I am a Singaporean woman in my late 20s. To date, I have closely followed x03 US Presidential Elections, x02 SG General Elections, and x01 SG Presidential Elections. This post is not about the Election results, but rather the differences in my experiences of consuming the electoral proceedings between the US and in Singapore. Although there are some similarities between the first world, developed, economically stable, culturally diverse, migrant populace, allied countries, these elements stand out to me:
1) Outlet diversity
With the SG Elections, coverage by the state-owned mainstream press is usually homogeneous and partisan to one particular party. Most of the coverage on opposition parties are hosted on their independent websites and social media, a handful of reliable alternative news outlets, and the occasional speculative popular media outlets. With the US Elections, I get to toggle across numerous television networks, late night talk shows, digital media coverage, non-partisan organization website updates, key opinion leader updates, and social media streams from everyday voters as long as I have wifi and a device. Locating these outlets may require some social capital and digital literacies, but they are all there out in the public space on display like a buffet. There is so much choice that stimulates consumer fatigue, but this also maintains the multiplicity of perspectives in one media ecology.
2) Speculative pundits
With the SG Elections, speculative politics is not normative in the mainstream press. Exit polls are not allowed and informal opinion polls are difficult to run as many opposition-voters fear repercussions. With the US Elections, well-dressed, eloquent professionals in the guise of network brandname journalists and regular fixture opinion-makers predict and revise and project and retract voting outcomes over and over and over and over. There is so much anxious speculation that use so many words to tell us so little in a bid to sustain viewership, but this also forefronts the important role fence-sitters and swing-voters play.
3) Peripheral content
With the SG Elections, most of the peripheral content is produced by a network of commercial meme ecologies, Influencers, and everyday users, with most of the artifacts being memes, satirical videos by YouTubers, and parody fake news sites. With the US Elections, in one morning alone I have accessed mainstream media sites to stream scenes from polling stations, Elections kittycam, interviews with therapy dogs, conversations with old college peers of the Candidates, students in culinary school prepare Election meals, artists live draw Election art, an acapella choir sing the US national anthem, instructional yoga to calm down from Election stress, Election watch parties, among other entertainment. There is so much shiny distraction to enjoy or plough through, but this also builds a sense of community and institutionalizes the carnival into a serious, high-stakes event.
4) Polarized voting
With the SG Elections, Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) organize candidates into teams rather than have candidates run individually. Each GRC has to have at least one minority race candidate; Singapore is a multiracial city state with four officially recognized racial/ethnic groups: Chinese (~74%), Malay (~13%), Indian (~9%), and Others (~4%). Furthermore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently announced that the next Presidential Elections in 2017 will be “reserved” for a Malay candidate, because “[e]very citizen, Chinese, Malay, Indian, or some other race, should know that someone of his community can become president, and in fact from time to time, does become president”. However, assertions of voter preference along racial lines are still speculatory at best as stats are not public information. With the US Elections, the race, gender, and education/class breakdown of projected and actual votes are public knowledge that are analyzed and mapped and strategically utilized to canvas for votes. There is so much useful correlation between voter demographics and single issues that enable candidates to skew and reframe their policies and PR (albeit at the risk of being racist, sexist, or classist), but this also allows the difficult conversations around institutionalized prejudice, systemic discrimination, and everyday microaggressions to be held at a national level.
5) Celebrity endorsements
With the SG Elections, formal, public celebrity endorsements are not a common practice, although a string of media personalities have joined political parties and served as candidates and spokespersons during the elections. Some microcelebrity Influencers and prolific political bloggers have been visible about their politics, although these circulate on gossip media and internet folklore instead of being legitimized by the mainstream press. With the US Elections, notable celebrities are coming out in full force to endorse their candidate and mobilize their social capital to encourage fans to vote. Celebrities have come together to make PSA videos, stage live concerts, and play hype-man for Candidates at the rallies. There is so much lending and borrowing of social capital that is unevenly distributed by class, gender, and race, but this also demonstrates the soft power of entertainment media and the acrobatics of role-modeling to persuade and provoke voters.
Of course, some of these differences are due to the sheer difference in population size and land mass, infrastructural resources, media competition, and the hegemony of the populace. However, I distill these distinctions to demonstrate the importance of a diverse, open, transparent media, as cohorts of international students study this election in years to come.