Singaporeans Speak: The Top 5 Most Important Issues Facing Singapore in 2024

Author
Picture of Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is Founder and Managing Director of New Naratif. 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 "Nationalism and Decolonisation in Singapore: The Malayan Generation, 1953-63" (Routledge, 2024).

In Stage 2 of The Citizens’ Agenda, we asked Singaporeans to rank the biggest issues facing their country. They responded loudly and clearly. Here’s what they said!

In Stage 1, we surveyed Singaporeans and asked:

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

We summarised the answers into 25 issues

In Stage 2 of The Citizens’ Agenda, we asked people to rank the 25 issues. The answer came back very clearly:

Life in Singapore is too expensive and stressful.

Results

Here are the top 5 issues identified by our respondents.  Issues are ranked by assigning points per rank (25 points for being ranked #1, 24 points for being ranked #2, and so on until 1 point for being ranked #25). 

  1. 💸 COST OF LIVING & INFLATION

Why is the cost of living so high, especially food, transport, healthcare, and housing? How do we have fair wages? How do we combat inflation, stop profiteering and price-gouging? Why is it so expensive to raise children? Why do we keep raising GST? 

2. 🏘 HOUSING

The cost-of-housing crisis: Why are HDB prices ridiculously expensive/unaffordable and yet flats are still so small? How do we afford homes? Why does the government discriminate against people, e.g., singles/under 35? How do we resolve the “time bomb” of the 99-year-lease?

3. 🩺 HEALTHCARE

The excessive costs of healthcare, long queues, and overcrowding, especially with an ageing population: How do we improve public health? What are the challenges faced by telemedicine? Should we renationalise healthcare and make it universal and affordable? 

4. 📊 📈 ECONOMY & JOB SECURITY

How do we keep growing our economy? How do we create more jobs for Singaporeans, ensure fairness in hiring, greater job security, end worker exploitation, encourage innovation, support local companies, develop skills, and enhance workforce competitiveness? 

5. 🌻 WELL-BEING

How do Singaporeans have mental well-being and avoid burnout and emotional stress? How do we be happy? Why do we have to spend all our time making money? How do we achieve a work-life balance? How can we have time to do anything apart from work?

Fig. 1 – Issues ranked by points.

Here’s a ranking of issues based on how often they were mentioned in the Top 5. We did this as a way of looking at how passionately people felt about issues (see the Methodology below for more information).

Fig. 2 – Issues ranked by frequency of mention in the Top 5.

Click here for an interactive datastudio presentation, including a breakdown of demographic data.

Methodology

From 10-14 June, 1,129 Singaporeans were surveyed using Vase.ai and presented with the list of 25 issues identified in Stage 1. The order of the issues was randomised. We asked Singaporeans to rank the issues in order of importance by selecting issues and dragging them up and down the list. Readers may view the raw survey data here (tab 1) and the rankings (tab 2). Rankings are presented in three different ways: by points (column B), by average rank (column C), and by the frequency an issue was ranked in the top 5 (column D) and bottom 5 (column E). Points and average rank are merely different presentations of the same fundamental formula, which is a points-based ranking weighted by position.

We ranked issues by frequency in the Top 5 as a way of looking at how passionately people felt about them. We assumed that, given a randomised list of 25 items, people would focus on the issues that they cared most about, and immediately place them at the top of the list, but then be less passionate about the remainder of the list and simply accept the rest of the randomised list as good enough. It is also entirely possible that some people did not actually bother ranking issues and merely submitted the randomised list presented to them.

It is important to note that this is a relative, not absolute, ranking. Just because an issue is ranked #25 does not mean it is not important, only that it is ranked less important, on average, than issues #1 to #24.

30 responses was the minimum quantity needed for statistical reliability (n=30), but the number of responses for the youngest (18-19 years, n=16) and oldest (70-79 years, n=25) cohorts did not reach that threshold.

