volunteers, but he has been alleged to have abused the trust of a retiree physician to take control of her assets, and of misrepresenting himself as a director of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. This kind of thing makes me even less interested in knowing who the grassroots leaders in my area are. Why expose oneself to danger?

Yang Yin (right) with MP Intan Azura -- pic from The Online Citizen

Yang Yin (right) with MP Intan Azura — pic from The Online Citizen

Then followed another series of questions about what I thought of certain programmes to promote multi-racial harmony – Good grief, I said to myself, are we still using this jargon from the 1960s? – and foreigner integration. Oh, it’s even worse! We’ve added another layer of jargon!

There were questions about whether I knew what races/nationalities lived in the flats on the same floor, whether I minded that they were “different” from me, and whether I would have preferred that they not be “different”. These were quickly followed by questions as to whether I had friends of different races and nationalities.

Up to this point, I was more bemused than anything: Blinkered though they may be, these are real issues in this society, I thought to myself, even though they’re not an issue to me.

There were questions about what I thought of the Community Development Councils, whether I knew what they were for and whether I thought it appropriate that they did what they did — like giving out money to the needy.

And then the survey really took off. The second half of it had a long list of questions in which I was asked to rate on a ten-point scale other agencies of the State that were certainly not under the purview of the People’s Association. It struck me as most unusual. It’s as if a bank were conducting a survey and after asking about finance- and mortgage-related matters, suddenly veered off to ask whether you’re happy with the efficiency of airport passport control, or the department issuing driving licences.

I quickly picked up a notebook near me and jotted down the questions, so for this part of the article, I am not writing from memory but from contemporaneous notes.

Spoken words

Just to be clear, I should state clearly that it was the survey taker’s words that I jotted down; I can’t be sure the words he used were in the questionnaire. The clipboard he was holding was a little too far from me to read. However, if they weren’t the words prepared by the questionnaire, a separate issue would arise: the fidelity of the survey taker to the planned questions.

I was asked to rate on a scale of ten my “confidence in the Lee Hsien Loong government”, my confidence in “public services” provided by other arms of the governments, in “courts of law”, in the army, the police and so on.

Somewhere down the list, I was asked about my confidence in “mainstream media” and “online media”.

After going through the “confidence in” questions, I was asked for my opinion as to the “competence” of these bodies or sectors, then about the “integrity of public services”, their “sincerity”, and whether they “understand the concerns of the general public”.

* * * * *

When the survey-taker left, I went to the People’s Association website to see if there is any information about this survey they are conducting. I could not find any.

I don’t know if this survey has any connection with the survey that had earlier been mentioned by friends and from which the PAP was said to be drawing confidence. All I can say is that the second half of the People’s Association survey didn’t seem to have any relationship with the purpose as outlined in the header of the introductory letter: “Survey on the People’s Association Programmes”.

It would also be an extremely expensive survey. Whilst the surveyor couldn’t tell me – he probably didn’t know – the dimensions of the survey, nonetheless what is pertinent is this: This was at least a mathematically randomised survey. He was tasked to visit my particular address and was obviously instructed to make as many attempts as he needed to get to me. It wasn’t a casual random survey. It was also a survey with pages of questions that took at least 20 minutes — if I hadn’t dismissed all those questions about grassroots leaders, it would have taken longer — and will require a frenzy of data entry. The manpower cost alone must be enormous.

The question on readers’ minds will surely be this: Assuming the People’s Association (PA) is paying for this survey, why it is paying for a survey loaded with questions unrelated to itself? What purpose are those questions intended to serve? Who else will have access to the results?

In fact, since the PA is funded with taxpayers’ money, shouldn’t the results be publicly available? There is no good reason why the survey data (in raw form) should not be publicly available when it’s the public paying for it.  Please don’t trot out the ‘national security’ excuse again. And if the survey data is processed in any way (e.g. grouped by constituencies) and provided to third parties, the same grouped data should be publicly available too.

Next year, when the PA’s financial statements are released, we should look for this expense item, and members of parliament may want to ask why the survey was as large and as costly as it appears to be.


18 Responses to “Survey asked about my “confidence in the Lee Hsien Loong government””

  1. 1 Anon BDsW 28 September 2014 at 16:59

    It’s interesting that you were surveyed. I’m sure THEY know who lives at YOUR address. Should check with Auntie next door, but then again, her participation might have been a necessary part of the back-story.

    The PA defines itself as part of the Govt, I think it should feel quite justified asking those questions.

    But will the results have any relevance? The lost ground has, it is believed, already been “regained”.

    Another example would be the National Conversation. Thank goodness that’s run its course and I can stop seeing that “C” word at every other corner.

