Nationally Speaking: Catching Up with the Polls

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By Justin Lim (16A01B) and Md Khairillah (16A01B)

Visit for a detailed breakdown of the election results in comparison to GE 2011.

At 10 pm last night, the sample counts saw the People’s Action Party (PAP) win this year’s edition of the General Election by a landslide. Five hours later, this result was confirmed by the actual vote count. n what was perhaps the most unexpected, unprojected and for some, disappointing election results in recent years. GE2011 saw greater opposition sentiment in the populace, and resultant opposition gains in parliament.  This GE saw an increase in the former, but none of the latter; PAP candidates across the entire island attaining higher vote percentages than in 2011, wresting back Punggol East SMC and very narrowly losing at Aljunied GRC.  Raffles Press brings to you a bite-sized summary of the election results.

What is a Sample Count?

This question was undoubtedly on everyone’s minds, some longer than others as many questioned the process and subsequently the reliability of the Sample Count, made public for the first time this election. The Sample Count, as explained on the results telecast, is meant to dismiss speculation and news from unofficial sources before the actual results are released. However, social media breeds opportunities for mere speculation to turn into “confirmed” results, especially when netizens fail to check rumours against official sources.

The Sample Count is conducted by retrieving 100 random votes from each counting centre– the process’ unbiased nature is confirmed as candidates from the contesting parties watch over this procedure– sorting out the votes for each party, then weighing it and comparing the differences. Some netizens speculated the reliability of such a method, but the process proved reliable in the 2011 GE and was thus brought forward to the public in this year’s. Furthermore, the margin of error between the actual and sample counts remained under the projected 4%– such as the margin of error for Yuhua SMC to be approximately 1.5%.

The release of the Sample Count was  a double-edge sword. It provided early relief for some, but tension for others as counts revealed large gaps between the PAP and the respective contesting parties.  Close fights such as the one in Punggol East SMC with the PAP receiving 51% of the votes against the WP’s 49% were areas of concern as supporters could only wait for the actual count to alleviate– or perhaps, worsen– their anxiety.

A Stronger Mandate?

Secretary-General of the PAP, Lee Hsien Loong, hoisted onto the shoulders of his supporters after winning the fight for Ang Mo Kio. Retrieved from Facebook.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) saw its share of the popular vote surge from 60.1% in 2011 to 69.9% in 2015, racking up vote shares of more than 70% in several constituencies. More than that, the party managed to outperform the expectations for close fights with the Workers’ Party in East Coast and Marine Parade GRC, garnering 62.4-% and 64.07% respectively; the PAP had also whittled down the margin in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, and even managed to win back Punggol East SMC with a 3.52% margin.

This conferred onto the PAP a very strong mandate for the next 5 years, which some netizens interpreted as a “ vote for a more caring and responsive government”, comparing the increase in said qualities after the 2011 General Elections. This time round, the PAP’s victory speeches stressed the need to foster deeper engagement with their residents because of their victory.

The Next Prime Minister?

Some lighthearted humour before the rapid succession of Sample Counts being announced on the various telecasts. Retrieved from Twitter
Some lighthearted humour before the rapid succession of Sample Counts being announced on the various telecasts. Retrieved from Twitter

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tipped to be stepping down by the year 2020, the question of political succession will also weigh heavily on the public mind beyond this election. The height of his political success straight off a GE win is an opportune time for the transition to his successor who will come from the current pool of PAP MPs according to the PM. A similar situation had occurred before where previous PM Goh Chok Tong handed over the reins of government over to Lee Hsien Loong after PAP’s historic 75.3% win at the 2001 General Election.

Opposition Strength?

Pro-opposition sentiments on social media and on the ground as well as massive turnouts at opposition rallies in the end did not translate into votes for the opposition, with the opposition suffering worse defeats in this election compared to the last.