If you’d like to see the raw data, please click here. We welcome any statisticians or data journalists who would like to use the data—they are licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

A note on our survey company: Vase.ai is a survey platform that has 3.6 million people across Southeast Asia in its panel. Through its platform, it aims to provide surveys as an automated service, thus making it easy and affordable to run statistically-accurate surveys across the region in different countries. However, this automation also involves constraints and trade-offs, one of which is that we have to conform to its pre-defined panel demography. This includes only two genders (male and female), the CMIO racial categorisation, and a geographic location based on Singapore’s planning areas rather than constituency or other commonly-used geographic boundaries.

Analysis and Observations

Observation #1: Cost of Living is, by far, the most important issue concerning respondents. 

Cost of Living & Inflation was the runaway winner, with 21,606 points, far and away the most important issue.

At the same time, Housing (#2 overall, 18,698 points) and Healthcare (#3 overall, 18,550) and the Economy & Job Security (#4 overall, 18,185) were in a virtual dead heat for second. Responses from Stage 1 indicated that the greatest concerns about Housing and Healthcare were the skyrocketing costs (along with the lack of availability/access for both). The fact that they finished #2 and #3 respectively suggests that it is the affordability of both that people are struggling with. Economy & Job Security relates to people’s worries about being able to get a job and being paid adequately for that job. 

Cost of Living & Inflation won nearly every single demographic, losing only narrowly to Healthcare in two demographics. First was the oldest age group, those aged 70-79 years (n=25). This is unsurprising, given that senior citizens in Singapore are secure in their housing, having benefited from buying into HDB flats at the very beginning, and so do not worry about the cost of housing as much as younger people; and also benefit greatly from government subsidies, such as the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation packages. It is perhaps alarming that, in spite of the huge amount of subsidies given to seniors, that they still only narrowly picked Healthcare (477 points) over Cost of Living (468 points). Second was “Other” races (n=72), who also narrowly picked Healthcare over Cost of Living.

Looking at it another way, Cost of Living was selected as #1 by 392 people, again a runaway victory. By comparison, the issue that was second most often chosen as the most important, Housing, was only selected as #1 by 91 people. Cost of Living was also most often selected as #2, by 148 people, followed again by Housing (131 people). We can assume that a lot of people looked for Cost of Living and immediately dragged it to the top of the list.

This observation is also borne out by the high position of related issues such as CPF & Welfare (#6 overall, 16,166 points) and Wealth Inequality & Social Mobility (#9 overall, 14,830)—see below—as well as Immigration, finishing very narrowly behind it at #11 (14,675). The responses of those who identified immigration as an issue in Stage 1 focused on the corrosive effect of high end migration (“foreign talents”) and the impact of huge amounts of foreign money on prices, given the perception that the PAP government is incentivising rich foreigners to launder and spend their money in Singapore (those in Stage 1 who mentioned low-wage migrant labour generally talked about it as a worker’s rights issue, not as a migration issue).

Overall, it is clear people are struggling to afford their lives in Singapore.

Observation #2: The problem is not about having a job. The problem is not having a living wage. The problem is a lack of fairness: fair wages for work; fairness in hiring, employment practices and regulations, and other labour rights; and fairness in the distribution of profits/income.

Singapore has full employment, but people identified the Economy & Job Security as a major issue (#4 overall, 18,185 points). Unlike previous years, where people talked about economic growth and job creation, this year people in Stage 1 who talked about jobs focused on fairness in wages, hiring, job security, work-life balance, and an end to exploitative practices — hence the shift to “job security” rather than merely “jobs” as the issue this year.

Also in the top 10 were CPF & Welfare (#6 overall, 16,166 points) and Wealth Inequality & Social Mobility (#9 overall, 14,830). It is clear that people feel deep insecurity borne out of an economic system that is clearly generating huge profits but where people are still struggling. Responses in stage 1 felt that the government should be far more redistributive, given the taxes it collects and the huge returns that the reserves generate. People also feel that profits should be more fairly distributed to those who do the work rather than those who merely invest the capital, as the benefits of economic growth are overwhelmingly going to the top 1%, rather than being fairly distributed.

