“Fifteen questions. Ten parties. Five minutes.”
These six words greet visitors to electionaire.info, a website designed by five third-year Yale-NUS students leading up to Singapore’s most recent general election. In less than three weeks, the website, which consists of a 15-question survey addressing major political issues in this year’s election, went from conception to viral online resource, hitting 182,052 users in nine days.
Electionaire’s success leading up to the Singaporean general election coincided with an equally pivotal moment in national politics. The parliamentary election, which took place on Sept. 11, was the first since Singapore’s independence in 1965 which saw all seats contested. It was also the first election since the death of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, in March. Lee’s death, coupled with Singapore’s 50th anniversary in August, raised questions in the public domain about whether Singapore has outgrown its paternalistic style of government, as a younger generation moves away from the country’s more conservative roots.
Less than three weeks before election day, the five Yale-NUS students — Koh Wei Jie YNUS ’17, Maggie Schumann YNUS ’17, Sean Chung YNUS ’17, Rohan Naidu YNUS ’17 and Parag Bhatnagar YNUS ’17 — noticed that there was no centralized site where voters could find succinct party positions on various hot-button issues. By digging through 10 parties’ manifestos, public statements and websites, the students hoped to create a platform where viewers could easily compare their own views to those of the parties.
“We looked at all the manifestos and tried to look at common themes amongst them or issues that came up frequently,” Schumann said. “We wrote them into a series of questions that matched people to a final outcome, and then they could see the distance between their answer and the party’s answer.”
Each question on the survey can be answered either “Yes,” “Neutral,” “No,” or with a qualified “Yes” or “No.” Questions topics range from the expansion of civil liberties, government spending on health care and Section 377A, which criminalizes sexual acts between men. Once each question has been answered, the site generates the user’s results based on how precisely his or her views matched with those of each party.
Bhatnagar said a main goal of the site was to start a discussion among students at Yale-NUS and in Singapore at large. Schumann added that through the team’s research, the students realized just how difficult it was to make an informed decision based on the views of every party.
“No one goes out and thinks about exactly what you think on every issue and puts them on a spread sheet,” Schumann said. “I realized this was a resource for people.”
Each of the founders agreed that while it is not easy to distill an election’s main issues into 15 questions, there was a fear that a longer survey would cause users to lose their attention.
Koh and Schumann spent the bulk of the website’s development researching various party platforms while Chung and Bhatnagar worked on the creation of the site itself. Survey questions were evaluated by a Yale-NUS sociology professor and the college’s executive vice president, Tan Tai Yong, who is also a nominated member of parliament but does not represent any political party.
In the first five and a half hours after the site was launched, 4,440 users took the Electionaire survey. That number jumped to nearly 126,000 in the first two days and to over 177,000 in the first six days. The students credited Electionaire’s success to mentions of the site on Reddit Singapore and local news channels, as well as Facebook promotion.
Feroz Khan YNUS ’18, said that though his political views were already quite clear when he took the Electionaire survey, he thought the site served a unique purpose in Singapore.
“Singapore has far too many opposition political parties with scattered-seeming agendas, and in some cases, almost indistinguishable agendas,” Khan said. “I didn’t have to do any soul searching to answer the questions, but what [the site] did clarify were the stances of each party.”
Given the site’s popularity, Koh stressed the fact that the site does not violate Singapore’s Parliamentary Elections Act, which prohibits the collection of election surveys between Nomination Day, when prospective candidates present their nomination papers, and Polling Day, when votes are cast. Koh and his team maintain that Electionaire stays within the law’s guidelines because the website’s questions are solely focused on issues rather than support for political parties.
Of the five students, only one is originally from Singapore, though all agreed that the outcome of the election bore consequences on their own lives as international students.
“A lot of the policies will affect us in terms of the college and in terms of people who come here in the future,” Bhatnagar said.
Naidu agreed, adding that one’s political motivations often extend beyond one’s own birth country and that Singapore is the students’ new home.
The People’s Action Party, which has been the ruling party in Singapore since 1959, won 83 of the 89 contested parliamentary seats.