The Citizens’ Agenda: The Top 5 Issues and Results Analysis

Author: Thum Ping Tjin
Published:

In your opinion, what issues do you consider important to Singapore? What do you think the candidates should be talking about as they compete for your votes in the upcoming election?

In July, we invited Singaporean members of New Naratif to help us create a survey of our community’s opinions. The result was The Citizens’ Agenda. In August, for Stage 1, we asked people to identify what issues they considered important to Singapore, or what they thought candidates should be talking about as they competed for votes in the upcoming election. We featured many of the answers on our social media (here’s an album of some of the answers).

We summarised the answers into 28 issues. In September, for Stage 2, we asked our community to vote on the top 5 issues. The order of the issues was randomised in the survey.

Also, they were asked to optionally provide some demographic data: age, the “race” listed on their identity card, highest educational level attained, language spoken at home, and the first four digits of their postal code.

Before we get to the results, two caveats.

The first is that The Citizens’ Agenda is a reflection of what our community thinks. We want to amplify and reflect the voices of the members of our community. There are many voices in Singapore who are marginalised or silenced, and New Naratif tries to give those voices a channel to make themselves heard. While these results are not representative of Singapore as a whole, every voice in Singapore equally deserves to be heard.

Second, I’m not a statistician or a data journalist, so I invite anyone with that training to access all the raw data (here) and do their own analysis (and please do share it with us!).

Finally, we are still processing the postal code data, so we have excluded that from this analysis and will issue a second report in the coming weeks on that data.

Results

Here are the top 5 issues identified by our respondents:

  1. Transparency and Accountability: How would you increase transparency and accountability from elected officials/ civil servants, and work to prevent corruption and abuses of power? How do we increase independent scrutiny of officials and expenditure? – 295 votes out of 678 respondents (43.5%)
  2. Destructive Politics: Why does the PAP government have such hostility towards honest criticism? How do we have respectful, constructive conversations/actions when the PAP censors/bans everything they disagree with? Why do they treat us like infants? – 254 votes (37.5%)
  3. Inequality: How do we end the systemic and structural discrimination that has led to drastically increased inequality? How do we create a fair society that gives opportunity to all – Minimum wage? Social welfare? Universal income/healthcare? – 252 votes (37.1%)
  4. Cost of Living & Poverty: What should be done to address the rising cost of living. How do we eliminate poverty and homelessness in Singapore? Why are rents/housing costs so high? How is it we are such a rich country and yet there are so many poor people? – 232 votes (34.2%)
  5. Discrimination: How do we end all systemic and casual discrimination in Singapore? How do we protect of rights all minorities (class, race, gender, LGBTQ, religious, linguistic, etc.)? Does CMIO & other official discrimination make things worse? – 207 votes (30.5%)

Here’s an interactive visualisation of the entire results—start by selecting “Issues” in the “Group By” menu at the bottom. Every dot represents a person; hover over the dot to see the demographic information of the person. Page 2 of this image drills down to just the top 10 issues, to make comparisons easier, and page 3–7 are of each of the top 5 issues. If you’re not able to use the visualisation below, you can visit https://public.flourish.studio/story/96186/

Analysis and Observations

Observation #1: The most important issue facing Singapore that our community is concerned about is a lack of transparency and accountability in Singapore’s governance.

The issue receiving the most votes (295 votes out of 678 respondents, or 43.5%) by a wide margin was Transparency and Accountability. By the end of the first day of the survey, this issue was #1 and it never relinquished this position throughout the entire survey.

Observation #2: The second biggest issue facing Singapore that our community is concerned about is the destructive/unconstructive nature of how the People’s Action Party conducts politics.

The issue that finished second (254 votes, 37.5%) was Destructive Politics. This issue traded second place with the #3 issue, Inequality, throughout the survey, and ultimately took second place by just 2 votes.

Observation #3: Nearly two-thirds of our community think that one of the most important issues facing Singapore is how the PAP behaves and how politics and governance is conducted—i.e. the process of how we make decisions and arrive at policies, rather than the policies themselves.

Of all 28 issues, these are the two issues which reflect most how politics and governance is conducted are made in Singapore. In Stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda, Transparency and Accountability arose as “a repeated theme that touched on nearly all other issues—that regardless of policies, there was no transparency at how the policies were arrived at, what data they were based upon, how and why it was implemented, the outcome/results, or what was learnt; and no accountability for those who failed or demonstrated incompetence at their jobs. This was a “meta-issue” in a way, in that it affected nearly every other issue and was widely cited as a reason for failures in other areas.”

