Nearly half of Malaysians in a recent survey said candidates would influence their voting choice more than political parties, up from just one in three in 2013.
Despite the shift, however, the majority of respondents still would vote along party lines, with the only major exceptions being Malay and Bumiputera voters and those younger than 35.
“There has been a shift of voters going for candidates rather than party. In our study in 2013, 61 per cent said they voted for party and 32 per cent for candidate.
“In 2017, 55 per cent said they would vote for party and 45 per cent said they would favour voting for candidates,” Datuk Syed Arabi Abdullah Idid told Malay Mail.
Syed Arabi, a professor with the International Islamic University Malaysia’s Faculty of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, led the study.
The survey found that 53 per cent of Malay and Bumiputera respondents would vote for candidates over parties, notably higher than the 37 per cent of ethnic Chinese and 28 per cent of ethnic Indian respondents who would do so.
When grouped by age, 51 per cent of respondents between 21 and 35 years old chose based on the candidate, compared to just 42 per cent among those aged between 36 and 50, and just 37 per cent for those above 51.
However, when the respondents were categorised according to their income, all income groups consistently chose the party over the candidate. The similar trend was also seen when respondents were broken down into urban and rural voters.
The results became more revealing when grouped according to political affiliations.
Respondents who said they plan to vote for the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) were equal in their preference, while those did not support BN demonstrated a strong leaning for the party over candidate, at 62 per cent.
Those uncertain of their affiliations also indicated that they gave greater weight to the candidate rather than the party, with 68 per cent saying they would do so.
“For BN, they have to be very careful, since voters will choose candidate over party. But for others, they still go for the party,” said Syed Arabi, who is also the head of National Council of Professors’ media, democracy and electoral system cluster.
In December last year, BN chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said that the coalition will will evaluate its candidates for the 14th general elections using a “new and tough” system that has failed even top leaders from its component parties.
The survey directly polled 1,350 respondents over the age of 21 from various demographic groups between September 29 and October 27 this year.