Beyond Measuring the Voice of the People: The Evolving Role of Political Polling in Indonesia’s Local Leader Elections
* Graduate School of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, 56-1 Toji-in Kitamachi, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8577, Japan
Since 2005, political polling and the application of polls-based candidacy have been enormously influential and, in fact, have become vital for local leader elections (Pilkada), particularly in Indonesia’s districts and municipalities. The Golkar Party’s declaration that it was moving to polls-based candidacy created a domino effect, inducing other major political parties—such as the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN), the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD), and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, PDIP)—to follow Golkar’s approach to contesting local constituencies. As polling becomes a new device for reforming the political recruitment process, political polling exercises have also unintendedly transformed into a means for waging a power struggle. Political actors have exploited polling as a tool for gaining a political vehicle, as a map for soliciting bribes, as a map for guiding the mobilization of votes, and as a means for inviting an indirect bandwagon effect. In short, political polling has moved beyond acting as a tracker of voters’ preferences to become a popular political device.
Keywords: political polling, local leader elections, democratization, Indonesia
Following the fall of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia embarked on an intensive project of local democratization. Under the banner of applying Law Number 32 of 2004 regarding “Regional Government,” local leaders—such as governors, district leaders (bupati), and mayors—were to be directly elected by the people for the first time in Indonesian political history. In particular, from June 2005 onward, Indonesia began experiencing two enormous waves of direct local leader elections (Pemilu Kepala Daerah, Pemilukada or Pilkada; hereafter Pilkada). The first episode was from mid-2005 to the beginning of 2009, and the second is still ongoing, beginning in late 2009 and extending to the beginning of 2014. From 2005 to 2008, Indonesia held no fewer than 500 Pilkada spanning all regions (Centre for Electoral Reform 2008). According to the Badan Pengawas Pemilu or Bawaslu (Election Monitoring Body), there were also approximately 244 Pilkada during the year 2010 (Indonesia, Badan Pengawas Pemilu [Bawaslu] 2011) and 116 Pilkada in 2011. In addition, from 2005 to 2010 more than 2,200 pairs of candidates ran for gubernatorial, bupati, and mayoral offices; there were also 333 pairs running for such offices in 2011 alone (ibid.). The implementation of Pilkada has resulted in the development of a remarkably vigorous local democracy, as indicated by the massive number of candidates and the frequency of elections. Judging from the large number of elections and candidates involved, Indonesia is unquestionably the country of elections.
One of the most important phenomena marking Pilkada has been the involvement of polling and other pollsters’ activities in these contests. The discussion of electoral politics in Indonesia has suddenly been filled with insider accounts of the results of polling activities,1) as polling has not only become a ubiquitous new fashion in local politics but has also noticeably colored the dynamics of local leader elections. It seems likely that political polling has become an integral part of almost every local leader election in Indonesia.
Previous seminal works addressing the topic of political polling in Indonesia have placed more emphasis on the mushrooming of polling at the national level (Mietzner 2009), the increasing role of pollsters as professionals (Mohammad Qodari 2010) or so-called polls-based political consultants,2) and the growing employment of political marketing that is the result of the presence of pollsters in the political arena (Ufen 2010). Those studies emphasize the impact of the presence of pollsters in the two national elections in 2004 and 2009. Although the involvement of polling and pollsters at the politically vibrant national level is headline-grabbing, previous works neglect the utilization of polling by political parties in attempting to identify electable candidates, as well as the fact that polling is used as a political weapon rather than a barometer of public sentiment.
Admittedly, the utilization and exploitation of polling in political history is not the newest phenomenon. In his classic seminal work more than 50 years ago, Louis Harris (1963), one of the key founders of polling, assertively foresaw that polls were “an important part of the arsenal of weapons used in modern American political campaigns.” R. A. Camp (1996) enthusiastically describes polling as a device that political leaders take advantage of for their own political interest, specifically to indicate successful platforms and increase their ability to defeat their opponents as well as to improve their political image. In a similar vein, Dennis Johnson (2001; 2009) and Christopher Wlezien and Robert Erikson (2003) view polling as being exploited by politicians to enhance their image during the campaign period. In short, it is not uncommon to take advantage of polling in political games.
