Monday, June 6, 2011

Political landscape, media coverage, and polling process examined

Forum on Post-election Analysis (source)

(Brief extract)

One week after the General Elections of 2011, Singapore human rights NGO MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore) and socio-political community blog The Online Citizen (TOC) jointly presented a post-elections forum at the Post-Museum on 15 May 2011.


Associate Professor Cherian George (from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University) offered attendees some perspectives on what GE2011 would mean for democratisation in Singapore.

He highlighted that “the mathematical results are less important than how the numbers are interpreted”, and cited the shock announcement of MM Lee and SM Goh from the Cabinet. This showed that the People’s Action Party (PAP) had interpreted the election results as a signal that it had to change.

A/Prof George argued that “although the political culture has evolved to be less amenable to top-down government, Singapore remains inhospitable to progressive causes and has yet to develop spaces for mature debate”.

On political culture, he felt that voters are now increasingly more likely to reject rules which are unfair, e.g. the GRC system. He noted: “To the extent that the public sees unfairness, it will apply a kind of electoral affirmative action: it will give the opposition a discount and judge the PAP more harshly. Thus, people crucified PAP candidates for saying silly things, but politely pretended not to notice when opposition candidates did the same.”



Next up was Associate Professor Paul Ananth Tambyah, a member of MARUAH.

MARUAH had conducted a media monitoring project during the elections. Due to limited resources, the scope of the project had to be limited to the three main English-language daily newspapers in Singapore, namely the New Paper, the Straits Times and TODAY.

The media monitoring project sought to measure the relative impartiality of the print media during GE2011, and in doing so contribute to the process of free and fair elections in Singapore.

A/Prof Tambyah introduced the different measurements used, from the column inches of coverage, to the type of photos published, and the placement of articles.

In terms of coverage, the PAP received an overwhelming amount of column-inches of articles, as compared to other opposition parties or even the opposition as a whole. The disparity was more distinct in the Straits Times, as compared to TODAY or the New Paper.



The third speaker was Ms Braema Mathi, President of MARUAH. She briefly described the election monitoring project conducted by MARUAH.


Ms Mathi noted that many respondents had highlighted the lack of privacy at the voting booths, with some voters feeling that it was too open. This, coupled with the close presence of some election officials, was the source of some unease.

The presence of a serial number on the ballot paper, and the practice of writing one’s polling number on the counterfoil of the ballot paper, also appeared to discomfort many respondents.

But overall, respondents did not report any major irregularities, and the election regulations (e.g. no campaign materials within 200m of a polling station) appeared to have been adhered to. Finally, over 80% of respondents felt that their vote was secret.


Mr Alex Au, who blogs at Yawning Bread (, primarily focused on an online survey on voter preference that he conducted, and the positioning of the various political parties and how that may have affected voter appeal.

(Note: Mr Au’s presentation can be found here:

He first highlighted the limitations of an online survey, but suggested that the limitations could be mitigated with a high number of respondents. 2,051 responded to his survey, of which 1,756 voted, and of which 1,609 voted for an opposition party. With such a skewed sample, he decided to focus his survey analysis on respondents who voted for an opposition party.

Mr Au found that the breakdown of respondents in the sample closely matched the vote share obtained by the various opposition parties. With that, he proceeded to describe the results of his survey.

Among those whose 1st choice was an opposition party, 71.5% chose the Workers’ Party (WP), followed by the SDP with 24.6%. The survey also indicated that respondents rated both the WP and the SDP highly for their principles and proposals, and also the quality/likability of their candidates, when deciding their vote. However, he noted that the SDP’s vote share was lower than the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Singapore People’s Party (SPP), even though the 2 parties had a lower rating than the SDP in the earlier survey questions.

He next placed the different political parties on a chart with two axes, representing the attributes of free-market/socialism and liberalism/conservatism. His hypothesis was that the SDP had a lower vote share, as it was ideologically furthest away from the PAP, which was also where most voters were located. With voters not keen to change too much at one go, it meant that fewer voters were keen to vote for SDP.


For a full report, and links to videos, texts and powerpoint views of the talks, see here.

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