Corralling the votes of millennials will be a challenge for political parties as young people tend to have little loyalty to a single party, and they could switch support at the last minute, said former Malaysian Cabinet minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
This was seen in election results in Malaysia in May and the recent Taiwan municipal polls, he told The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum at the Raffles City Convention Centre on Wednesday (Nov 28).
"Young people are not as sticky with party loyalties. They look at certain key markers such as jobs, cost of living," Mr Khairy said in a special address at the annual forum. "Young voters really swung in Malaysia" in the May general election, he said.
This led to the defeat of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that had ruled for 61 years, joining the list of long-serving parties globally that have been unseated. This experience might be of interest to other parties elsewhere, he quipped.
Millennials refers to those born between 1981 and 1996, who are now in their early 20s to mid-30s.
Mr Khairy, 42, said the issue of millennial voters was also discussed when he met Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing for breakfast yesterday.
"I told him I cannot advise him on that," Mr Khairy said, to laughter from the audience. "We were trying to figure out: What do they want? And that is something that governments need to understand."
He noted that in the past, voters would reliably stick with a political party that gave them a stable economy and good jobs.
The opposition MP, who is seen as a possible future Umno leader, also said that politicians should not rely too much on data collected by opinion pollsters to predict voter behaviour.
These, he said, proved to be wrong in the May election, in the 2016 electoral win by US President Donald Trump, and in the British vote to exit the European Union, dubbed Brexit.
Mr Khairy recalled how, days before Malaysia's May 9 election, he asked then Prime Minister Najib Razak how BN was doing. He said he was told by Najib that "we look good for 140" of the 222 Parliament seats. "We ended up with less than 70 seats, that is how catastrophically wrong we got it."
He added that this sudden loss of voter support could happen in other parts of South-east Asia. "Politicians need to recover and need to bring back what we used to call political instincts and political nous. A lot of politicians these days tend to rely too much on data, on surveys and polls."
Mr Khairy also said he felt that politicians had to strike a new social compact that connects with the millennial generation.