WAPOR Asia 2nd Annual Conference: Digital Democracy

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish) Français (French)

The Scope and Limitations of Digital Advancement on Democratization in Asia

Workshops: 26th September 2019

In the lead up to the conference, students and researchers from colleges and universities across the National Capital Region were invited to participate in the WAPOR Workshops Day on Public Opinion Polling during times of conflict. About 100 students from various colleges attended the workshops. 

The first session was conducted by Dr. Holli A. Semetko, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Media and International Affairs at Emory University, USA. Through the examples of the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, as well as the 2016 Presidential Elections in the United States, Dr. Semetko highlighted the characteristics of campaigning in the fourth era of political communication, one that corresponds with the digital age. These include the switch to online communication, the rise of social media, and the globalisation of the campaign industry.

Dr. Robert Chung, the Director of the Public Opinion Programme (POP) at The University of Hong Kong, conducted the second workshop of the day. Calling back to the history and development of public protests as ways of purporting the values of democracy and self-determination, Dr. Chung highlighted how recent public opinion polls and surveys taken after the Umbrella Revolution included the use of digital media, and therefore the value of scientific development, as a vessel for a more globalised mobilisation of various communities. 

The third workshop was led by Dr. Colin Irwin, Research Fellow at the Department of Politics, University of Liverpool. As an expert on public opinion, peace polling and public diplomacy, Dr. Irwin spoke about his experiences running public opinion polls in areas of conflict across the world; include Northern Ireland, Syria, Palestine and Israel, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Sudan. Highlighting the politics of the timing, funding, publication and the interests of the commissioning agencies involved in these polling processes, Dr. Irwin brought to the fore the sensitive nature of running these polls in conflict areas. 

Dr. Pradeep Peiris, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Colombo, led the fourth session on the public opinion polling processes in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Pointing to the use of survey methods, Dr. Peires highlighted that the ongoing reconciliation process is only effective so far as it includes everyone, not only the elite, in the shift to a peaceful society. 

Dr. Syed Arabi Idid, a Professor of Communication at the International Islamic University in Malaysia, led the penultimate workshop on the theme of public opinion and elections in Malaysia. Contextualising the country’s political landscape, from colonial rule, to the democratic elections held between 1959 and 2018, Dr. Idid pointed to the variables which influence voting patterns, including media use, leader attributes and public image and the voter’s own views on economic and socio-cultural issues. 

The last session of the day was led by Team C-Voter founder, Yashwant Deshmukh. Showcasing the results from public opinion surveys undertaken in Jammu & Kashmir, the only one which also included Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Leh in its purview, Mr. Deshmukh highlighted the intricacies and challenges in undertaking such a task given the diversity and sensitive nature of the region within the sub-continent, and across the world.

Conference Day 1: 27th September 2019

Panel 1 : Political Participation and Mobilisation: Evidence from Hong Kong, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Istanbul

The panel began with Edward Tai from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute sharing with the conference attendees the results of a crowd-funded public survey conducted in Hong Kong to gauge the public opinion on the Extradition Law Amendment Bill. The survey found that nearly 70 percent of the respondents opposed the bill, while perceiving Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the police as well as the rest of the government as the most important actors that caused the 2019 crisis.

Following this session, Leo Rando S. Laroza from the Social Weather Stations in Philippines talked about the effects of internet use on voting and activism utilising data from the International Social Survey Programme conducted in 2014. As per the analysis, internet users seemed to have more experience and interest in non-conventional political participation like signing a petition, joining demonstrations and political rallies when compared to conventional forms of political participation involving institutional channels such as voting that are known to traditionally provide legitimacy to a political system.

In the next session, M. Krishnamoorthy, from the Centre for Policy Alternatives, talked about a study he conducted to gauge the level of trust in state institutions, democracy, and overall political participation among the Indian Tamil community in Sri Lanka. The presentation showed that Indian Tamils, making up around 4% of the country’s population are mostly concentrated in the estate sector which has the least availability of civic services. Moreover, they trust local governments more than the Sri Lankan army and have low levels of political participation.

We then had Pahi Saikia from the Indian Institute of Technology of Guwahati and Anil Varughese from the Carleton University in Canada who conducted a case study of areas in Assam under rural development schemes to gauge women’s political participation and social accountability in local self-governing institutions. The study found that in regions with low literacy, widespread poverty and deeply entrenched social hierarchies, mechanisms of social accountability can be used to produce patron-client relations making beneficiaries, particularly women, dependent on the authority of local leaders to receive benefits of welfare schemes.

Concluding the panel, Ali Carkoglu joined us from the Koc University in Turkey, to present the results of a survey conducted of more than 3000 residents of Istanbul before and after the municipal elections of 2019 to understand the reasons behind the defeat of President Erdogan’s AKP party twice in the elections. Local issues like traffic and transportation dominated voter concerns and there was a clear shift of core voters of Erdogan towards the opposition as against the national elections of 2018.


