19 July, 2020
- Ruling party lost votes from middle-aged voters in the sandwich class
- PAP did not do well in its digital campaign despite putting out a lot of content
- Party will review its style, conduct of campaign including how it goes about highlighting falsehoods
SINGAPORE — Suggestions that younger voters across the board had abandoned the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the recent General Election (GE) are untrue, PAP’s Lawrence Wong said on Saturday (July 18).
A preliminary review on the party’s performance has shown that the more likely swing came from “sandwiched” middle-class voters who have been affected by the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.
Swing votes also came from those who were swayed by the opposition’s messaging that there was a real threat of an opposition wipeout in the election.
Opposition parties pointed to articles written by political commentators and pundits who predicted that PAP would easily secure above 70 per cent of the national vote in GE2020, Mr Wong said. He is a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), its top decision-making body.
“We were up against a major trend that has been there for many years, and that is the desire to have more opposition in Parliament to check the PAP, to have more diversity of views and debate on policy alternatives,” he said.
Mr Wong was speaking to party activists via video conferencing from the party’s Bedok headquarters where he gave the party’s initial views on what caused PAP’s share of the vote to plunge from 69.9 per cent in GE2015 to 61.2 per cent in GE2020 — its third-worst outcome on record.
Unlike what pundits had expected, Mr Wong said that the party had expected a result between 60 and 65 per cent with a “reasonable expectation” of the vote share being between 64 and 65 per cent.
He said neither Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong nor anyone else in the CEC expected a repeat of the 2015 results, given the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The GEs held in 2015 and 2001 were the only times that PAP garnered near or above 70 per cent of the votes, he pointed out.
And these two GEs were outliers, he said, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks happening in the United States in 2001 and the death of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew happening in 2015.
“The expectation that the PAP should have had the result at the top end (of the expected range) this time has coloured the outcome as a setback... We came in at the low end, (which) is about four percentage points less than what we might have hoped for. That's roughly 100,000 votes lost,” Mr Wong, who is also the National Development Minister, said.
He told activists that PAP will do a thorough review on how it fared in GE2020 but based on preliminary findings, these were the reasons why the party lost those 100,000 votes:
The Workers’ Party (WP) had run “a good campaign” that spoke to the desire for more checks and balances on the PAP Government, including its call to not give the government a “blank cheque”.
The emergence of the new Progress Singapore Party had strong appeal in some parts of Singapore especially in PAP’s western strongholds.
PAP did not do well in its digital campaign despite producing plenty of online content. It did not fully connect with voters on newer platforms such as Instagram and Telegram that require a different form of messaging.
Negative messages had a further reach than positive ones during the campaign.
SWING FROM MIDDLE-AGED VOTERS, PRIVATE PROPERTY DWELLERS
Mr Wong also refuted the claim that the younger voters had voted against PAP across Singapore.
First-time voters aged 21 to 24 represented less than 10 per cent of the electorate, he said.
PAP had also performed well in certain constituencies with a younger demographic such as in the Punggol West Single Member Constituency, where incumbent Sun Xueling won 61 per cent of the vote.
“So the swing against the PAP was not concentrated solely among the young and it was not just about unhappiness about the PAP style of campaigning or how we talked about race, or the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act,” he said.
Instead, Mr Wong said the party’s analysis suggests that there was a fall in support arising from the economic fallout from Covid-19, which had affected those in their 40s and 50s, as well as those in their early 60s.
Some of the voters in this demographic had also experienced economic hardship before the pandemic, too, he added.
The Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated the financial pain faced by the sandwich class as a result of business closures, loss of income and jobs, and related difficulties faced by contractors and subcontractors.
“All of this hurts the PAP support and this is quite understandable. Although we have made great efforts to lessen the pain and impact, there has been severe disruption to jobs and families,” he said.
Party insiders who spoke to TODAY echoed Mr Wong’s view that it was not the youth vote primarily that they lost but also that of middle-aged workers concerned about livelihoods and jobs.
Asked if any of this was a new revelation to PAP, Mr Wong said that the crisis factor was specific to GE2020.
PAP knew the election would be a challenge and had acted to aid these groups, such as by giving S$500 more SkillsFuture credits for each individual of this group in the Unity Budget.
[Yay! SkillsFuture credits! Just what we ALWAYS wanted! Yes, yes, yes. Teach a man to fish and he'll never ask for fish again... if he survives starvation in the meantime...]
“We did recognise this as an issue. But I think given the magnitude of this crisis, it is really very hard — no matter what kinds of resources that you can mount to help them — to talk about businesses that are facing difficulties, contractors who are unable to work (due to Covid-19 restrictions).”
Those living in private landed homes and condominiums had also swung away from the PAP as well, because of similar economic reasons, Mr Wong said.
“In 2015, this segment had swung towards the PAP. But this time, the support was not as strong, perhaps because they felt that they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis,” Mr Wong said of how private property dwellers voted though he did not give specific details.
He added that this swing by private property residents was a general sentiment and did not necessarily apply across all private estates.
Responding to a question on whether PAP’s campaigning tactics had alienated the youth, such as its tone in campaigning and the party’s statement on the police investigation of WP candidate Raeesah Khan from Sengkang Group Representation Constituency, Mr Wong said that the review will look into these issues as well.
“Whether or not we can improve and do better in terms of the style of campaigning, in terms of the approach, in terms of the conduct of campaign and how we go about highlighting falsehoods that may arise during the course of the campaign or issues that we think are of concern, I think that's fair," he added.
"That's something we do want to review, to see how we can improve and do better in the future.”