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Post-Budget poll: a REACH too low?

"More than 7 in 10 Singaporeans supported Budget 2015 initiatives," began a REACH media release on Tuesday, which outlined key findings of the national feedback unit's post-Budget telephone poll.

"MORE than 7 in 10 Singaporeans supported Budget 2015 initiatives," began a REACH media release on Tuesday, which outlined key findings of the national feedback unit's post-Budget telephone poll.

With close to a thousand citizens surveyed, the poll was conducted to gauge Singaporeans' responses to Budget 2015 - or that was the goal, anyway.

The thing is, it's hard to take REACH's poll seriously - and it's not for a lack of trying.

For one, the survey's complete findings are impossible to attain. While one is able to see the combined percentage of respondents who strongly agreed and agreed with various poll statements - such as "The increase in CPF contribution rates for older workers is a step in the right direction" - a full breakdown of the remaining results is missing.

That means the public is unable to tell what percentage of respondents disagreed, strongly disagreed, or were indifferent to the statements. Do minority views not count as much? Not if the aim is to try to win everyone over to the national agenda.

When The Business Times asked REACH for access to the full set of results, the newspaper was told: "Apologies, but REACH would not be releasing the full set of data." No reason was given, other than the fact that it "(doesn't) normally release full data".

That may be the case. But for a Budget that seeks to change mindsets and forge a new national narrative, surely this can change too, if only because of the importance of the subject at hand.

As a result, one can only glean the percentage of respondents who were supportive of Budget 2015 initiatives; according to REACH's release, there is "significant support" for the Silver Support Scheme, SkillsFuture, enhanced subsidies and bursaries for education, GST Voucher-Seniors' Bonus, and changes to personal income tax for top earners.

That brings us to the second issue with REACH's post-Budget poll: its methodology.

In particular, the way in which respondents were polled seems problematic, since several of the poll statements were leading from the very beginning.

Here are a few examples:

  • "The Silver Support Scheme, which will provide a supplement of between S$300-750 quarterly to eligible Singaporeans, will give significant support to the low-income elderly."
  • "The higher subsidies and bursaries from pre-school to post-secondary education will provide significant financial support for lower- and middle-income households."
  • "The SkillsFuture initiative will help individuals to learn and develop throughout their lives."

The way the questions were framed, one may argue, pre-disposed them to elicit an "agree" response. Few would reject outright the idea of government help, but the real question may be how people see the degree of effectiveness of these measures in providing support or in changing behaviour.

It's unsurprising, then, that the REACH poll found that 73 per cent of respondents support the initiatives announced in Budget 2015.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower and REACH Chairman Amy Khor was quoted in the release as saying: "(Singaporeans) have shown strong support for measures which aim to give greater assurance and opportunities to Singaporeans at every stage of their lives ... These poll findings are aligned with the feedback received on REACH's other engagement platforms, where many contributors have shared that this is a comprehensive, fair and inclusive Budget."

Indeed, Budget 2015 was a landmark one - it was far-sighted, wide-reaching, and showed a concerted effort by the government to mitigate inequality in Singapore. It also marked a deliberate rewriting of Singapore's social contract, to be rooted in not only personal and family responsibility, but stronger collective responsibility as well.

And this is exactly why REACH's post-Budget poll is rather disappointing - it could have gone a bit further in getting more insights into how Singaporeans see Budget 2015, beyond a broad expression of support (or not).

At best, the survey is useful as a snap poll - handy for getting a sense of the reactions to this year's Budget. But it cannot and should not be seen for more than what it is, or worse, be used to affirm policy.

In an annex of its media release, REACH took care to state that its findings were based on a sample of 947 randomly-selected Singaporeans aged 20 and above, with the sample weighted by gender, age, and race to ensure representativeness. It added that there was a 3.2 per cent estimated margin of error at a 95 per cent confidence level.

Frankly, though, these details don't matter quite as much, given the way questions were asked and the results presented.

Surely REACH can reach a little higher.

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