The 15th general election (GE15) in Malaysia produced surprising results. The conservative coalition of PN emerged as the dark horse of the election, overtaking the longest-ruling coalition, BN, by a significant margin. The two largest coalitions post-GE15, PH and PN, represent ideological opposites, which may spell a polarized future for Malaysian youths. This paper intends to understand what happened to the youth votes and provide possible hypotheses for future trends.
In West Malaysia, constituencies with a larger share of young voters (under 30 years old) registered a higher voter turnout rate. A majority of seats with 30 per cent or more of voters under 30 years old (considered “young” seats) were won by PN, followed by PH, and thirdly BN. This demonstrated PN’s relatively stronger hold on young seats in GE15. Discrepancies between pre-GE15 survey findings and actual results could be explained by the Shy PN factor—or PN-leaning voters’ reticence towards revealing their preference—and a swing from BN to PN.
Of all voter groups, PN voters have shown the highest loyalty and affinity to their coalition of choice, largely led by PAS voters. This is followed by PH and then BN, where the latter has shown the lowest support durability and the highest likelihood of swing. Unsurprisingly, voters from the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum of PN and PH share a high degree of coldness towards each other, implying that a middle ground will be hard to reach between the two voter groups.
Increasingly, a clean and Islamic government would become a feature that Malay youth voters would favour. PN currently fits this trend the best, although this may change depending on the political climate. BN had over the years lost its clean government credentials, especially with the criminal charges against its party leaders, whereas PH continues to struggle in shedding its image as being dominated by the Chinese community.
PN and PH voters were almost equal in passive forms of political engagement such as following political news. However, PN consistently ranked higher in active political engagement and belief that their vote matters, which was probably what translated into a marginally higher voter turnout rate. Under all circumstances, BN voters were the least engaged, either actively or passively. In GE15, seats won by PN had a consistently higher median voter turnout rate than non-PN seats.
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