  2. 3 yuen 28 September 2014 at 18:19

    I dont think PAP did much to increase its support post 2011, but more relevantly, the opposition parties have not done much to follow up on the 2011 momentum.

    The 2006 and 2011 elections were greatly affected by the web networking phenomenon; it became much easier to get new organized operations off the ground, in particular to raise funds; opposition parties were able to overcome their old problems of raising enough money to put down election deposits (which was responsible for their failure to field a team in Tanjong Pagar, but that was an exception rather than rule in 2011), and finding enough suitable candidates especially minority candidates in GRCs. It was also easier; further, to spread hostile opinions and negative information about PAP (like Tin Pei Lin’s handbag). The government was very much caught unprepared; whether they are better prepared, or are merely make new mistakes next time while fixing the old ones, is difficult to predict

    However, after their win in Aljunied, followed by retaining Hougang and winning Punggol East, the WP did not have much to show in political activism, in parliament or outside; NSP seems in a process of disintegration, while RP, SPP and others also did little. In contrast, individuals like Alex Au and Roy Ngern captured some of the political waves surging to the fore; again, how these trends will affect the 2016 (or 2015) election is unpredictable

  3. 4 lee sze yong 28 September 2014 at 19:07

    Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) called my home a few days ago; conducted a phone survey about cost of living issues.

  4. 5 Saycheese 28 September 2014 at 21:13

    I was given a NTUC Fairprice voucher for $10 in return for answering the survey questions.

  5. 7 Netina 28 September 2014 at 22:00

    The second half of the questions, especially in relation to confidence or trust in mass media, PM Lee, civil service, army etc are usually asked in Asian Barometer or World Values Survey questions. What is puzzling is that the PA is doing it. Can’t wait to see the results!

  6. 8 atans1 29 September 2014 at 04:41

    Sorry to nit prick but questions on LHL is par for course on “Survey on the People’s Association Programmes”: he chairman meh ))))

  7. 9 atans1 29 September 2014 at 04:42

    Oh forgot to say Great piece. Glad you are writing again.

  8. 10 ;Annonymous 29 September 2014 at 09:32

    They left out what seems to me to be the most important question – do you have confidence in yourself going into the future?

  9. 11 Anonymous 29 September 2014 at 12:16

    This isn’t the first time taxpayers’ monies were used to further the interests of the Men-in-White (“MIW”).

    I understand from an active grassroots leader that during general election campaigning, HDB will tell them which HDB units are occupied by citizens of voting age as well as how many occupants live there. This is so the that the MIW candidates need only “visit” those HDB units, thereby saving a lot of time and effort. This obviously is a huge advantage that opposition parties don’t enjoy.

    • 12 ATH 4 October 2014 at 19:20

      Huh? I thought the electoral register is the official list on which political parties chart their door to door campaigning becos it has the names & addresses of each eligible voter. Perhaps you have not voted before

  10. 13 Rabbit 29 September 2014 at 14:06

    I find the survey silly and the result may not reflect the real sentiment. Old people might felt threatened when asked their confidence level on the govt. Having their household units and family details captured, the survey asked, to the effect, “who will you vote?”. Under duress, people will give positive feedback even deep down, they felt negative about the govt. If LHL were to base on such survey to think majority people has confidence in him, he will be in for a rude shock when election comes.

    • 14 ATH 4 October 2014 at 19:28

      I dunno know but the gut feeling with the Pioneer Package is that it has some way resolved some discontent felt during the last GE with the elder generation based on what I see and hear from my elderly parents & their friends. Specific to that generation only.
      So if it all comes down to the wire during the ballot count, such incentives may just give ruling party to put its toe over the finishing line by a wee bit. Its the every vote counts that is so important when its too close to call.

  11. 15 Alan 29 September 2014 at 21:37

    I have one question though :

    What is exactly there in place to prevent them from massaging the results ? Like throwing all those true survey results in the dustbin which gave LHL’s performance as crap.

    • 16 yawningbread 4 October 2014 at 18:44

      This is exactly why the raw data should be released into the public domain. It may not prevent massive fraud (where even raw data is falsified!) but it does allow outsiders to look critically at the results and interpret in different ways.

  12. 17 Andrew T 30 September 2014 at 17:52

    Such public funded surveys and directe by an individual party deserves no less than a SF – Sure Fail.

  13. 18 Nicolas 23 October 2014 at 15:15

    Would you be comfortable with publishing the list of questions that this person asked?

    It seems you took notes, never mind that they might not be exactly as quoted by the surveyor or even on his survey.

    I’m just curious as to what “issues” the PA is supposedly concerned about.

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