Some particularly stinging defeats could be attributed to moments of opposition weakness. Cheo Chai Chen’s jab at Tin Pei Ling’s motherhood-induced weakness probably cost him his seat in Parliament.  He put in the second-worst performance in this GE, with only 215 votes– despite the NSP claiming that there was an “appeal from residents” for them to contest in  the SMC. Similarly, repeated allegations of WP incompetency in the AHPETC saga may have contributed to the WP loss in Punggol East, and very narrowly scraping through in Aljunied with 50.95%.

Nevertheless, singular moments of folly cannot account for an overall decline in opposition support. While less prominent and established opposition parties like SingFirst and Reform Party suffered huge defeats polling only 10-30%, even the Workers’ Party’s share in most constituencies fell from 40+% to 30+%.

What can perhaps be pinpointed as an important reason for opposition weakness is its perceived strength, with prominent figures like Chee Soon Juan re-joining the fray for instance and histrionic personalities like Tan Jee Say calling for the electorate to bring down the PAP government.  Such perceived strength contributed to fears of a freak election result and the assumption that the opposition would with certainty win some amount of seats. With that in mind, the swing voter who was dissatisfied with the PAP and attended WP rallies religiously for the entire duration of the election could very likely have changed his mind at the polling box- and voted for the PAP instead. Ironically, the perceived strength of the opposition could be what eventually led to its resounding defeat.

Social Media: The Hall of Fame

GE2015 saw parties endeavouring to use social media to their advantage, to rack up popular support particularly from younger voters. While some parties managed to do just that, others were not so successful.

Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party activated an Instagram account for the election, with an infamous shot of her in Fengshan drawing massive views and increasing excitement among the electorate for the Workers’ Party’s candidate announcements. The Worker’s Party’s continual social media updates culminated in a WP we-fie at the final rally in East Coast GRC, which was particularly effective in garnering attention from the electorate.

The PAP too saw its fair share of active social media users, particularly Macpherson SMC’s candidate Tin Pei Ling, who kept her islandwide supporters up to date with Macpherson’s upcoming plans and her walkabouts and talks with various residents– particularly the elderly.

Social media gaffes on the part of some parties resounded through the internet and the island, undermining their credibility and support. The spell check errors on Singfirst’s Facebook post and its subsequent discussion with social media users on how to rectify it was amusing, but also undermined Singfirst’s professionalism and ability to connect with younger voters.

SingFirst seems to enjoy “feedbacking” to authorities. Retrieved from Mothership.
SingFirst seems to enjoy “feedbacking” to authorities. Retrieved from Mothership.

GE2015 saw a rise in the credibility and influence of alternative media.The growing role of websites like the Middle Ground and Mothership in shaping the national political conversation has been highlighted recently. Journalists from The Middle Ground and were invited to key media functions such as the NUSS Political Forum, and even the editor-in-chief of The Straits Times “read all [he] could” from both mainstream and alternative media. The emergence of such sites also gave citizens up-to-date information about rallies and walkabouts as sites took to twitter hashtags such as #WPrally to give stay-home netizens an inside look into the heat of the rallies.

Amidst the release of the various results, analysts attributed the unexpected shift towards the PAP to the rampant “bias confirmation” present on social media which functioned as an “echo chamber”. Pro-opposition sentiments often receive praise and plaudits, but do not necessarily translate into opposition votes.. If anything, this is an important lesson for voters to not assume support on social media as a guaranteed win for their parties– especially since half of the users on social media are likely to be students like us, who cannot vote. Social media users after all, do not encompass the whole gamut of voters in Singapore and in fact exclude significant proportions of mature voters.

A Watershed Election?

What was touted to be a watershed election in favour of the opposition could very well now be seen as a watershed election in favour of the ruling party, and its efforts over the past 4 years to win back the populace’s support. While most expected tough fights by the opposition to create a more politically diverse parliament in terms of total party presence, we have actually gone backwards in this aspect as the PAP secures a safe 69.9% of the vote– which speaks volumes of  both the incumbent party’s and the opposition’s performance. Amidst political analysts’ study of the election results and the opposition parties’ reevaluation of their election strategies, one thing’s for sure though; the PAP’s here to stay for the next 4 years, and very possibly, beyond.

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