However, in the context of Indonesia, one of the largest democratic countries in the world, a study discussing the development of public opinion polling and how it has been used (and exploited) seems exceptionally limited. While the importance of political polling in the consolidation of democracy in Indonesia has increased, the country has been neglected in discussions on the development of polling in both developed and developing democracies (Geer 2004; Carballo and Hjelmar 2008; Johnson 2009). Above all, in the context of Indonesia’s local politics, it seems no research so far has focused on issues such as the development, utilization, and exploitation of public opinion polling. Against this background, this study attempts to fill in the gap by demonstrating the extent of utilization and exploitation of polls in Indonesian politics, specifically in the era of Pilkada starting from 2005.
This paper suggests that political polling in local Indonesian politics has moved beyond its long-established use as an instrument to capture the so-called voice of the people. Even though from the beginning the development of polling in Indonesia was designed to consolidate democracy and to promote the previously neglected grassroots voice, this paper provides evidence that there has been an unintended transformation in the way polling is utilized. Local political players have exploited polling as a political instrument in their struggle for power. Polling is the most recent method by which political parties improve their political recruitment process at the local level. Polling also aids in campaign strategy, key decision making, developing winning strategies, and building up campaign communications. This study attempts to show that the use of polling is increasing, and that polling is gradually gaining acceptance as a sophisticated tool to obtain a political vehicle, a bribery map, and a voter mobilization map, and as a means for inviting an indirect bandwagon effect. While providing some cases from Pilkada in districts and municipalities of North Sumatra, East Java, and South Sulawesi in 2009 through 2011 will not permit generalization, this analysis sheds new light on the other side of political polling in the current dynamics of local Indonesian politics.
To explore the aforesaid argument, the paper is divided into three sections. The first briefly discusses local leader elections, political parties, and the significance of political polling in the age of Pilkada. The second section answers the question of why pollsters have participated in the fiesta of Indonesian local leader elections since 2005. The third elaborates on the use of political polling in Pilkada, specifically spotlighting how polling has become both a new candidacy mechanism and a new political weapon. Throughout this study, I attempt to demonstrate that the emerging role of political polling in the dynamics of contemporary Indonesian local politics has gone far beyond merely uncovering people’s preferences.
Pilkada, Political Parties, and Voters
The implementation of Pilkada was promoted as a means of deepening democratization and helping to consolidate democratic practices at the local level. Pilkada has provided local communities with important opportunities, as the emergence of grassroots national leaders has been followed by the appearance of local leaders who possess popular support (Leigh 2005). Furthermore, Pilkada has provided a space for the wider participation of society in the democratic process and a correction to the previous indirect system in that it supplies regional leaders of greater quality and accountability (Djohermansyah Djohan 2004). Finally, Pilkada also offers opportunities for the grassroots to actualize their political rights without worrying that they will be reduced by the interests of political elites.
There are several essential aspects of Pilkada that need to be highlighted. First, although the position of political parties is essential in Pilkada, there is an argument that Pilkada has made political parties weak in some ways (Choi 2009). Political parties are the most prominent and vital institutions in the current practice of local democracy, as their basic role is to recruit and provide cadres to participate in elections and to nominate candidates for administration in a “gate keeping position” (Schiller 2009, 152). In the political recruitment process, political parties make the initial selection of candidates and provide alternatives for voters in elections. Understandably, political parties are vital in the nomination process because candidates can be nominated only by them.
