The Johor state election on March 12 will serve as a litmus test for the implementation of Undi18 and automatic voter registration (AVR).
By looking at GE14, Malaysiakini intends to underscore the importance of the younger generation’s votes by looking into the voting trends of the older and younger generations.
An analysis of the results of 7,745 polling districts nationwide showed that BN, which was the then ruling coalition, had the upper hand in winning the votes among the older generation.
However, things were different for BN with regard to the younger generation. Analysis showed that most of the younger voters prefered Harapan or PAS as illustrated in the map below.
Before continuing, Malaysiakini would like to explain its research methodology to the readers.
Here is how we analyse the data
Since there is no direct method of obtaining the data on youth votes, Malaysiakini acquired the voting results of the two groups indirectly from the GE14 scoresheet purchased from the Election Commission. The scoresheet contained the voting results of the polling districts in each parliamentary constituency.
Each district has a certain number of polling streams. The voters are allocated to different polling streams according to their age. The voters’ age range becomes lower when the stream number gets bigger.
For example, the Taman Seremban Jaya polling district in the Rasah parliamentary constituency has 17 streams. Stream 1 was allocated to the most senior voters while the youngest voters voted in stream 17.
Malaysiakini made an editorial decision to incorporate polling districts with at least three polling streams into the analysis. Of these polling districts, only the voting results from the first (oldest) and last (youngest) polling streams were included for the analysis.
Malaysiakini excluded the polling districts with less than three polling streams and with multiple polling centres from the analysis because the under-represented data is insufficient for Malaysiakini to distinguish between the young and old voters. Postal and early votes were ignored as they were not relevant.
The remaining votes used in the analysis at the parliamentary level are termed as “included votes” in this exercise.
Please note that the analysis shown at the parliamentary level may not fully represent the voting trend among the youth mainly for the three reasons below.
First, the number of polling districts won by a political party/coalition with regard to the votes of the youngest voters does not represent the popular votes of the youngest voters.
For example, Harapan winning 87.7 percent of the polling streams with the youngest voters in Selangor does not mean it had the support of 87.7 percent of the youths in the state.
Second, the age range of the first and last streams of each polling district was not fixed and could be quite distinctive from one to another, subject to their voter demographics.
Third. Although most of the parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia had over 80 percent "included votes", they were low in some cases. For example, the Parit constituency had only 47 percent of "included votes'' since many of its polling districts only had one or two polling streams, which were not taken into account for this analysis.
Political analyst Bridget Welsh noted that the younger the voters are, the larger the alienation from BN in GE14, in her journal article titled The 2018 Malaysian General Election: The Return of Mahathir and the Exit of Umno.
Welsh said that voters under the age of 40 comprised over 43.6 percent of the electorate in GE14. Of which, BN only captured 28.4 percent of voters under 30 and 29.2 percent of those aged 31 to 40.
In GE14, pointed out political scientist Wong Chin Huat, there was a significant difference in voting patterns between the youngest and oldest voters in the Malay-majority areas where the younger generation pragmatically voted for a viable alternative.
“With sizeable non-Malays in the West Coast states, especially from Penang southward to Johor, Harapan was the only viable choice.
“While in Kelantan and Terengganu, the obvious alternative was PAS,” he told Malaysiakini.
Echoing Wong, Merdeka Center programme director Ibrahim Suffian noted that while the youth generally supported the strongest non-establishment parties, some Malays on the west coast would vote for the second strongest party, which in some cases was PAS.
It is widely known that the 1MDB scandal dealt a devastating blow to BN in the last general election.
For Muda secretary-general Amira Aisya Abd Aziz, the then ruling coalition’s failure to champion issues affecting the youth and choosing to focus on “old and money” politics was also to blame.
“That did not resonate well with the young people. Meanwhile, Harapan focussed their campaign on tackling the cost of living, providing good governance for the people, and reducing the gap between the working class with better opportunities,” she added.
After Bersatu quit Harapan and formed Perikatan Nasional (PN) with PAS and other political parties, PN emerged as a force that could win over Malay votes from Umno-BN and Harapan as seen in the Malacca state polls last year.
Ibrahim observed a bisected voting trend among Malay voters along age groups, with the young leaning towards PN in a significant way while the older generation stayed with BN.
Commenting on the scenario where the Malay votes had shifted from Harapan to PN, Wong said this was largely the support base of PAS and Bersatu.
The voters who voted for Bersatu in GE14 did not stick with Harapan after the Sheraton Move in 2020, he explained.
Bersatu Youth chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal claimed the swing, especially among the Malay youth, was because Harapan suffered from a trust deficit as it failed to deliver its promises when in power.
He elaborated that the Malays who supported Bersatu in the Malacca polls were mostly fence-sitters, but BN was able to win the election with their traditional support base.
“Of course, there was a certain number of voters who swung back to Umno, but the largest number of younger voters gave chance to PN more than Umno and Harapan,” he told Malaysiakini.
Harapan Youth chief Howard Lee admitted that the coalition suffered due to the low turnout rate and three-cornered fights in semi-urban and rural areas.
He stressed that the nature of a state election is different from national polls as the latter can drive more voters to cast their ballots.
The Election Commission previously estimated there would be 7.8 million new voters in GE15, a 50 percent increase from GE14 following the implementation of automatic voter registration (AVR) and Undi18.
