GE2015: Hot-button issues still matter but 'stark contrast' in how PAP and non-PAP voters view government performance, says IPS survey

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at Yuhua Village Market and Hawker Centre during general election campaigning period. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Hot-button issues like the cost of living, which headlined the 2011 general election, continued to dominate in the recent general election.

But policy changes since 2011 have reduced the temperature of such issues, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey on how Singaporeans view the Government's performance.

Still, the Perceptions of Governance Survey found that the areas of government performance that people were least satisfied with were cost of living, the rich-poor gap, housing affordability and immigration policy.

These issues almost matched the list of factors that Singaporeans said played the most influential role when they voted. The factors are: cost of living, the affordability of housing and healthcare as well as meeting retirement needs.

The areas where the Government did well were largely security-related, such as law and order, defence and crisis management.

The online survey of 3,000 voters was conducted in three waves, from before Nomination Day until a week after Polling Day. It is weighted to be representative of the citizen population based on gender, ethnicity and age. An international market research agency, YouGov Asia Pacific, carried out the survey.

A co-leader of the research team that administered the survey is National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

He said the 10 percentage point swing to the People's Action Party (PAP) in the latest election points to a greater sense of risk and uncertainty in the world today.

So, while Singaporeans still embraced democracy as an abstract idea, there was a flight to security and bread-and-butter issues.

"People have become more concerned about security because they can sense that there's more global competition, there's more talk about trade-offs and how you can't have your cake and eat it all the time," he said.

"In my view, that's the X-factor that can account for why voters swung back to the PAP."

Dr Tan also noted that voters who favoured the PAP said the party's reputation and their confidence in it were the most important factors in their voting decisions.

The response, he added, also reflect how voters have put more stock in track record this time round.

The PAP's election message may have been about the SG50 celebrations to mark the country's 50th year of independence, and the legacy of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew "but actually we are talking about extrapolating to the future as well", he said.

"It's never just about the past: it's about what the past can tell you about the future, and the lessons learnt from the past."

The survey also found there were significant differences between PAP voters and non-PAP voters in how they perceived government performance, said Dr Tan.

Those who voted for the PAP invariably scored the ruling party higher than those who did not.

The differences were even more stark when they were asked questions such as whether they felt election laws are fair to all parties and whether the electoral system works well for Singapore.

This information came from the survey's third wave, which was conducted after Polling Day, when the people were asked which party they had voted for.

The contrast between those PAP and non-PAP voters is "quite sharp'', said Dr Tan. "In fact, there is some amount of polarisation... it's not that those who did not vote PAP are absolutely unhappy - they are not - but some of these differences are quite large."

For instance, when asked to rate the statement "The Government does what is right for Singapore" on a scale of 1 to 9, PAP voters gave an average score of 6.72, while non-PAP voters gave a mean score of 4.04.

But when asked whether "It is important to have political diversity in Parliament", PAP voters gave a mean score of 6.67, not far below non-PAP voters average of 7.21.

Dr Tan said the opposition still has a foothold in Singapore as the survey shows across-the-board support for political diversity, regardless of which party the Singaporeans voted for.

"There's still a strong support for political pluralism, and because of that you will still always have people who will vote for parties other than the PAP," he said.

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