This is the second of our five-part series on The New Paper's Young Voters survey (First published March 30, 2011)
Not many, says our survey. But young voters still want more opposition in Parliament
EVERYONE has heard of the People’s Action Party (PAP).
That’s according to a survey of 1,003 Singaporeans aged 21 to 35 commissioned by The New Paper.
But it’s a different story with the opposition parties.
More than 40 per cent had never heard of parties such as the National Solidarity Party (NSP), Singapore Justice Party (SJP) and Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS).
It gets even worse for newer parties.
About 50 per cent have never heard of the Reform Party (formed in 2008); the Socialist Front (formed last year) fared even worse, with only 42 per cent recognising it. (See infographics on right.)
And from the survey results, it appears that, almost across the board, the older you are, the more aware you are of opposition parties.
For example, 85 per cent of the 31 to 35 age group have heard of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), compared to 84 per cent for those aged 26 to 30 and 79 per cent for those aged 21 to 25.
Voters aged 21 to 35 will account for about 600,000, or one in four, of the 2.35 million eligible voters this coming GE.
So why the lack of awareness among young voters?
It’s down to low interest in politics, said Singapore Management University Assistant Professor Eugene Tan.
“Many may not have voted before and so have not had to engage with and familiarise themselves with the political players.”
He added that the high “never of heard” rate may be down to some of the opposition parties being dormant in-between elections.
He said: “So it is no surprise if the people polled have not heard of some of them. (These parties) lack presence, profile and prominence such that voters may not even be aware of their existence.
“We have also a few new parties in the last two years such as the Socialist Front and Reform Party.”
Given these parties’ freshmen status, Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow with the Institute of Policy Studies, said: “It will take time to make themselves and what they stand for, known.”
So that’s with the opposition parties the young have not heard of.
But how do they feel about the ones they know?
Among opposition parties they have heard of, most young voters are predominantly neutral to them, with no views on whether they are credible or not credible.
The survey was conducted between December 2010 and January this year. And in that time, many opposition parties had been working to raise their profiles.
Most parties have also intensified outreach efforts online using social media.
First impressions important
But it hasn’t all been good news for opposition parties.
The Reform Party grabbed the headlines when more than 20 members resigned last month, citing difficulties with Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the party’s secretary-general.
Earlier this month, Socialist Front leader Chia Ti Lik, a lawyer, was found guilty of professional misconduct over blog postings he wrote between 2008 and 2009, which breached ethical rules and were in contempt of court.
Said Dr Tan: “Yes, perceptions may have changed with the negative publicity, but I doubt it will be a sea-change.
“But first impressions are important and for young voters. If their first news of a party is negative, that will put it at a disadvantage.”
He said that looking at the results, most of the opposition parties outside the Top 3 “should be concerned”.
The better-known parties tend to be more personality-based, he said.
“It’s the force of the personality and public persona of their leaders that help make their parties better known,” he added.
For instance, the opposition party viewed as most credible and most well known, the Workers’ Party, has Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang, and NCMP Sylvia Lim.
Singapore Democratic Party has Dr Chee Soon Juan, while Mr Chiam See Tong is chief of Singapore People’s Party, and has for many years contested under the SDA banner before pulling his party out of the alliance earlier this year.
What do the experts think of the number of opposition parties now? In 2006, there were three opposition parties, while in 2001, there were four.
Dr Tan said at one level, it indicates a more fragmented opposition.
Has the increase in quantity led to an improvement in quality of candidates and political parties, he asked.
“Given the limited resources (funds, membership and political recognition) that small parties have, they may have limitations in terms of political outreach to voters. So the question is whether they should merge and pool their resources so that they can be more effective,” Dr Tan said.
Despite meetings to sort out who contests where, opposition parties still haven’t agreed on some wards, such as the new four-member GRC Moulmein-Kallang.
Said Dr Tan: “If more parties result in more intra-opposition competition, then that may detract from the overarching challenge of creating a viable alternative that can give the PAP a run for its money.”
Dr Koh said it’s good that the opposition party scene has become more lively, but only if it means more thoughtful and responsible people who care about the country and are willing to discuss with the public and the PAP their alternative views and solutions for the country.
But sociologist Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser said: “I don’t think the ‘sheer number’ really matters. What matters for the opposition is that some parties are able to establish their credibility and their brand, and thereby pull ahead of the pack.”
The New Paper Young Voters 2011 survey was conducted by market research agency agri opus PRoBa from December 2010 to January 2011.
A total of 1,003 Singaporeans aged 21 to 35 were interviewed face to face.
The interviews were conducted outside shopping malls, MRT stations, libraries and at bus interchanges and town hubs in 15 housing estates across Singapore, covering the west, north, north-east, east and central regions, on weekdays and weekends.