Observation #3: Singaporeans are stressed out, exhausted, and deeply worried. They are increasingly worrying more about themselves and the present rather than society and the future.

Many people who mentioned Healthcare in Stage 1 also specifically talked about mental health care. Similarly, Well-being (16,941 points) finished #5. In Stage 1, respondents repeatedly mentioned mental health support and a work-life balance. This issue also finished #5 in 2022. Its persistence suggests that people are stressed out and struggling. 

But where people were worried about the Environment & Sustainability in 2022 (when it finished #6), this time it slid to #14 (14,330). Many people mentioned the environment in Stage 1 as part of their open-ended answers, so we believe that people still consider it important. Instead, people are struggling more so people are worrying less about society and humanity as a whole, and more about themselves and their families right now.

In general, the top half of the rankings are dominated by personal, immediate, and concrete issues focusing on their standard of living, while the bottom half of the rankings are dominated by more abstract issues focusing more generally on rights:

Top 12

Bottom 12

💸 Cost of Living & Inflation

🌏🌞 Environment & Sustainability

🏘 Housing

🤖 Artificial Intelligence, Digital Infrastructure & Security

🩺 Healthcare

💰 Corruption/ Transparency & Accountability

📊 📈 Economy & Job Security

📢💬 Democracy

🌻 Well-Being

⚖️ Justice System

⚓️ CPF & Welfare

🇸🇬 Culture & Identity

♟️ Governance & Leadership

🫰Racial Discrimination

🎓 Education

🤗 Inclusion

🎲 Wealth Inequality & Social Mobility

🌍 International Relations

🚸 Demography & Ageing

✊🏽 Civil Liberties & Human Rights

🌏 Immigration

🔫 National Service

🚇 Public Transport

🏳️‍🌈 LGBTQIA+ Equality

Of course, this does not mean people do not care about the issues in the bottom half—remember that this is a relative, not absolute, ranking—and judging by the responses in stage 1, people also recognise that failing to care about the issues in the bottom half will make the issues in the top half even worse down the road.

Comparing the results to 2022, the top issues remain generally the same, but abstract and future issues are sliding. Issues which have fallen at least three places (in red, below) include Environment & Sustainability and Racism & Discrimination; issues which have risen at least three places (in green, below) include Governance & Leadership, Education, Demography & Ageing, and Artificial Intelligence, Digital Infrastructure & Security (we attribute the latter to the explosion in digital scams, of which Singaporeans are among the leading victims globally).

2022

2024

💸 Cost of Living

💸 Cost of Living & Inflation

📊 📈Economy & Jobs

🏘 Housing

🏘 Housing

🩺 Healthcare

🩺 Public Health

📊 📈 Economy & Job Security

🌻 Well-Being

🌻 Well-Being

🌏🌞 Environment & Sustainability

⚓️ CPF & Welfare

⚓️ Social Security & Welfare

♟️ Governance & Leadership

🐔Food Security*

🎓 Education

♟️ Governance & Leadership

🎲 Wealth Inequality & Social Mobility

🕊Safety & Security

🚸 Demography & Ageing

🌏 Immigration & National Interest

🌏 Immigration

🎲 Inequality & Social Mobility

🚇 Public Transport

🫰Racism & Discrimination

🕊 Safety & Security

🎓Education & Human Capital

🌏🌞 Environment & Sustainability

🚸 Demography

🤖 Artificial Intelligence, Digital Infrastructure & Security

🧭 Political Stability*

💰 Corruption/ Transparency & Accountability

🏳️‍🌈🟰Rights & Equality

📢💬 Democracy

📢💬Democracy

⚖️ Justice System

🚇Public Infrastructure

🇸🇬 Culture & Identity

🤖Digital Infrastructure

🫰Racial Discrimination

🇸🇬Culture & Identity

🤗 Inclusion

⚖️ Justice

🌍 International Relations

✊🏽Civil Liberties

✊🏽 Civil Liberties & Human Rights

 

🔫 National Service

 

🏳️‍🌈 LGBTQIA+ Equality

Observation #4: People who are particularly concerned about Singapore’s governance and leadership regard it as more important than everything else.

