by Daniel Yap
MUCH has been made about the role of new citizens and their effects on the recent General Election results; I have received text messages from friends, family and strangers claiming that it was new citizens who accounted for the 9.8 per cent vote swing between 2011 and 2015.
Singapore can’t survive without new citizens, so the G says, not with our current Total Fertility Rate at 1.29. But along with the naturalisation of new citizens comes tensions, especially around election season. It is assumed that all or nearly all new citizens will vote for the PAP. It is an idea that has gained some popularity here and around the world. It is true that granting citizenships or allowing immigrants in en masse has had the potential to manipulate the vote in other countries, sometimes through potential loopholes in the system as in the case of the USA, and at other times quite blatantly.
One category of messages on the topic makes a claim that the new citizen voting bloc was nearly entirely responsible for the shift in the PAP’s favour. The text points to the number of votes cast in 2011 (2,060,373) and 2015 (2,462,926). The difference of 402,533, the message says, cannot be accounted for by births, lesser deaths and it makes the conclusion that there were more than 300,000 new citizens between 2011 and 2015. This conclusion is erroneous.
One should have first looked at the number of electors – which went from 2,350,873 to 2,460,977, an increase of just 110,104. So why were there so few votes cast in 2011? Tanjong Pagar was not contested. That’s 139,771 voters. Also, 8,000 more people did not turn up to vote in 2015 compared to 2011, perhaps the effect of school holiday trips that were booked long before elections were announced. There were 47,315 rejected votes in 2015, about the same rejection rate as 2011 (just over 2 per cent), but this had little impact on the results.
Singaporeans born between 1991 and 1994 would have turned 21 between 2011 and 2015. During those years, there were just under 50,000 births per year. In 1990, 86 per cent of the people in Singapore were citizens, so I’ll make the assumption that we added 160,000 voters through births. There were about 18,500 deaths a year between 2011 and 2015, for a sum of 74,000, but not all of these were citizen deaths. Even if we include these, our net is about 86,000 more Singaporeans voting.
But to find out how many new citizens joined us between 2011 and now, you just have to Google.
A simple search of NPTD’s last population in brief report (page 13, for the truly lazy) from September 2014 (I hope we will get the next one soon) will show the number of new citizens for 2011, 2012 and 2013 – a total of 57,042. Extrapolating that to 2014 and 2015 (I’m being generous here by including numbers from before May 2011 and after September 2015) and you’re looking at about 100,000 new citizens and perhaps a quarter to a third of them are children, since new citizens tend to be young to middle age adult families.
Therefore, the new citizen voting bloc was at most 75,000 strong, or perhaps even as small as 50,000 (if we assume one-third children and take it at 75,000 new citizens because of the May 2011 and September 2015 cutoffs). That is at most 4 per cent of the electorate, which is not even half of the vote swing, assuming that every single new citizen voted for PAP, which might not even be the case.
I know the numbers I’m guesstimating don’t add up now. The 160,000 Singapore-born voters, less 86,000 deaths, plus 75,000 new citizens is 149,000, way more than the 110,104 additional electors. Perhaps some of the 150,000 people who didn’t vote in 2011 still had their voting rights suspended. No statistics is available for this (maybe my MP can ask in Parliament? I’m curious). There are also very spare statistics for people who gave up their citizenships. Many of my numbers here are best guesses, but the claims in the message about 300 or 400 thousand new citizens swinging the vote are as mythical as a unicorn.
Back to an earlier point: Why would I say these new citizens didn’t all vote for the PAP? Because from 2006 and 2011, PAP lost 6 per cent of the popular vote, and we were also bringing in about 100,000 new citizens.
But as to why there is so much traction for inaccurate facts like this, I would say it is just human nature to want to explain a shocking result. Who better to blame than “foreigners”? Even when they are Singaporeans.
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