Marketers love to segment customers, because it helps them size markets and understand and predict consumer behaviour so they can design better targeted offerings. The only segments local politicians seem to talk about are “pro-PAP”, “anti-PAP” and “swing” voters. I think that’s really insufficient, so here’s my take on how to segment “opposition” supporters into three segments, which I’ve labelled as the good, bad and the ugly.
The supporters in this category understand politics and know that there is no such thing as “opposition” parties per se, only a set of parties contesting for power. They look for a party which has values that are aligned to their fundamental beliefs, and when they find such a party, they will stick with the party through thick or thin.
To use an American example, the Republican party has certain core values, eg. conservative, pro-life, religious, anti-gay rights, pro- business, hawkish. Hence it attracts supporters who are aligned with its core beliefs—rich and middle class whites, married couples, rednecks, Bible-belt and military types, etc. who share their values.
Sadly there aren’t many parties in Singapore that can appeal to Singaporeans in this manner. The PAP is first in this regard because it has a very clear set of values by its founder—conservative, authoritarian, top-down, state above individual, “Asian” values, etc. It thus appeals to an older generation of Singaporeans who are willing to accept such directive leadership and whose values are aligned with the party’s.
The only other party which could claim such an appeal is the Workers’ Party. As a party founded to speak up for workers, WP should be an epitome of all the labour movements in the world, and should share the same basic philosophies of Labour all around the world— pro-worker, anti-establishment, anti-big business, committed to reducing or eliminating class differences, etc. When JBJ was leading the Workers Party, it was indeed very much focused on blue-collar workers’ issues, workers’ rights, etc. But I don’t know if this still shows through in today’s WP.
The “opposition” supporters in this category don’t really support “opposition” parties per se, although they may vote “opposition” over PAP. What they really support is the ideas or ideals these “opposition” parties stand for—human rights, rule of law, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. They feel the PAP has not accommodated their demands in these respects. But deep down in their hearts, they actually still want the PAP to run the country. Thus they vote for “opposition” not because they really support them per se, but because the PAP is not giving them what they want. In truth, they want the PAP to change much more than they want the “opposition” to succeed.
Such supporters are bad because they’ll vote for any decent “opposition” chap, regardless of party, as long as he shares their beliefs of human rights, rule of law, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. But by implication, they’ll vote PAP if the PAP gives them what they want, or even if it just makes a promise to give them what they want. This makes them very dangerous, fair-weather friends.
The “opposition” supporters in this category are “ugly” because they don’t really support the opposition per se. Rather, they are really out to oppose the PAP. They actually hate the PAP, they hate the system the PAP has created, they even hate anyone who gives any kind of credit to the PAP for anything they’ve done well.
Such “supporters” can be found on many websites, such as TR and TOC. They spend their time criticising everything the PAP does. Every single thing that goes wrong they blame on the PAP. Even when the PAP does something good, they criticise the PAP for not going far enough.
They “like” the PAP Facebook site so they can flame the PAP, and they often end up hurling expletives at the PAP supporters. They even attack other “opposition” parties for being “wayang opposition”. They believe in conspiracy theories and think ISD is going to arrest them at any time.
Such “supporters” always vote for “opposition” whenever they have a chance, so they can get back at the PAP. Frankly, even if the “opposition” put up a monkey for election, they would still vote for “opposition”.
While such “supporters” can be counted on for their votes, I think it’s just plain unhealthy for any “opposition” party to build a support base through anti-PAP sentiments. I feel sad that such a segment exists among the voters. It is of course a sad reflection of Singapore politics that the frustrations of Singaporeans have not been legitimately expressed and has thus polarised society.
I do understand that the dynamics of Singapore politics are totally different from that in mature democratic countries. Most Singaporeans (including “opposition” politicians) don’t even understand the real meaning of opposition. Most political parties in Singapore, with the exception of the PAP and WP, are less than 50 years old and thus it may be difficult for them to talk about core values and fundamental beliefs.
Marketers often talk about brand promise as a way to distinguish oneself from competitors. For instance the Apple brand stands for innovation, creativity and simplicity, while Microsoft stands for something quite different (and quite negative).
I thus hope that over time, both Singaporeans and the parties themselves will recognise that parties should stand for more than freedom, democracy or justice. Just like people associate PAP with certain values—conservative, authoritarian, “Asian” values, no mercy, etc.—I hope in time people will get a clear idea of what WP really stands for, what RP really stands for, etc.
Without such clear brand identities the parties risk losing support when the political tide turns.