In general, no matter how we scored the issues, Cost of Living won by a long distance and Housing/ Healthcare/ Economy & Job Security finished clustered below it, with a big gap to the next cluster of issues – with one exception. If we look at the ranking of issues based on the number of times they were ranked #1, one issue breaks the superfecta: Governance & Leadership.

This issue was picked #1 by 85 respondents (joint third), but dropped to 12th among issues picked #2 and 16th for issues picked #3. By points, it finished #8 overall, up from #10 in 2022. In other words, those who identified the issue as of greater importance tended to pick it as the most important issue, and then their other priorities generally fell in line with everyone else, just shifted down by one place.

This suggests that those respondents see all the other issues as dependent on having good leaders with a strong and coherent vision for Singapore. Without good leaders, the other issues are not solvable. 

As noted in the Stage 1 report, responses about governance and leadership in Singapore focused on the capability of the new leaders and what their plans for the future would be, frustration with the destructive and unfair political landscape, and a desire for more competent and stronger opposition. 

Observation #5: Singaporeans are united across race on the importance of the cost and stress of living…

We noted above that Cost of Living won almost every demographic group, but one striking observation is that the general grouping of issues related to the cost and stress of living (Cost of Living, Healthcare, Housing, Economy & Job Security, Well-being, CPF & Welfare) dominated all groups too.

This is striking because in 2022, among those classified or self-identified as “Malays” and “Indians”, Racism & Discrimination finished as #3 for “Malays” and #5 for “Indians”. In 2024, the issue slid far down the rankings. Racial Discrimination finished #13 for “Malays” and #10 for “Indians”. 

Everyone is suffering and struggling.

Observation #6: …but Singapore still has clear differences on racial lines.

Rankings for the “Chinese” reflected the overall rankings due to their numerical dominance. However, as with previous surveys, there were relative differences among the minority “race” groups:

“Malays”

  • Relatively more important: Racial Discrimination, Immigration, Democracy, Justice, International Relations (we can assume the last is particularly because of the ongoing genocide in Gaza).
  • Relatively less important: Safety & Security, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Infrastructure & Security, Environment & Sustainability, Corruption/ Transparency & Accountability.

“Indians”: 

    • Relatively more important: Racial Discrimination, Public Transport, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Infrastructure & Security, Culture & Identity.
    • Relatively less important: CPF & Welfare, Demography & Ageing, Safety & Security.
  • This was the only “race” group where LGBTQIA+ Equality did not finish last. It was edged out by National Service for last place.

“Other races”: 

  • Relatively more important: Safety & Security (this is a perennial relatively more important concern for the other “Other races” group), Civil Liberties & Human Rights.
  • Relatively less important: Governance & Leadership, Immigration, Demography & Ageing.

Observation #7: Broadly, there’s not much difference between “male” and “female” genders.

All issues were within 2-3 places of each other when comparing “male” vs “female” genders, with only one exception: Wealth Inequality & Social Mobility was ranked far higher for the “male” gender (#8, 8,077 points) than for the “female” gender (#13, 6,753 points).

Observation #8: The younger the respondent, the more important “Well-being” was ranked; conversely, the older the respondent, the more important “Healthcare” was ranked.

This is perhaps self-evident: younger people have physical health but are subject to a lot of mental stress via the education system and are most vulnerable to rising global tensions (the climate crisis, late stage capitalism, war). Older people are more secure and are less concerned about global tensions but are physically less fit. They also are more likely to have encounters with the healthcare system. In stage 1, there were numerous complaints about the overcrowding and lack of accessibility of healthcare.

Observation #9: As with 2022, political leadership as an issue was ranked higher in places corresponding with a higher opposition vote in the last General Election; but unlike 2019, there was far greater divergence in the rankings.

