The key to victory lies in the fence sitters who are mostly ‘politically eager and impressionable’ but still have yet to decide which party they identify with.
FROM fence sitters to game-changers and possible kingmakers.
“Political parties and their workers need to impress on the undecided voters that their party should be the party of choice,” says political analyst Professor Datuk Seri Dr Syed Arabi Syed Abdullah Idid.
This is especially crucial with young and urban voters who make up a majority of the undecided, he adds.
“Young registered voters are sizeable in number and they can sway or decide on the winning party or candidate.”
Dr Syed Arabi points to a recent study by Kajidata Research which found that many Malaysian youths are still unsure of which party they trust and identify with to run the country.
According to its survey, over half of 1,000 youth polled (51.8%) said they were undecided on which party they want to be aligned with. Out of those who have decided, 23.5% said they could relate best with Barisan Nasional, followed by 18.2% with Pakatan Harapan. PAS had the support of 6.5% of the respondents.
Similarly, more than half polled (53%) admitted they were unsure which political party could bring prosperity to the country, while 23.7% voiced confidence in Barisan and 11.6% chose Pakatan.
PAS is the party that young people have least faith in (5%) for Malaysia’s development.
And when asked about which party they thought would win in the upcoming general election, a majority (56%) said they could not decide.
Most of the youth polled (88.4%) professed their interest in politics, with 33.9% claiming to closely follow current affairs, particularly political developments in the country.
However, their uncertainty on various points shows that although most of them are politically aware, they are still not politically savvy, says Dr Syed Arabi, who is Kajidata adviser and research supervisor.
“You can see it from how unsure the majority of respondents are when questioned about political parties and issues.”
He, nevertheless, stresses the importance for political parties to understand young voters’ sentiment and their expectations of the political leadership.
It is especially crucial if they are to plan an effective GE14 campaign as “this resounding sentiment is shared by all ethnicity in the country,” he says.
The respondents – aged 21 to 35 and randomly selected – comprised 58% Malays, 20% Chinese, 9.5% Indians, 8% Sabah bumiputra, 3.3% Sarawak bumiputra, 0.3% orang asli and 0.8% others.
To tap the young voters’ support, an area that the political parties need to prioritise is their selection of the “right” candidates, says Dr Syed Arabi, citing his 2011 study that found young voters are increasingly scrutinising the candidates before making their decision.
The study showed that voters who made their choice based on the candidates increased from 22% to 40%, while the percentage of voters deciding based on party decreased from 78% to 59%.
“The young voters look at the candidates because they cannot identify with the parties. The parties are losing their historical touch among the young.
“So, the young voters look for candidates who they can find affinity with (whether race, aspirations or attributes similar to them),” he says.
Political parties and candidates also need to formulate youth-friendly policies and highlight issues that matter to this demographic group.
“For instance, a majority of young voters are either renting or staying with their parents. So the high cost of living and housing is a concern to them,” says Dr Syed Arabi.
To win over these young voters, he says the parties and candidates need to present their stand through the platforms of these youths and in their language.
He highlights the TN50 dialogue sessions as a good way to engage them but questions how many of those attending the sessions are actually registered voters.
He cites the Election Commission’s record which showed that close to 3.8 million Malaysians who are eligible to vote have not registered, a majority of whom are young.
Earlier this week, it was reported that EC chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim Abdullah had urged new voters not to wait until the 11th hour to register as it would take them four to five months to get a voter on the electoral roll. Calling them more “open” in the exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily, Mohd Hashim also said that youth tend to be more easily swayed by the political situation, their emotions and social media when deciding which party to support.
But it is not just the young who are undecided, says Dr Syed Arabi.
Referring to a study he did for the National Council of Professors Special Project on Media, Democracy and Electoral Systems and the International Islamic University Malaysia in April, he says there are also voters in the middle-age demographic and those from the rural areas who are undecided.
The opinion poll, which surveyed randomly selected 1,326 people throughout the country, revealed a diverse profile of undecided voters: 56% are married; 63% have children while 11% are childless and 68% are homeowners.
Like the undecided young voters, the older but undecided voters appear to have the same concerns about the economy, security and crime, says Dr Syed Arabi.
Similarly, they are identifying less with any specific political party.
Those who are identifying with a political party may not fit the usual “boxes”, he says.
“Opposition supporters including for PAS are getting more professional with higher education and higher income while Barisan is drawing more lower educated and low-income voters.
“When people have low income and low education, they are not able to look far – their concerns are their immediate circumstances, so issues of job opportunities and wages will sway them.”
To widen their support base, parties need to balance the bread-and-butter issues like cost of living with abstract issues like human rights.
However, Dr Syed Arabi says this voter indecisiveness is not surprising, as it takes time for voters to make up their mind.