As the veterans draw up plans to win over these ballots, Wong predicted that new voters, who dislike the three major coalitions BN, Harapan and PN, may favour newcomers like Muda.
The young voters, he said, were displeased with how PN handled the Covid-19 situation and BN’s failure in handling the major floods that occurred in the peninsula last year.
They may also be unsatisfied with the performance of the Harapan government and its disarray since the Sheraton Move, he added.
Wong believed that Muda would field candidates against BN and PN, but pointed out that the two coalitions could be minority winners if Muda is unable to swing enough votes from Harapan.
“This would resemble how DAP lost five state seats in Sarawak, where the emerging opposition Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) could not swing enough from the declining opposition party (Harapan), allowing the ruling coalition GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) to snatch easy victories,” he explained.
Muda’s Amira believed that the main concern of this demographic remains the same - bread and butter issues.
“If politicians put themselves in the position of youths today, they would realise how hard it is to make a living in the past 10 to 20 years.
“The cost to own a house is increasing, the youths are doing their best to weather food price hikes, public transportation is limited, internet and education are not necessarily easily accessible,“ said the 27-year-old politician.
She added that Muda would kickstart a roadshow to obtain feedback from the ground on this matter and put forward leaders who can voice out those issues.
The National Youth Survey 2021 conducted by Merdeka Center in early 2021 found that 29 percent of the interviewees agreed that financial difficulties and constraints were their main problem, followed by unemployment (13 percent).
Only slightly more than half of them said they were able to make ends meet, while 44 percent felt that meeting financial obligations “is a struggle these days”. This is particularly prevalent among 55 percent without any university education, the survey found.
On the other hand, Bersatu Youth’s Wan Fayhsal emphasised “job, job and job” as the main concern of the youths.
“Youths don’t want to hear promises, they just want to know the government and private sectors are hiring them. It is not about promising, it is about delivering,” he said.
When it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the young and new voters in GE15, Bersatu and Umno have a similar strategy - field young and fresh faces.
With good strategies and plans such as fielding young and professional candidates alongside a proper and deliverable manifesto, Wan Fayhsal is confident that Bersatu would have the upper hand in the national polls.
Meanwhile, Umno supreme council member Armand Azha Abu Hanifah said the young candidates whom BN fielded in the Malacca election received overwhelming support from the public.
“The policy also must be more friendly to youngsters, such as showing more transparency, integrity, and involve them in policymaking.
“Traditional ways such as organising football games or sports events are not enough,” he said, adding that BN needs to organise more dialogues with the youth to listen to their grouses.
For Harapan, its chances of winning largely depends on the timing of when the election would be held, the sentiment of the ground towards certain current issues, and whether the opposition is united enough to face their opponents, opined Youth chief Lee.
According to the Pasir Pinji state assemblyperson, Harapan may face physical campaign restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic as what happened in last year’s Malacca and Sarawak state elections.
“Physical campaigns enable us to convey the latest information to the voters. The opposition does not control the mainstream media.
“We also cannot effectively convey our messages to the targeted audiences on social media because there is too much (unrelated) information on it,” he pointed out.
He added that certain users on social media would only receive information that strengthened their existing beliefs due to the echo chamber effect, making it harder for Harapan to penetrate certain audiences online.
While Undi18 and AVR have provided more Malaysians with the chance to participate in the election process, it is still unclear whether there would be a surge of people voting in the next general election.
The National Youth Survey 2021 by Merdeka Center found that more than two-thirds of the interviewees expressed no interest in participating in politics.
It also found that 78 percent of the interviewees felt that politics and government seem to be complicated and that they “can’t really understand what is going on”. Sixty-six percent believed that public officials and politicians do not care about what they think.
“The disaffection felt by young voters to politics and the current political climate may breed a deficit of trust to institutions and political figures. If left unchecked, this will lead to lower turnout,” said Ibrahim from Merdeka Center.
However, Amira is optimistic that the young voters would get more involved as the general election is approaching.
“If we pursue a path of old politics, fan the flames of a racial fire and revenge, it will not attract young voters to vote, but if we promote good policies, politics of service, championing the youth, it will garner good support from the youth,” she added.
Conceding that the lack of awareness and the fatigue towards politicking may drive young voters away from the ballot box, Wan Fayhsal suggested that the Election Commission formulate a campaign to encourage them to vote.
The turnout rate of the Malacca and Sarawak state elections was between 60 to 66 percent, which was significantly lower than 82 percent for GE14.
Political scientist Wong would like to see the turnout rate for GE15 to be around 70 percent as the sheer size of the new voters could overturn any election outcome.
“Many safe seats in GE15 may turn into marginal seats. Multi-cornered fights may result in minority winners in many constituencies, more than in GE14. This can, in turn, result in all potential outcomes.
“On one extreme is BN restoring two-thirds majority with possibly just one-third of the votes, a super-majority in seats delivered by a clear minority of votes is likely to induce authoritarianism and corruption,” he cautioned.
The other end of the extreme, he said, would be a hung Parliament with greater fragmentation, which results in short-lived governments that would discourage investment.
“Traditional anti-hopping laws can only deter lawmakers from pulling out of their parties, but cannot deter parties from pulling out from pre-election coalitions or incentivising parties to maintain post-election coalitions or to be responsible opposition.
“Hence, if necessary institutional reforms are not introduced before GE15, the new voters may soon feel disillusioned, which may pave the way for the rise of populist or radical politicians,” he stressed.