Panel 2: Public Opinion and Attitudes on Issues

The next panel began with Dr Colin Irwin from the University of Liverpool sharing his experiences from conducting peace polls in conflict-torn regions around the world. He talked at length about factors that can affect the process of conducting a peace poll as well as its result. Some of these factors include the timing of the poll, political agenda of funders/supporting agencies and the nature of publication.

We then had Vladymir Joseph Licudine from the Social Weather Stations in Philippines presenting the results of quarterly surveys held to gauge public opinion regarding the current Philippine government’s stance on the country’s long-running West Philippine Sea Dispute with China. The survey found that despite the friendly relations of President Duterte’s government with China, a majority of Filipinos do not trust China as a country. The survey also indicated that a large majority of respondents feel that the Philippines should regain control of islands lost to/occupied by China in the region through military or diplomatic means.

Following this presentation, Matthew Gray from the Australian National University Matthew shared the findings from a survey of 2,150 Australians conducted in October 2018 to ascertain their attitudes towards data privacy and sharing. The survey found that Australians generally support the idea of data sharing for use in research and within government. However, there is much less support for linking of multiple data sources as the benefits of this process for individuals requires explanation. The survey also found that people display low levels of trust in social media companies.

In the next session, Toni Makkai, also from the Australian National University, presented the results of a national survey conducted in Australia to ascertain the relationship between political preferences and charitable donations. The respondents in the survey had the option of either receiving a gift voucher or opt for an equivalent amount of money to be donated to charities. The results showed that left-leaning individuals, seniors and better educated people are more likely to donate. The survey also found that anti-elitism and lack of political interest disincentivize donations.

Jibum Kim from the Sungkyunkwan University in Korea concluded the panel by highlighting the results of their study on the relationship between religious affiliation and attitudes towards sexual permissiveness using the Korea General Social Survey of 2008-2018. The results of the study indicated that in case of protestants, a stronger religious affiliation is associated with less permissive attitudes towards homosexual relations and premarital sex.    


Panel 3 : Surveys, Samples, Credibility and Public Opinion

The panel began with Winnie Lee, Alice Siu and Robert Chung from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute giving an insight into the recently launched multi-client, probability- and non-probability-based, independent, online and telephone panels in Hong Kong. With the introduction of these panels, researchers can access responses from the pre-screened and representative population samples for quality data collection.

Following this session, Gerardo A. Sandoval, Leo Rando S. Laroza and Gianne Sheena S. Sabio from the Social Weather Stations shared with the audience findings of a nationwide survey conducted on crime victimization, public safety and illegal drug trade, spanning a period of three decades, in the Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. The survey indicated general satisfaction amongst the population with the administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign with a wide-spread scepticism concerning the role of the local police officials in illegal drug trading, extrajudicial killings and planting of evidence against trafficking suspects.

Next, Shasik Silva from the Social Scientists’ Association of Sri Lanka.

Julie de Jong from the University of Michigan then talked about how despite alternate survey modes such as online surveys are gaining in popularity, face-to-face interviewer-administered surveys remain a common mode in survey research in Asia today due to the limited penetration of other modes and/or the lack of high quality sampling frames in many countries. She also highlighted various error sources particularly vulnerable in interviewer-administered surveys and approaches to minimize these errors.

In the next session, O. Venkat Sai and Sruti Mohanty from Outline India highlighted the challenges of traditional survey methods, the advent of technology and the subsequent changes in the processes of data collection. They focused on the ethical protocols necessary for modern-day data collection, the complexities in following these protocols and the threat to the safety faced by participants of survey processes.

Concluding the conference on Day 1, Juhi Shrestha, an independent researcher from Nepal highlighted the challenges and opportunities of conducting mobile phone surveys in Nepal based the Enhanced Vocational Education and Training Project-II and the Household Risk and Vulnerability Survey of the World Bank Group. Juhi shared with the audience that with growing household ownership of cell phones, mobile phone-based survey is not as difficult as one might expect it to be, people are much more receptive to this method of survey and it is less time consuming than household surveys.


Day 2: 28
th September 2019

Panel: Public Opinion, Political Capital, Participation & Media Use

The panel began with Neeraj Prasad and H. Zeynep Bulutgil from the OP Jindal University in India and Tufts University in the USA respectively who developed a theoretical framework to study the relationship between economic inequality and ethnic party success in India. Their findings showed that the nature of the relationship was dependent on the type of group and the type of inequality in question. Specifically, it also showed that within group inequality boosts the chances of elite ethnic group parties while decreasing the chances of non-elite ethnic group parties. It also confirmed the conventional expectation that high between group inequality increases support for ethnic parties.

In the next session, Dr Pradeep Peiris from the University of Colombo presented on the possibility of reforming the Sri Lankan constitution through democratic processes. Dr Pradeep conducted a survey of 2300 respondents across Sinhalese and Tamil ethnicities to study their knowledge of the Sri Lankan Constitution and their awareness on the scope and procedure of constitutional reforms, both factors impacted significantly by the ethnic identity of an individual.

