Governance of a City-State
Political blogs from the 2011 to the coming election

During the last general election in 2011 and the Hougang by-election in 2012, we began two studies to understand the influence of blogs in the context of a general election. In the 2011 general election, we reviewed 764 blog posts from 200 blogs. In the 2012 by-election, we surveyed voters for their opinions on election issues and compared these to online opinions from 170 blog posts. In the studies, we examined two questions: were the issues raised in the blogs different from the ones highlighted by the mainstream media? Was there diversity in the way each issue was discussed and deliberated?

Who set the agenda?

On 20 April 2011, a week before Nomination Day, The Straits Times published an article listing 11 issues expected to be of concern to the electorate. These issues were: scholars in opposition; hot seats; 4G (fourth generation) leadership; “Y-Fi” access (this refers to the engagement of younger, Gen-Y voters); new benchmarks; cost of living; unease towards foreigner, just to name a few. Our results show that the issues within the blogosphere were different, with the common ones being those relating to “bread and butter” topics such as cost of living. In other words, bloggers were raising and furthering discussions on issues not highlighted by the mainstream media. One example was the issue of governance, where posts discussed the quality of the government and the effectiveness of its policies. This made up 14% of the total issues surfaced within the blogosphere.

During the election, we also found evidence of links to articles on mainstream media within blog posts. The links were mostly one-way, with blog posts linking to and commenting on articles in mainstream media. Today, the communication is dialogical, with bloggers and mainstream media increasingly dependent on each other for news and sentiments. It may no longer be meaningful to compare who is setting the agenda when the reality is that both of them do. Nonetheless, one thing is for sure: bloggers have a prominent voice in the way they contribute to and develop political discussion. Election-related information is no longer confined to the mainstream media, as evident from the presence of reporters from Yahoo! Singapore, and The Middle Ground, when various political parties introduce their candidates for the upcoming election.

“Online” opinion not just reflective of the vocal minority

The common perception in 2011, and even today, is that political views online are more likely to be anti-PAP. Our findings from 2011 show that while anti-PAP sentiments were very visible online, they did not represent the entire spectrum of views generated online. The valence of views (whether they were supportive, critical or neutral towards the PAP and opposition parties) also differed depending on the issues discussed. In other words, the blogosphere cannot be understood or labelled generally. Rather, one must look within the context of the issue of concern. When the issues resonated with the general electorate (such as cost of living or population growth), online discourse was not that different from “offline” sentiments. We confirmed this in our subsequent study of online and offline opinions on issues during the Hougang by-election in 2012. For example, the hot-button issues like cost of living and foreigners expectedly received criticism online. Offline, the general population presented similar discontent towards the government’s handling of these issues.

Online-offline boundaries are eroding quickly. With the many alternative media platforms that have emerged since the last election, we expect this trend to continue. Our studies indicate greater consonance in online-offline views among the younger generation. Singapore is a wired nation, where almost all its younger citizens are connected to the Internet, mostly through computers and mobile devices on a 24/7 basis. Socio-structural factors such as education and income that may constrain political participation online in less connected countries do not apply to the younger demographic here. Our digital natives turn to digital content first. Many do not even consume traditional news media anymore. Online discourse is not only representative of the opinions of the younger generation, they are also influential in shaping their worldview. The upcoming election will have a larger percentage of digital natives voting. Our older voters too have become increasingly Internet-savvy. With this changing digital demographic, we can expect closer alignment of online discourse this coming election with ground sentiments.


Dr Natalie Pang is an Assistant Professor at Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information and Assistant Director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre, Nanyang Technological University.

Dr Debbie Goh is an Assistant Professor of journalism and publishing at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. 

This is an excerpt from two publications co-authored by Natalie and Debbie. The first is a conference paper which is available here, and the other is a chapter called “Pro, Anti, Neutral: Political Blogs and their Sentiments” in H. Tan, A. Mahizhnan, &  P.H. Ang. (Eds.), Battle for Hearts and Minds New Media and Elections in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2015, p. 73 – 94.

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