Second, since 2007, democracy at the local level has been revived following a key review by the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi). This review was a legal consequence following the Constitutional Court ruling on July 23, 2007 that non-party candidates would be allowed to run in local elections subsequent to the post-conflict 2006 vote in Aceh Province that permitted local actors to run as independents. According to the review of Law Number 32 Year 2004, July 23, 2007, the court passed a petition regarding the process of non-party side nominations,3) known as the independent pathway (jalur independen). The review opened up the opportunity for candidates to run in elections without political party nomination.4) Considering that new development, therefore, at present Indonesia has two important and legitimate mediums through which political actors run for local elections, namely, the political party and the independent pathway.
Third, direct (local leader) elections have positioned voters as the premier judge in determining leaders. Voters have autonomy in electing a pair of local leaders independently. As we will discuss later, voters can even vote differently from their previous choice of party representatives in national and local legislatures. Consequently, responding to the “autonomy” of voters in electing candidates, the terms “popular,” “acceptable,” and “electable” are part of the vocabulary for candidates who struggle in contemporary local elections.
Finally, local elections are an indispensable arena for political parties to seize power. Following the implementation of decentralization at the local level, the authority given by the central government to local governments in managing financial and political resources has significantly increased. At the same time, lodging control of local government with local elites means the distance between those elites and their constituents has narrowed. Therefore, winning local elections is not understood simply as procuring control of local government but is also the means by which to be directly in touch with the acquisition and maintenance of political constituencies at the grassroots. In this sense, success in local elections is also about the survival and sustainability of political parties at the grassroots.
Accordingly, political parties have a strong rationale for extensive involvement in local elections. First, parties now recognize victory in local elections as an opportunity for their cadres to engage in the political learning process. For more than 32 years during the Suharto era, political parties were marginalized and impotent. According to Akbar Tanjung, a senior politician of the Golkar Party, during the Suharto era parties served as “cheerleaders” and as participants in political displays, as they did not have an arena in which to perform their traditional roles and functions regarding political recruitment and institutionalization.5) Second, political parties now consider success in local elections as an entry point for exercising executive power in each region. This realization is particularly important because executive positions are seen as part of a vital machine for the implementation of policies and political visions, as well as for providing access to financial and political resources. Finally, for young and minor political parties, which still have limited potential cadres to promote in the contestations, local leader elections are an arena for attracting potential and popular candidates from non internal party’s cadres to run under their flag.
In addition, the dynamics of local leader elections require political actors to understand changes in voting behavior. While we cannot generalize that all things are equal in all Pilkada, as in some cases voting behavior has special characteristics—particularly in areas of conflict such as Aceh, Poso, and Papua—significant changes in voting behavior are evident in local leader elections. Departing from a class perspective, some scholars, for instance, started to question the weight of the political sects (politik aliran) approach (Hadiz 2004a; 2004b). Utilizing regression analysis, the works of politik aliran, religious affinity, regions, ethnicity, and social class of voting behavior in the post-Suharto democracy have been also questioned (Saiful Mujani and Liddle 2004; 2009; Saiful Mujani et al. 2012). Furthermore, political behavior is obviously different now compared with the 1950s (Saiful Mujani 2004). Regarding the significant changes, thus, the strategy for facing current Pilkada cannot be based merely on conventional ideas regarding the importance of political sects, political machines, and political patrimonialism.
Contemporary Pilkada are not only important for local people to have the opportunity to directly select their leaders; Pilkada necessitate political adjustments in local actors’ strategies to account for the large shift in local political dynamics. The new political dynamic has also provided an entry point for pollsters and political polling to play a role in an evolving set of political games, as pollsters are seen as one of the most capable actors in detecting and measuring new trends in voting behavior.
Therefore, there is a symbiotic mutualism between local players and pollsters that represents the new dynamics in local leader elections. According to Heri Akhmadi6) and Akhmad Mubarok,7) senior politicians in the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, PDIP) and the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD), political parties and pollsters are pillars that support each other as couples, striving to fulfill each other’s needs. Moreover, with the new circumstances in local contests, pollsters have been the most reliable means to detect fundamental changes in voting behavior. In short, pollsters fill the hole left by this new reality and play a notably significant role in local contests.