Likewise, Destructive Politics reflected concerns over the unconstructive attitude of the PAP government, rather than the issues themselves.

Is there significant overlap between people who chose Transparency and Accountability and Destructive Politics? Of the 678 respondents:

  • 253 (37.3%) chose neither transparency and accountability nor destructive politics.
  • 301 (44.4%) chose either (one of) transparency and accountability or destructive politics, but not both.
  • 124 (18.3%) chose both transparency and accountability and destructive politics.
  • 424 (62.8%) chose at least one of transparency and accountability and destructive politics.

62.8% of respondents chose at least one of “Transparency and Accountability” and “Destructive Politics”.

It seems safe to say, then, that 62.8% of our respondents believe that one of the biggest problems facing Singapore relates to how the PAP conducts politics in Singapore: secretively, with no accountability for mistakes and incompetence, and lashing out in a hostile and destructive manner against those who criticise it. The positive side of this finding, however, is that these are among the easiest issues to resolve, as the causes are internal to Singapore and more specifically to the PAP. To address these issues, the PAP simply needs to change its behaviour.

Observation #4: The older the respondent, the more likely they identified Transparency and Accountability or Destructive Politics as one of the most important issues facing Singapore.

Observation #5: The older the respondent, the more likely they picked both Transparency and Accountability and Destructive Politics as two of the most important issues facing Singapore.

In looking for correlations, I found one other interesting observation. In every demographic sub-group (i.e. age, race on IC, language, etc.) either Transparency and Accountability or Destructive Politics featured in the top five issues identified—with one exception. The only sub-group which did not identify either issue in the top five was people aged 15–24 years old (see observation #15 below).

Looking at the breakdown of the two issues, both showed a clear trend: the older the respondent, the more likely they selected at least one of Transparency and Accountability or Destructive Politics (or both).

One possible reason for this is that younger respondents, as students, do not have much practical first-hand experience with politics and governance in Singapore and so are not in a position to judge it. Another possible reason is that they are chiefly exposed to governance and politics through public education, and the goal of the National Education programme has been to present the PAP’s point of view.

Nevertheless, the longer a respondent is exposed to PAP politics and governance, the more they are likely to identify how the PAP conducts politics and governance in Singapore as the biggest issue facing the country.

The charts for observation 4-5 are below or at https://public.flourish.studio/story/96290/

Observation #6: After the process of politics and governance, the next biggest concern for our community is the cost of living in Singapore, both in relative terms and in absolute terms: that life is getting more unaffordable for most people in Singapore, even as the rich accumulate wealth.

The issue that finished third (by a hair) was Inequality (252 votes, 37.1%).

The fourth issue was Cost of Living and Poverty (232 votes, 34.2%).

Again, we have an interesting pair. Of all 28 issues, these are the two issues most directly connected with income. Inequality relates to relative income (i.e. the gap between poor and rich), while Cost of Living and Poverty relates to absolute income (i.e. how much people need to make to afford to be able to have a decent living).

As our respondents in stage 1 made clear, these two were deeply interrelated. The summary for Inequality said that while respondents were “generally also concerned with the cost of living, but were more concerned with what they saw as the root cause, which is structural economic discrimination that concentrated wealth in the hands of a narrow elite and closed off opportunity for those outside the elite to make fair wages” while the summary for Cost of Living and Poverty reads, “These responses were similar to, and often included, concerns of inequality. However, it was clear from responses that there was a difference. This issue is related to affordability (can we pay for food, housing, healthcare, etc.); Inequality was related to the fairness of the system (Why does the economy advantage other people/discriminate against me?).”

That respondents voted them third and fourth thus reflects a widespread concern with both aspects of the issue: that life is getting more unaffordable for most people in Singapore, even as wealth increasingly accumulates in the hands of a privileged few.

Conclusion #7: As compared to the pair of Transparency and Accountability/ Destructive Politics, people who chose one of Inequality/ Cost of Living and Poverty were less likely to also pick the other… but the reasons why are unclear.

As with the first two issues, how much overlap was there between people who chose either issue?

