Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Divining election voting behaviour

11 Nov 2015

The General Election 2015 survey by the Institute of Policy Studies offered some useful clues to voter attitudes, after the outcome took many by surprise. The study posits that the vote swing of almost 10 percentage points to the People's Action Party was due to a pronounced conservative twitch defined by relative "support of the political status quo", and qualified by the observation that this cluster's "political attitudes are changing with each survey". IPS did similar surveys after the 2006 and 2011 elections. The attitudinal tilt was inferred by responses to a "mix of political ideals, materialist and practical concerns".

It is not known exactly why middle and higher- income voters (who favoured political pluralism in 2011) shifted back to the PAP this year. Possible factors include public policy reforms (like help for young couples to buy homes and the Pioneer Generation Package) and fresh scope for social mobility captured by the ideal of continuous meritocracy. The conservative leaning in the last election was evident across all age groups - as was the decline in pluralist impulses. Perhaps the SG50 Jubilee celebrations, coupled with the passing of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, focused some voters' minds on the kind of consensus politics that has enabled Singapore to succeed over the years. But these events are unlikely to be repeated in the next electoral cycle and the popular mood might yet change in the light of circumstances between now and the next polls. Certainly, it will take a deeper, granular and contextual examination of voter behaviour to determine what factors are more likely to dominate at different times - rational, sociological, sectoral, local, psychological or ideological.

Looking farther afield, voter attachments to either the Democrats or Republicans in the United States "tend to be substantially weaker than in the past" in presidential elections, note American political scientists. It was the New Deal during the Great Depression that transformed the Democrats from minority to majority status. The momentum kept them in the White House for 46 years in sum since then, compared to 36 years of Republican rule. Yet party loyalty is said to be diminishing, as is class politics that once prevailed strongly some 80 years ago. In its place, new divisions have emerged (categories of strong or weak supporters, and independents closer to one major party than another), as well as more calculating voting strategies (like voting for Democrats for some offices and Republicans for others).

Singaporean voters might be seen as acting rationally in favouring security in uncertain times as well as rewarding a party which had largely delivered on its promises. Ideally, the self-interest reflected by such votes will coincide with collective interests. And voter judgments will be based on rational assessments of policies.

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