Polling in Local Elections
As previously mentioned, the increased involvement of political polling in local leader elections coincided with the first cycle of Pilkada that began in 2005. Before 2005, there were few pollsters in Indonesia. For instance, in the 1999 general elections there were five pollsters conducting polls at the national level: the Resource Productivity Center; the International Foundation for Election Systems; the Jakarta-based Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education, and Information (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial, LP3ES); the Kompas newspaper; and the Political Laboratory of the University of Indonesia (Komite Pemberdayaan Politik-Lab Politik UI) (Lembaga Survei Indonesia 2004, 30–31). In addition, before the 2004 general elections there were some pollsters involved in national pre-election polling, such as the Center for Islamic Studies and Society (Pusat Pengkajian Islam dan Masyarakat), the Indonesian Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Indonesia, LSI), Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate (SSS), and Danareksa Research Institute. There were also media polls, such as the R&D of Kompas Daily (Litbang Kompas), polls by SMS (short message system) of the SCTV (Surya Citra Televisi), and tele-polling of MARS Indonesia (ibid., 47–54). Although the number of pollsters and their activities were obvious, as Kuskridho Ambardi, executive director of the Jakarta-based LSI, illustrated, polls in this period were not part of widely accepted political, social, and economic discussions as many party men were still unaware and rejected the idea that polls should be included in a shared democratic vocabulary. At the time, political actors and mass media exposed doubts regarding the value and political influence of polls.8)
Following the first wave of local leader elections starting in 2005, the number of pollsters mushroomed, including those participating in Pilkada, such as media pollsters (Republika, Bisnis Indonesia, etc.), political party pollsters (i.e. the PDIP’s Rekode), and national and local pollsters.9) Moreover, media coverage of polling was massive, and the publication of polling results was also intensive, which led to a “survey fever” in Indonesian politics nationally and locally.
The earliest involvement of polling activities in local politics was in the first local leader elections in Kutai Kartanegara, held on June 1, 2005. The duo of Syaukani Hasan Rais and Samsuri Aspar took the assistance of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.10) Further, the election for the governor of Banten Province in November 2006 marked the beginning of the “war” among national pollsters in Pilkada, as many national pollsters became involved in the contest.11) The vigorous participation of pollsters in Pilkada has come to the fore ever since the Golkar Party officially invited pollsters to become a central instrument in its polls-based candidacy, which began in December 2005, under the banner of the party’s Operational Guidelines (Juklak, Petunjuk Pelaksanaan) Number 2 Year 2005.12) From those moments, polling has been omnipresent in Pilkada.
The application of polling in direct local leader elections has raised the expectation that polling itself strengthens and supports the development of local democracy. In other words, political polling is thought to encourage political actors to hear the previously neglected voices of local communities, and to create visions and frameworks that reflect people’s opinions. The utilization of polling, therefore, has created great optimism that the government and political actors will be encouraged to be more responsive to popular perspectives. In particular, it is thought that polling promotes the emergence of local leaders in closer touch with community preferences.13) Consequently, it is believed that those policies and platforms that are contrary to popular aspirations will be abandoned.
In practice, political parties and candidates utilize polling to improve their adaptation to a new local political environment by engaging in such activities as the following: (1) mapping the most favorable program to attract voters’ support; (2) evaluating the performance of the incumbent; (3) measuring the degree of popularity, acceptability, and electability of both political parties and potential candidates; (4) identifying party identification among voters and swing voters; (5) observing which media are most appropriate for socialization; (6) determining how candidates should socialize with voters; (7) scrutinizing the whom, the where, and the why of potential supporters and rivals; and finally (8) testing the waters and mapping strategies for minimizing possible losses.14) Last but not least, political parties and candidates view polling outcomes as the ultimate factor in deciding whether or not to continue running for election. By doing so, political actors can minimize their losses and failures.