We then had Professor Christian W Haerpfer from the University of Vienna and the United Arab Emirates University talk proposed a theory on the traditional and digital forms of political capital. The application of this theory was studied across ten Asian countries, which included an analysis of political behaviour of citizens, with a focus on political knowledge, interest, science of politics and political discussion.

Following this presentation, Eric Chen-hua Yu from the National Chengchi University in Taiwan Eric Chen-hua Yu shared his insights into the rise in the usage of the internet and the change in the media environment in the context of elections and campaign information, as well as the varied channels voters use to obtain their political information. His key finding was that while media consumption does not have a strong link to traditional voting behaviour, social media can be linked to non-conventional political participation.

Concluding the panel, Christian Michael Entoma from the Social Weather Stations in Philippines shared the findings from Wave 5 of the Asian Barometer Survey conducted in 2018 which looked at whether using the internet or social media affected one’s leanings towards authoritarian or democratic values in Philippines, a nation that has had both democratic and authoritarian governments in the past. Initial values of the survey showed that Filipinos score high on support for political equality but do not necessarily show support for pluralism, political liberty, separation of power, popular accountability and secularism.

Panel: Public Opinion and Party Support in Malaysia & India

The panel began with Dr. Syed Arabi Idid from the International Islamic University of Malaysia resented his observations on the result of the 14th general elections of Malaysia in which Malaysia’s ruling party since independence, the Barisan Nasional, was defeated by Pakatan Harapan. Dr. Idid contextualised the defeat within the political history of Malaysia and the events leading up to the elections. He also presented the results of some of his recent polls on the sentiments of the people regarding the new government in which more than 60% of respondents said they were happy with the new dispensation, with the Chinese and Indians most satisfied and the Malays least satisfied with the change.

Following this session, Pahi Saikia, Holli. A. Semetko, Jon Mellon, Anup Kumar and Anil Varughese, from the Indian Institute of Technology Guhawati, Emory University in the USA, University of Manchester, Cleveland State University and Carleton University in Canada respectively, presented their findings from a study of the events in the run-up to the 2019 General Elections in India including Balakot, the National Registry of Citizens and the surgical strike, and their impact on party support and public opinion with a primary focus on the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress.

Next, Subhasish Ray from the National University of Singapore whose study is focussed on how a history of past conflict affects public opinion of incumbent and opposition parties prior to elections and how does this affect change over time. His survey in 13 Maoist affected assembly constituencies of Junglemahal region in West Bengal offers a novel trend analysis of political attitudes in a post-civil war context using preliminary regression analysis of the data collected.

We then had Vivek Gangarapu, Madhav Sharma and Shreya Maskara from PolStrat, India who studied the role women played in elections, including their role as a candidate, a voter and of an influencer. They used data from local self-governing institutions and the central government to analyse how the representation of women in Indian politics had changed over time, and suggested ways in which the women’s representation can be improved.

Concluding the panel were Yashwant Deshmukh and Abdul Mannan from C-Voter, India, who presented on the voter behavior of Muslim Minorities in India in the 2019 Lok Sabha Election. Based on exit polls and voter surveys, they studied how the Muslim minority and its various subgroups voted, the key issues that influenced and swung their votes as well as a comparison between the popularity specific political leaders saw between 2014 and 2019 and what events may have made them more or less favourable.

 Panel: The Importance of Data Preservation and Archiving

The panel began with distinguished librarian and data archivist Daniel C. Tsang highlighting the importance of modern surveys as an invaluable resource for obtaining data for historical analysis and studying social change. He also stressed on how the application of survey methods to the study of politics as well as political behavior, both as a technique for gathering data as well as an intellectual orientation toward a field of study, has become the most important research procedure in the behavioural study of politics, and is being increasingly adopted by non-behaviourists as well.

Gerardo A. Sandoval from Social Weather Stations in Philippines highlighted how archives and domain repositories that preserve and disseminate social and behavioural data perform a critical service to the scholarly community and to society at large, ensuring that these culturally significant materials are accessible in perpetuity. Thus, archived qualitative data remains a rich and unique, yet too often unexploited, source of research material through the years which can be reanalysed, reworked, and compared with contemporary data.

Pradeep Peiris from University of Colombo stressed on the need for making data mass accessible in public domains and ensuring equitable distribution of findings of data collectors as much valuable information is currently proprietary and therefore, unreachable. His presentation identified common oversights in designing the research tool, sampling, data collection, analysis and reporting, to be avoided by researchers if their work is to be valid, credible and widely accessible.

Talking about the state and development of public opinion survey and polling in Malaysia, Syed Arabi Idid from International Islamic University discussed with the audience the differences in approach to studying public opinion under democratic versus authoritarian governments on various issues such as trust in government and social institutions, race relations, social values and economic issues.