This paper aims to examine the level of political awareness of Singaporean youths through a survey testing their knowledge on the US-China tensions with random sampling. Results show that most Singaporean youths have confidence in their knowledge of the issue, indicating a high level of political awareness that has assured them in indicating as such. They have also shown better understanding of the social aspect of the conflict than the economic aspect, possibly attributed to the use of social media. Moreover, they show a keen sense of awareness of Singapore’s position.
We would like to acknowledge Mr Mahmood, our mentor, as well as the Eunoia Humanities Programme for the opportunity to write this paper.
Political consciousness is the “personal awareness of politics” (Rulska-Kuthy, 2014). We have defined youths as aged 18 to 23.
With the ongoing debate regarding youth political participation as part of the overall inclination to lower the voting age in Singapore to 18*, it has become increasingly pertinent to actually determine whether youths are actually politically conscious.
However, there is a current lack of research regarding this issue and evaluation of youths in Singapore and their political awareness. Thus, this paper aims to make explicit the levels of youth political awareness in assessing their suitability for formal political participation.
Youths are highly regarded for their participation given their ability to create systemic change. Youth political participation is highly significant. In Malaysia, such participation can contribute to levels of democracy even when the country is known for restrictions on political dissidence (Mohd Hed, 2017). Youth political participation is also noted for their “intellectual capacity” where their sustained participation in politics can engender large changes in their political systems (Marsuki et al., 2022).
However, academics overseas disagree on whether youths are indeed becoming politically apathetic. In the United States, early academics claimed that American youths were becoming increasingly ignorant of current affairs (Bennett, 1998) and in Nigeria, youths participation in formal politics is also on a decline (Mohamad et al., 2018) and it has begun to stagnate in Harare in Zimbabwe (Chiweshe, 2017). Yet, in many other countries, academics have seen a rise in youth political advocacy. For example, in Malaysia, youths have increased efforts in informal politics, such as on social media and through popular culture, even increasing political discussions amongst themselves (Mohd Hed, 2017). Youths in Europe are also highly politically active (Weiss, 2020).
Recent research has also shown that the rise of social media platforms has also encouraged more youths to become more politically concerned. Because of the ability to freely express themselves on the internet through social media, youths are increasingly using it as a platform to express their political opinions, fostering “participatory culture” which even translates into higher youth voter turnout (Kann et al., 2007). Youth political participation is also encouraged by direct interaction with politicians since many politicians also use Facebook in particular to communicate with their voters (Abdu, 2017).
However, there is a gap in current research with regards to youth political apathy in Singapore specifically. In the recent World Values Survey, only 37.2% of respondents indicated that they were somewhat interested in politics, making Singapore one of only three countries to have less than 40% of respondents indicating so (Institute of Policy Studies, 2020). Though, there is no survey or research which focuses on youths in Singapore, which could reveal a different proportion.
The particular case study was chosen because of its significance to Singapore. It has the capacity to greatly change our diplomatic relations with both Superpowers, and threaten our economic growth (Lee, 2021) due to imposition of tariffs and other restrictions on free trade (ASEAN business, 2021). This means that it is an essential and foundational issue in current affairs, of which asking respondents on will be fair as they have received information on the issue before. This will allow us to accurately gather data about their level of interest in politics instead of their level of knowledge on it as respondents will likely indicate a lack of interest in an issue if they are unaware of it.
This paper will employ a survey to gauge the political awareness levels of youths aged 18 to 23. This will involve an online survey that selected youths fill in which will prompt them to indicate their evaluations of the United States (US) and China in aspects such as the economy and citizens’ freedom. Then, they will be asked on how sure they were of their answers to reveal their confidence in political affairs and thus their political awareness.
We used probability sampling, specifically random sampling. This is because, for studies that look at political opinions, probability sampling is the most advocated method of collecting a sample size for research. According to How Might Opinion Polls be Improved?: the Case for Probability Sampling (Lynn, Jowell, 1996) and Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error (Heckman, 1979), probability sampling circumvents selection bias and unit non-response bias in research in the political field. Regarding survey techniques, according to The Effect of Survey Mode and Sampling on Inferences about Political Attitudes and Behavior: Comparing the 2000 and 2004 ANES to Internet Surveys with Nonprobability Samples (Malhotra, Krosnick, 2007), probability sampling are more accurate than internet samples especially in politics.
The youths surveyed were highly aware of issues relating to freedoms in both countries, while seeming less sure in those relating to the economy. Furthermore, they seemed aware of the approaches Singapore should take in relation to the US-China tensions, which was heartening.
SUMMARY OF MAIN ARGUMENTS
Certainty in the Aspect of Citizen Freedom
Surveyees reflected confidence in their knowledge when comparing the two countries in terms of the levels of freedom offered to their citizens (in Figure 1 below).
Figure 1. Surveyees’ confidence in their response to questions regarding the levels of freedom citizens in the US and China are accorded, ranked on a scale of one to five
Most responses concentrated in the 4 to 5 range, with an average of 3.87, showing that most survey respondents had a high level of confidence in tackling this question, thus revealing that they had a good understanding of the issue, thus revealing a keen sense of political awareness.
Uncertainty in the Aspect of the Two Economies
When asked about their knowledge of the two economies, in regards to their sustainability and projected success in comparison to each other, surveyees seemed to lack confidence in the matter at hand (in Figure 2 below).
Figure 2. Surveyees’ confidence in their response to questions regarding the sustainability of US and Chinese economies, ranked on a scale of one to five
As compared to the high levels of confidence shown by respondents in the questions regarding freedom levels, students were less sure in the economic sector, with an average of 3.09 and majority responses concentrating below 4, and significantly less indicated a 5 (24 compared to 8).
Figure 3. Surveyees’ confidence in their response to questions regarding the projected level of success of US and Chinese economies, ranked on a scale of one to five
In facing the tougher questions of the projected level of success of each economy, the level of confidence shown by respondents was more varied, with an average of 3.32, thus showing again that the surveyees were less certain regarding the economic issues of the two Superpowers.
Awareness of Singapore’s position
Majority of the respondents had an acute awareness of Singapore’s position in the dispute, however (see Figure 4 below).
Figure 4. Surveyee responses to whether Singapore should take a position in the dispute to side with any of the Superpowers
Thus, they were aware of the precarious position that Singapore is in and the necessity to remain neutral. This is further backed by elaborations provided by some surveyees, including an emphasis on our weakness as a “small country” and importance of our “neutrality”. Hence, the majority of youths are aware of Singapore’s position in the conflict.
Singaporean youths have proved to be confident in their political knowledge, revealing that they have political awareness to some extent. It is critical to note that for none of the questions the students are totally unsure (seeing that the average confidence levels for all questions are more than 3 for all the questions). Thus, even with the characterisation of Singaporean youths being politically unaware, this is not the case. Singaporean youths are actually highly certain of their political opinions, indicating a high level of political awareness.
However, it is also important to note that respondents were more certain in the social than economic aspect. This can be attributed to the fact that economic issues are seen as more elusive to youths who are unfamiliar with economic issues while social issues are highly debated, especially on social media (as seen in the use of social media advocacy). Thus, social issues in the US and China are more accessible, making it easier for youths to have clarity and confidence in this aspect.
Yet, the overwhelming confidence of youths in the US-China dispute marks success in local education, creating a mostly politically-conscious population.
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