With regard to Pilkada, there are four types of pollsters that have played a role in local contests. The first are national pollsters. Almost all national pollsters are key players in local leader elections. Prominent names, such as the LSI, the Indonesian Survey Circle (Lingkaran Survei Indonesia), Indo-Barometer, Cirrus Surveyor Indonesia, National Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Nasional), and Indonesian Vote Network (Jaringan Suara Indonesia), have increased the vibrancy of local elections. The second type of pollsters are local pollsters that are part of national organizations. These institutions have an organizational relationship with the “parent” pollsters in their headquarters. Examples are the 34 local partner institutions of the Indonesian Survey Circle, which are also incorporated in the Indonesian Association for Public Opinion Research (Asosiasi Riset Opini Publik Indonesia, AROPI).15) The third type are local pollsters who initially operated as individuals working with national pollsters but later, having gained the skills and knowledge required for public opinion polling and political consultancy, decided to become independent and set up their own local polling organizations. Examples are the Makassar-based Adhyaksa Supporting House and the Makassar-based Celebes Research and Consulting. Adhyaksa Supporting House worked together with the Indonesian Survey Circle to assist the pair consisting of Syahrul Yasin Limpo and Agus Arifin Nu’mang in the 2007 South Sulawesi gubernatorial elections.16) Meanwhile, the head of Celebes Research and Consulting previously worked at the LSI. The last type of pollsters are “independent” local pollsters. These pollsters have from the beginning worked on their own: acquiring the necessary skills, understanding polling methods, and conducting surveys. They have developed and expanded a specific market segment. These pollsters have no relations with pollsters at either the organization or the network level. Examples include the Surabaya-based Research Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Pusat Studi Demokrasi dan Hak Azasi Manusia, Pusdeham); the Makassar-based Insert Institute, Yayasan Masagena, and Script Survey Indonesia; and the Medan-based Inter-Media Study.
Local Leader Elections: Pollsters’ New Realm
In general, pollsters have realized that local leader elections are attractive because they provide opportunities to bet on the new arena of political contests. Because local leader elections are numerous and spread out in various areas, the elections have provided new ground on which pollsters can survive, obtain significant financial benefits, and even attain a sphere of influence.
In comparison, national elections (both general and presidential), though noteworthy, attention-grabbing, and having significant financial impact, attract only the biggest and fittest pollsters. Therefore, there have been only a few outstanding pollsters who have become involved in and taken advantage of these two principal national events. National elections require more than just skills and wills; they require such technical factors as a significant survey network that permeates the country, a high degree of professionalism, and the capacity to cover the high cost of a national survey. These are among the factors behind the low participation rate of pollsters in national contests. In addition, the national election is a ruthless judge of pollsters’ credibility because the results, particularly pre-election polling and quick counts, are directly tested by the public, openly examined by the mass media, and critically discussed in academic circles. Simply put, polling outcomes are scrutinized and compared to the official vote count of the Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum, KPU). Consequently, the publication of polling results means laying a bet not only on the credibility but also on the sustainability of a pollster’s activity. The ability to accurately predict the outcome of an election is one of the pollster’s pillars of credibility. Although polling is not an instrument for predicting election results, if polling results are significantly different from the actual results of the election it spells disaster for the pollster’s credibility. A pollster named Information Research Institute (Lembaga Riset Informasi, LRI), also known as Johan Polls, was closed down after it failed to predict the outcome of the 2009 presidential election. The LRI released the results of surveys conducted in the 15 most populous provinces, involving 4,000 to 12,000 respondents per province. Based on the polling, LRI confidently predicted that the 2009 presidential election would go to the second round. In fact, in the presidential election held on July 8, 2009 the SBY-Budiono pair had a landslide victory in the first round (60 percent). This failure to predict an accurate result led the owner of the LRI to close the office for good.17) This tale will not soon be forgotten in the Indonesian pollster community’s collective history. Thus, in national elections, it seems that accuracy is the ultimate test that accounts for the rise and fall of pollsters.