  • 275 (40.6%) chose neither Inequality nor Cost of Living and Poverty
  • 316 (46.6%) chose either Inequality or Cost of Living and Poverty
  • 82 (12.1%) chose both Inequality and Cost of Living and Poverty
  • 398 (58.7%) chose at least one of Inequality and Cost of Living and Poverty

The comparison with the first two issues is interesting.

  • 424 people picked Transparency and Accountability and/or Destructive Politics
  • 398 people picked Inequality and/or Cost of Living and Poverty (26 people fewer)

But

  • Transparency and Accountability and/or Destructive Politics received 549 votes combined.
  • Inequality and/or Cost of Living and Poverty received 484 votes combined (65 votes fewer)

The difference between the two pairs of issues is just 26 people, or 3.8% of respondents, but 65 votes.

124/424 (29.2%) of all respondents who chose at least one of Transparency and Accountability/Destructive Politics also chose the other issue (i.e. chose both issues).

82/398 (20.6%) of all respondents who chose at least one of Inequality/Cost of Living and Poverty also chose the other issue (i.e. chose both issues).

The reason for this, however, is harder to interpret. Perhaps the crux of this issue is: do people see these as separate issues or fundamentally the same issue? If they see them as separate issues, then it suggests that people pick one issue as more important than the other; if they see them as the same issue, then people would pick one and consider the issue covered.

Observation #8: Younger respondents tended to be more concerned about Inequality than about Cost of Living/Poverty.

Observation #9: Young people and retirees were more concerned about Cost of Living/Poverty than people in the workforce.

Observation #10: People who had higher levels of education tended to be slightly more concerned about Inequality vs. Cost of Living/Poverty

The charts for observations 8-10 are below or at https://public.flourish.studio/story/96344/

Observation #11: The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to identify discrimination as a problem in Singapore.

Observation #12: Respondents who are categorised on the Identity Card as Malay and Indian are more likely to identify discrimination as an important issue then people categorised as Chinese.

Perhaps observation #12 should fall under the “obvious” category.

Other “obvious” observations:

Observation #13: The older the respondent, the more likely they are to identify Healthcare is an important issue.

Observation #14: The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to identify the Environment as an important issue.

Half of all respondents 15–24 identified the Environment as an important issue; Only one person aged 65 and above identified the Environment as an important issue.
Charts for observations 11-14 are below or at https://public.flourish.studio/story/96334/

Observation #15: The 15- to 24-year-old respondents are generally well educated.

Who are the 15 to 24 years old respondents who were the only group not to identify either Transparency and Accountability or Destructive Politics in their top 5 issues?

  • 107 respondents, 15.8% of all respondents
  1. Inequality, 57 votes
  2. Discrimination, 55 votes
  3. Environment, 53 votes
  4. Cost of Living and Poverty, 41 votes
  5. Education, 34 votes
  • 45 had a Bachelor’s Degree;
  • 51 had finished Junior College or Polytechnic;
  • 3 had a Master’s Degree;
  • 4 had finished secondary school;
  • 1 a trade/technical/vocational qualification;
  • 1 had finished primary school.

Visualisation below or at https://public.flourish.studio/visualisation/735070/

Some other statistics

  • Total Responses: 678
  • Total Unique Visits: 1431
  • Completion Rate: 47.4%
  • Average Time to completion: 10:32

1,431 started the survey, but only 678 finished the survey, and took a mean time of 10 minutes, 32 seconds to do so. This suggest that people generally put it a lot of thought and care into making their five choices, for which we are really grateful.

Conclusion

New Naratif’s community has spoken! They are most deeply concerned about how the governing PAP conducts itself and how decisions are made in Singapore; and with the rising cost of living and inequality. They are also most concerned about the many forms of discrimination in Singapore, including race, class, and gender discrimination.

A big THANK YOU once again to everyone who took part in the focus groups, open meetings, and discussions, and to everyone answered the survey. We will be running articles about these five issues (and as a bonus, about the sixth issue, the Environment, as well) in the new few months. Stay tuned!

Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is Managing Director of New Naratif and founding director of Project Southeast Asia, an interdisciplinary research centre on Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, his work centres on Southeast Asian governance and politics. His most recent work is Living with Myths in Singapore (Ethos: 2017, co-edited with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Chia). He is creator of “The History of Singapore” podcast, available on iTunes. Reach him at pingtjin.thum@newnaratif.com.

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