Thursday, 3 July 2014

PAP Faces Huge Challenges of Peer Effects and Threshold Changes

If we compare now and 20 years ago, we will be able to see the difference in peer effects and threshold of public trust on the PAP government. The same 60% PAP obtained in GE1991 and GE2011 indicates a very different picture, from basic statistics to speakers' corner and voicing out.

Only one-third Singapore voters participated in GE1991 and in many ways this is a bias sampling of opinions. GE2011 with more than 90% voters and PE2011 with 100% voters participation, both provide a better represented population statistics. When the PAP studies the trend and statistics, they have to quietly admit that public trust on government performance is certainly declining.

This trend continues after GE2011 as clearly indicates in the various Speakers' Corner events at Hong Lim Park. Whether you call them social movements or political discontents, they all show some degree of peer effects and a low threshold of approving the PAP.

Peer effects is easier to understand. You join, your friend joins and your friend's friends will also join. This happens in Facebook, in twitters or social media etc. However, to generate a large group participation, an activity needs a different and changed threshold than before, a lower threshold will stimulate more participation.

Professor Scott E Page of University of Michigan in his discussion about model thinking of peer effects argues that a change in threshold can stimulate a bigger peer effects, like the Berlin Wall, Arab Spring or Orange Revolution in Ukraine. These peer effects in fact caught many, even experts, 'off guard' and out of expectation.

Professor Page said, “Each person has a threshold. And the expression is like, how many other people would have to join the movement in order for them to join the movement.”  [You may view the video below @1.45 min to under the logic of threshold.]

This is like the Chinese saying of everyone has a ruler to judge the performance of  the PAP. However, the measurement will change from time to time. The passing mark can change and also it will be influenced by others too.  

The Singapore case

Peer effects
Low - media control
High - Public trust?
High - social media
Low - Public trust

Why does threshold make the difference?

First, we have to give credit to those people who voice out against the PAP policies – past and present. They keep on reminding us there is a threshold of public trust on the government. However, the same reminder in the past and present receives different level of threshold and peer effects.

Without the oppositions we will never see the change in threshold level and hence, the result of peer effects. Just imagine the case of JBJ, with the current threshold level of social injustice and the alternative media, if there is any social crowdfunding for his defamation case against the PAP leaders, it will certainly draw a large crowd and supports than before.

In 1990s, Singaporeans generally had different threshold of tolerance against the PAP government as compared to today. People are more demanding now. MRT, bus services, child care, primary one registration, public hospitals, National Service, CPF, you name them, you will see a lower threshold, a lower acceptance level, a lower passing mark.

A lower threshold also means the PAP receives less respect from the people. Less respect can also mean Singaporeans are trusting the PAP less. Hence, it is a lower public trust.

In the past, when the PAP made mistakes, like the case of Mas Selamat, the mainstream media would give them a good cover and projecting another picture and image. Artificially, the media helped to maintain a higher level of tolerance threshold for the PAP. Hence, public peer effects wouldn't take place. Same for many ISA and defamation cases, the one-side story prevented peer effects to take place. It may also due to what the PAP always stresses that the economy and prosperity are keys for Singaporeans, other things are secondary. So, we have stagnant threshold and stagnant peer effects for many years.

This also reflects in the general elections. In 1991, there was a small breakthrough and the oppositions got 4 MP seats. It went down to two later. The key point here is since 1981, we always have opposition MP in the parliament. A small group of Singaporeans believe in checks and balances. Even threshold is low and no peer effects, they continue to support a political discourse. The PAP tried to contain and restrict the change in threshold and peer effects by changing the election rules. And they are very successfully in the past.

This is why a loss in GRC is significant to Singaporeans and the PAP. Voters will adjust their threshold level that will affect the final peer effects of voting pattern in future. Singaporeans have supported opposition MP, from one, two, to six and seven. This means the threshold level is changing in favour of the opposition. This is what some academics call a honeymoon for the opposition. A weakening threshold of support for the PAP will certainly result to a strong peer effects and supports to the oppositions.

When will the threshold and peer effects stop changing and reach a new equilibrium? Or when will the honeymoon be over? This is an open question. Of course, the PAP hopes to put a stop on it by introducing and changing many social policies. But will it work?

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