Monday, July 24, 2017

‘Barometer’ survey paints a complex political picture

Politically conservative, unwilling to discuss voting plans and more interested in economic progress than democracy: That’s the picture of Myanmar painted by a major political study featuring in-depth interviews with more than 1500 people across the country.

Bridget Welsh, a senior adviser to the Asian Barometer Survey, speaks at a press conference yesterday. (Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times)Bridget Welsh, a senior adviser to the Asian Barometer Survey, speaks at a press conference yesterday. (Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times)

Released yesterday, the final report from Myanmar’s first Asian Barometer Survey, conducted from May 2014 through March this year, provides a wealth of data for political pundits and prospective presidents to pick over.

The ABS, which conducted a cross-national survey in 14 East Asian countries, partnered with the Yangon School of Political Science to carry out its work in Myanmar.

Yun Han Chu, director of the ABS, said the purpose of the survey was more than the collection of important socioeconomic and political data.

“The purpose of this survey was … also to help deepen our understanding of how the political systems function, what areas might need further reform and where are the deficiencies in the eye of the public,” he said.

The research team asked 1620 different respondents more than 200 questions, with each interview taking approximately 90 minutes.

Research was conducted in 36 randomly selected townships covering all of Myanmar’s states and regions. Four teams of more than 30 surveyors were trained over an eight-month period, completing a pilot program in Bago as well as an intensive curriculum.

Bridget Welsh, the survey’s senior adviser, said that only 13 percent of attempted interviews were refused – one of the lowest refusal rates the ABS has seen in East Asia.

However, when interviews began to touch on politically sensitive questions, most Myanmar showed reserve in answering. More than half of the respondents refused to answer who they would prefer to be president, and 50 percent of respondents refused to identify their future vote choice.

Those who identified a preferred president said they supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (26 percent) over incumbent U Thein Sein (16pc) or someone else (3pc). Of those who answered the question on future vote choice, 24pc identified the National League for Democracy, 5pc the National Unity Party and 17pc the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Myanmar had the highest rate of refusing to answer questions about vote choice, organisers said.

“Who are the people who don’t answer questions? They don’t know, they haven’t decided, or they don’t want to answer. All three of these groups are represented,” Ms Welsh said.

She emphasised that the survey could not be construed as a political poll.

“This survey is a population survey. It cannot be taken exactly the same as electoral districts, so it cannot be used completely as a projection for the outcome,” she said. “Second of all, because of the number of people who did not answer the question, we still have a highly fluid situation in terms of electoral nominees.”

The survey was funded by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

Key findings of the Asian Barometer Survey

  • Myanmar was found to hold the most politically conservative traditional values in East Asia, with 95pc of respondents anti-pluralism and 70pc supporting political hierarchy.
  • Though only 8pc said they joined political parties, 48pc said they joined religious groups (26pc) or charities (22pc).
  • A sharp divide emerged on the topic of religious freedom: 88pc of Buddhists said Myanmar had greater religious freedom than other countries, whereas 65pc of other religions shared that sentiment. A majority of Buddhists (66pc) believed that religious groups are treated equally; a majority of other religions (56pc) did not.
  • A majority of Buddhists (64pc) strongly agreed that citizenship should be based on religion; a majority of other religions (38pc) strongly disagreed.
  • 45pc of respondents said the economy was the most serious policy problem, followed by governance (15pc), government services (14pc) and health (10pc).
  • Despite the fact that 74pc of respondents supported democracy, 53pc said economic development was more important than democratic progress. Myanmar also posted the lowest support for authoritarian government (4pc) of any Asian nation.
  • A majority of respondents said they were either very satisfied (24pc) or somewhat satisfied (56pc) with U Thein Sein’s performance as president.