Hot Button Issues…

What are the hot-button issues?
by Loh Chee Kong, TODAY Newspaper Mar 28, 2011 (original site here)

SINGAPORE – As the drumbeats of the General Election get louder by the day, a survey of 618 voters commissioned by Today has found that the rising cost of living here is more likely to influence how the voters cast their ballot than supposedly hot-button issues such as the influx of foreigners or housing.

For some political watchers the results came as a surprise.

The survey, conducted earlier this month via telephone by Media Research Consultants, is statistically representative of HDB dwellers, the findings weighted by the national profile for gender, age, race and HDB housing type. The survey, however, does not cover voters living in private properties.

The result, which political watchers found the most interesting: Almost 7 in 10 voters (65.5 per cent) said that the issue of foreigners – the influx and its side effects will not affect their vote at the GE.

This finding was backed up by the fact that slightly more than half the voters (55.3 per cent) felt that the steps taken by the Government to slow down the influx of foreigners and to sharpen the differentiation between citizens and non-citizens have been “adequate” to address their concerns.

Trying to reconcile the survey findings with the widely held perception, especially in cyberspace, that foreigners are the hot-button issue of this General Election, independent scholar Derek da Cunha noted that there is “tendency among the majority of Singaporeans to avoid controversy by making only politically correct statements”. Dr da Cunha added: “I am quite sure that the issue of the influx of foreigners into Singapore is more significant than many people would care to admit openly.”

But having said that, when it comes to concerns on the influx of foreigners, the perception that it has led to greater congestion on buses and MRT trains was the concern most often cited by voters edging out other concerns such as the erosion of the national identity, a difficulty in integration or a feeling of being a second-class citizen.

On the housing front, framed broadly as a question of availability and affordability of public housing, the survey found that only 4 in 10 voters (41.6 per cent) said that this issue would influence how they plan to vote. Almost 6 in 10 (58.4 per cent) said that the issue would not have any effect how they vote.

This was despite the fact that opinions were quite evenly split – 47.6 per cent saying yes and 52.4 per cent saying no – when asked if the slew of measures taken by the Government to cool the private property market and to help Singaporeans buy a HDB flat have been adequate to address concerns.

The one issue that has lived up to its “hot-button” billing was the rising cost of living. An overwhelming 8 in 10 voters surveyed said they were worried about rising costs in their daily lives – be it when they were buying basic necessities at the supermarket, or a meal at the food court, or going to a polyclinic or planning to buy a new car or even going on a vacation.

Political analyst Eugene KB Tan observed: “There is an inverse relationship between the perceived effectiveness of the measures taken to address the hot-button issue and the effect it will have on how the respondents vote at the GE.”

As to why the cost of living was the hottest of issues, the assistant professor at Singapore Management University noted that it was “intimately connected with perceived standard of living, it affects spending propensity and is regarded as also impacting the future.”

Institute of Policy Studies faculty associate Tan Ern Ser said the survey showed that all three issues were “significant” to varying extents.

“However, I must add that cost of living is pretty salient at this point in time, affecting most people … while housing affects a smaller proportion of people, probably those in their late 20s and 30s – some of whom have never voted before,” said the sociologist.

While offering some insight into the psyche of heartland voters, the survey throws up a relevant question: Could more grassroots concerns such as covered walkways, the frequency of feeder buses, or housing estate facilities turn out to have a greater impact on how voters decide to cast their ballot?

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