In Thailand’s election next month, there will be 5.6 million first-time voters. We’ve heard a lot of conjecture in the news about what these “new voters” are thinking or supporting, with articles tending to opine that new voters are gravitating mainly towards the Future Forward party.
I remained skeptical, however, about this generalization. Many of my friends have deep ‘yellow’ or ‘red’ inclinations, or so I believed, and would therefore be unlikely to alter their vote despite the kaleidoscope of political parties on offer this year. Surely those who are red would keep voting red, and those who vote yellow would keep voting yellow?
This curiosity led me to try conducting a simple survey. I chose a couple friends from around my same age group and asked them about who they are planning to support in the election. I intentionally chose a diverse group, with some friends whom I knew came from Democrat-supporting families, others who have been more outspoken about their admiration for Pheu Thai, and a few who are politically unengaged. I told them that their answers would remain anonymous. This was asked before I released my own endorsement earlier last week so that no one felt the need to answer in a way that fit my views.
I make no pretense that the information I’ve collected here is statistically significant, nor that it is representative of anything more than the opinions of a couple of my friends who hail from international schools in Bangkok. But here are the responses, displayed in full so that they can do the talking themselves, lightly edited for clarity.
Question: who are you supporting in the upcoming general election, and why?
1: I initially had no opinion, but when Princess Ubolratana announced her candidacy, I wanted to vote for her. However, I found out afterwards that Thai Raksa Chart is aligned with Thaksin, which made me hesitate. Now, I’m leaning towards Future Forward but am still undecided. The issues that I really care about healthcare and medical policies. I don’t have a preference for either red or yellow, but I want people to accept whoever wins.
2. I’m undecided because I don’t follow the news.
3. I’m voting for Pheu Thai because of their ability to manage the economy. The economy is currently really bad, but Pheu Thai can bring it back up.
4. When it comes to politics I’m constantly confused, and so I had difficulty making a decision until I heard about Princess Ubolratana announcing her candidacy. Unfortunately, her affiliation with Thai Raksa Chart once again threw me into murky waters. I would like to vote for the Future Forward party, but I am also concerned that it will have difficulty practicing what it preaches. I remain undecided.
5. I have no clue what’s going on.
6. My opinion has changed quite a bit between Pheu Thai, Future Forward, and Thai Raksa Chart after Princess Ubolratana announced her candidacy. But with how much is going on in the past few days, I have made up my mind to vote for Future Forward. I am choosing this party because of how much of a fresh breath of air it is; they have a young leader, forward thinking, and an ambitious plan for Thailand. Honestly, I am just taking part in this election so I can be another voice in helping democracy get ‘back on track’.
7. I have no idea who to vote for because not a lot of information has been spreading around, at least not here or my social media. I don’t know who is focusing on which policy. From what I heard from others I am leaning towards voting Future Forward. I’ll make a definitive decision once I read about their policies in more depth.
8. I am actually a lot more removed/disconnected from Thai politics than I’d like to be, and it’s something I’m actually quite ashamed about. I seem to face a lot of personal resistance in resolving this, though, because it just seems like there’s no way of getting a full, satisfactory grip on the seemingly forever-tangled intricacies of Thai politics, due to the lack of easy-to-access, objective sources of information, and how infrequently any of this is brought up to me/the people around me (but maybe that’s just me and the communities I am surrounded by). So I’m currently undecided, but time is running out. I’ve been keeping up with Ken’s blog (genuinely—Ken is not making me say this) and am working on informing myself as much as possible as the election nears to help me arrive at my decision, so here’s hoping I’ll get there soon.
9. I literally have no idea what’s happening, but I do hate Thai politics right now.
10. Anything that is not red-shirt aligned.
11. I’m voting for Future Forward as the best out of all the options. I’m against Thaksin, but if we pick either red or yellow, then people will fight again.
12. I have no idea, but not the red shirts. Perhaps Prayut or Future Forward. Prayut has made our country peaceful, even though some of his rules and policies are ridiculous. I also want to give this opportunity to new people, however, as he’s been prime minister for too long now.
13. I’m not sure yet. I definitely am not supporting Prayut, but I’m also not ready for Future Forward. I’d probably vote for Chatchart [of the Pheu Thai party].
14. Right now I really want to vote for Thanathorn and his Future Forward Party. I’ve listened to many of his interviews, and I feel like he’s a man with liberal thought, speaks logically and has correctly identified the urgent problems that need resolving but that no one else has dared to touch. At the very least, he has passion and a strong desire to change and develop the nation in a positive way. Thanathorn makes me feel like Thailand still has hope.
I repeat that this is not a scientific study. But I found many of these responses very surprising. The following are some of my takeaways.
First, I was a little shocked by the lack of people who answered that they would support the traditional political party partner to the yellow shirt/PDRC movement — the Democrat Party. The Democrats have invested substantially in wooing younger voters through their New Dems program, and I thought that at least some of my friends who leaned yellow in their political orientation would stick with them. On this, I was off the mark. Pheu Thai, however, has not been similarly abandoned.
Second, I was also surprised by the reception of Princess Ubolratana’s announcement. I had thought that her candidacy was not especially attractive to a broad swathe of voters. There were, of course, the overarching concerns about visibly politicizing the royal family. I also felt that yellow-aligning voters would have been repelled by the Thaksinite brand while red voters who believed in Thaksin’s populist rhetoric would not have found much in common with Thai Raksa Chart’s candidate. It turns out that even amongst my own friends, there were a couple who would disagree with me.
Third, the shift towards Future Forward, widely reported in the media, is visible even in my very limited sample size. Friends who I previously considered Thaksinites or PDRC-supporters told me that they are at least considering Thanathorn’s party as a viable option. (I, of course, made that same shift — see my post here on voting for Future Forward).
Why is this the case? It could be due to the younger generation being sick and tired of the same political conflict that has engulfed the entire extent of our lives, thus feeling the need to choose beyond red and yellow. Another could be the cliché of younger voters being more liberal than their older counterparts, hence the lean towards a progressive party. Also possible is tendency, quite apparent on Thai social media, that the younger generation is generally unsupportive of Prayut and the Palang Pracharath party, thus forcing them to align most closely with the party most outspoken on constitutional change and blocking Prayut’s return to power.
Finally, this pointed to my own need to burst my own political bubble. Political science majors (such as yours truly) tend to spend a significant amount of our waking hours thinking about politics, which is not true of the general population. We naturally assume a higher degree of political awareness than is true for those who don’t dedicate their lives to studying politics. But it seems that many younger voters are simply less ideological than we think they are. Picking a political party to support has been less about they agree with Thaksin-style populism, but because Future Forward has “ambitious ideas”.
I write this post purely out of speculative interest, so my takeaways can be read with a grain of salt. But if nothing else, this anecdotal survey does seem to support the media view of a generational split that shows younger voters ready for newer options.