Overall, Governance & Leadership ranked #7 (15,473 points). In Stage 1, people worried about whether the PAP’s new “4G” leadership were up to the job, the need to have stronger opposition, complained about “No Action Talk Only” politicians, and wanted to ask politicians what their visions for the future of Singapore were. 

In 2022, it was ranked as #7 in the North-East and as low as #10 in the West. This correlated with voting for the opposition in the last General Election as the North-East includes Hougang, Sengkang, and Punggol, while the West includes Jurong, Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, and Chua Chu Kang.

This year, it was ranked higher in some regions—#6 in the North-East and Central regions—but lower in other regions—in particular, #13 in the East.

Part of this may be the changing nature of the issue. In 2022, Stage 1 responses focused on making politicians more responsive to citizens’ needs, wanting accountability for their promises and actions, ensuring transparency and effectiveness, and Ministerial salaries.

Region

2022 ranking

2024 ranking

Central

8

6

East

8

13

North

8

9

North-East

7

6

West

10

10

Overall

8

7

Other Random Observations

The youngest respondent is unknown as we had a lower age limit of 18, but there were nine 18-year-olds who responded. Their answers were very diverse. The most frequently chosen issue in their Top 5 was, unsurprisingly, Cost of Living & Inflation (six respondents).

The oldest respondents were both male, 79 years old, and lived in Clementi. One selected Cost of Living & Inflation, Housing, Well-Being, Public Transport, and  Healthcare as his top 5 issues in that order. The other selected Housing, Cost of Living & Inflation, Well-BeingHealthcare, and  Education as his top 5.

Please see the interactive datastudio presentation for a further breakdown of demographic data.

Conclusion

The people have spoken! Singaporeans are united in a way that we’ve never seen in our surveys: they feel Singapore is too expensive and they are stressed out. Unlike in previous years, this feeling cuts across race, gender, and age group.

A big THANK YOU once again to everyone who took part in the survey!

What’s Next?

  • We will be running articles and democracy classrooms about these issues over the next few months. If you’d like us to let you know about upcoming articles and democracy classrooms on the above issues, sign up for our weekly newsletter—or, better yet, join as a member to support New Naratif’s mission to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia!
  • A contest! We encourage you to take a look at our raw data here and analyse it. Send us your analyses. We’ll select the best and/or most creative use of our data to be published on NewNaratif.com, and you’ll win a cash prize of US$200.
  • Please share this article and let us know your thoughts! We will highlight the best responses on social media over the next few weeks.

Join the Conversation

Home Forums Singaporeans Speak: The Top 5 Most Important Issues Facing Singapore in 2024

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  • Asmara Wigati

    Administrator
    1 July 2024 at 4:26 pm

    As an outsider, I’ve always seen Singapore as one of the most expensive countries to live in Southeast Asia. I was wondering, how does it come to be in a historical context? What are the traces of Singaporean history that made the country as expensive as it is today?

    • Ping Tjin Thum

      Administrator
      18 July 2024 at 3:00 pm

      This will be answered in my next article on Singapore’s economic model! But the short answer is that a) any major city that attracts a lot of people will naturally become more expensive due to supply and demand, and Singapore has no hinterland to absorb excess population so it is very crowded with people chasing a limited number of goods (particularly, housing, transport, healthcare); b) Singapore’s government does not restrain costs but instead seeks to subsidise Singaporeans’ incomes while relying on economic growth to drive up wages, so it’s okay with prices going up and up; c) high consumption taxes; d) Singapore as an island-city-state imports nearly everything it needs, and in the context of war and pandemic, these have become more expensive.

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Producer & Director: Eze

Camera Operator: Shirree Chee

Co-Editor: Chris Yeo

Starring Pearl Myet Che,

Cherry Khine, and War Lay.

Special thanks to Lee Min-Wei,

Kee Ya Ting, and Ryan Tan.

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