How do Jakarta voters assess the policies of their government? Evaluating a public policy involves a complicated process of assessing information and gauging the cost and benefits entailed in the policy. Due to this costly process, most voters prefer to use shortcuts to assess public policy. Among the many shortcuts to use, leader cues might be the easiest one in Jakarta because in this country party positions on issues are not clear.
In the absence of leader cues, the only way voters assess the policy is by understanding the information they receive.Afrimadona
To investigate the extent to which the Jakarta voters assess public policy using this leader cue, we need to compare the policy support among them in the absence and presence of leader cues. In the absence of leader cues, the only way voters assess the policy is by understanding the information they receive. However, is the information they receive still useful when there is leader cue? Which information is more likely to affect their policy assessment?
To answer these questions, we carried out experimental surveys of 600 randomly sampled Jakarta residents in October 2019. In the experiment, we randomly assigned samples into two equal sized treatment and control groups. We maintain
balanced characteristics in our samples to avoid biased results (see the graph below).
We then asked respondents to indicate their supports for six pairs of programs made by the two Jakarta governors, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (BTP) or Ahok and Anies Baswedan. We asked respondents in both treatment and control groups exactly similar questions except that for the treatment group, we explicitly mentioned the name of the governors who initiated the programs. In this short piece, we will demonstrate three policy issues only: flood management policy, Smart Jakarta Card (Kartu Jakarta Pintar), and land reclamation policy. In the first experiment, we ask:
The exact same questions are asked to the treatment group but, this time explicitly putting the name of the governor initiating the programs: “…during Ahok era, by widening the river and concretizing… During Anies era, by widening the river and planting trees…” the answer options also explicitly mention the name of the governors:
In general, when voters are not informed of who owns the program, they tend to make a good use of the information they receive regarding the cost and benefits of the program. Because the cost of naturalization program (Anies’s program) is greater than that of concretization (Ahok’s program) in terms of land use and eviction, most voters prefer concretization, which means supporting Ahok’s program. However, when they know who initiated and owns the program, support for Anies’s program rises significantly.
One would wonder if the support is affected by whether the respondents are Anies or Ahok’s voters. To test this assumption, we explore the support based on whom these respondents voted in Pilkada 2017. The result is displayed below. In the absence of leader cue, even Anies’s voters supported Ahok’s flood management policy. However, when there is leader cue, Anies’s voters tend to support Anies’s flood management policy although they know that his program requires more lands and eviction than Ahok’s does.
In the second experiment, we ask about education aid policy commonly known as Kartu Jakarta Pintar (Smart Jakarta Card) or KJP. Here are the questions and answers for both groups:
Notwithstanding the insignificant difference in policy support among the respondents in the control group, support for Ahok’s policy is a bit greater. This might indicate that voters cannot differentiate the benefits of the two programs well. But, when we expose respondents to the governors initiating the program, we observe that support for Anies’s program is substantially higher than that for Ahok’s.
In the absence of leader cue, even Anies’s voters supported Ahok’s flood management policy.
Examining the political support, we observe that both Ahok’s and Anies’s voters tend to support their leaders’ programs. This support is even stronger when they know the governors initiating the programs. This is exhibited in the graph below.
In the third experiment, we explore the land reclamation policy of the two governors. In this experiment, we ask:
The answers provided by respondents are shown below:
As the chart shows, most respondents not exposed to the governors’ names tend to support reclamation policy with 15% contribution, which is the Ahok’s position. Even Anies’s voters tend to support Ahok’s reclamation policy (see the chart below). However, when respondents are exposed to the names of the governors initiating the program, most of them support reclamation policy without a 15% contribution.
Cross-tabulating with the political support, we find that while Ahok’s voters tend to support Ahok’s policy—even without being exposed to information regarding who owns the policy, Anies’s voters tend to support Anies’s policy only when they are informed that the policy was issued by Anies Baswedan. When they did not know the governors behind the policy, Anies’s voters tend to agree with Ahok’s.
What can we learn from these results? At least two things stand out. First, leader cues affect voters’ assessment of public policy more than any other information. Exposed to competing information regarding some issues, leader cues tend to outmaneuver other information in the mind of voters. Voters tend to eschew any other information in the presence of leader cues. To some extent, this may indicate that leader cue is the easiest information to digest among other information.
However, the results might also indicate blind loyalty among voters amid increasing trend in political polarization. This can be seen, for example, from the support given by Anies’s voters to his policies. Although voters know the weaknesses of his policies (see some narrations of the questions above), they keep supporting his policies. The attitude of Anies’s voters implies that the personality of Anies is the main factor influencing his voters’ attitude towards public policy issues.
Second, the results also suggest an increasing polarization trend itself in democratizing Indonesia. While previous studies find that polarization trends exist on issues related to Islam and politics only, these results point out that polarization branches out into many issues nowadays. However, compared to polarizing trend in many established democracies where partisanship is the driving force, in Indonesia (in Jakarta at least) leaders are the main driver of this trend.
To conclude, as some studies show (including Fossati et al published in New Mandala in mid-2019), leadership still plays important role in Indonesia’s political dynamics. While it is understandable that leader cues provide easiest and fastest way to understand policy issues, it is quite dangerous to democracy. When voters’ attitude could easily by shaped by a personality rather than rationality, politics become more personalized. This can be a negative sign to the democratic process of this country.
This article has originally been published on the New Mandala pada 5 March 2020.
Dr. Afrimadona is vice executive director of Populi Center. He is also the lecturer at International Relations Program at UPN Veteran Jakarta, Indonesia.