Unlike the case of national pollsters, for local pollsters Pilkada represent the future of their existence. Local leader elections seem to provide opportunities for all kinds of pollsters: prominent national pollsters, national pollsters who do not participate in national elections, and even local pollsters with limited capacity all come to enjoy the “feast of local democracy.” In addition, local leader elections absorb many kinds of pollsters who wield, methodologically speaking, good, bad, and ugly techniques. Even the image and credibility of a pollster seems not to be critical in the context of local leader elections. A pollster that does not always succeed in local polling is still able to advertise in the national newspaper claiming to be the most successful pollster in the country, without any significant objection from the public. The public does not easily recall the failures of pollsters in local leader elections because, on average, there is a local leader election every two days.
Second, although polling in local leader elections is not profitable compared to polling in national elections, judging from their enormous number the former appear to provide enough financial resources for pollsters to survive and continue their operations. Not only have pollsters gained significant financial profit, but many rely solely on Pilkada for their wealth and fame. For some pollsters, local elections provide the only opportunity for financial benefit, as they cannot compete in national polling. Most important, the wave of local leader elections is attractive because it is truly a huge market. To make a simple calculation, in the first wave of Pilkada, for instance, in one round of local leader elections for governors, bupati, and mayors, there were approximately 510 elections with more than 1,500 pairs of candidates. Furthermore, the average number of pairs involved in elections has increased in the ongoing second cycle that lasts until 2014. According to Juklak 2/2009, for instance, the Golkar Party requires three surveys for every local election, which means the party conducts at least 1,530 political surveys. Moreover, the PD and the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN) require at least one survey during the nomination process. Meanwhile, the PDIP is beginning to consistently utilize polling for candidates to support the party’s decision to nominate local leader candidates. If we include polling conducted individually by candidates and businessmen, the number is significantly larger. Moreover, the potential market is not exclusively for pre-election polls/surveys but also includes quick surveys, quick counts, quick real counts, exit polls, and political consultation.18) Most important, pollsters’ activities in local leader elections are quite simple and manageable, requiring no large surveyor networks and costs, and fitting within local areas, customs, and cultures. Finally, several cases demonstrate that successful pollsters that predict the winning local candidates gain not just money but also access to power and/or projects in the local area.19)
Another factor influencing pollsters that are intensively involved in local leader elections is that supportive funding from foreign donors has mostly ended. Previously, between the 1990s and 2005, certain pollsters received operational funding from external donors to support their daily activities under the banner of developing democracy in Indonesia; for example, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) supported the LSI from 2003 to 2005.20) In 2004, almost all institutions, including the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, and LP3ES, saw the end of financial support from foreign donors. This development required pollsters to search for alternative funding to run their programs. The wave of local leader elections since 2005 has provided a significant alternative funding opportunity for pollsters.
To conclude, the huge market, the simplicity of managing local polling, and the end of some foreign donors’ support in 2005, as well as the invitation from political parties to engage in political and strategic adaptation, as we will discuss next, has led national and local pollsters to engage in the dynamics of local leader elections.
Instrument of Local Political Games
This section highlights the importance of the ongoing use of polling with regard to local political games. Polling is increasingly being used by political parties and other local political players in Pilkada. Political parties have started to utilize polling in the process of identifying candidates. However, at the same time, local political players such as candidates and local elites have also started to take advantage of polling as a tool for obtaining a political vehicle, a bribery map, and a voter mobilization map, and as a means for inviting the indirect bandwagon effect.
A Tool of Political Parties: Evolving Polls-based Candidacy
Responding to the change from indirect to direct local leader elections in the Indonesian election system, political parties began to consider adjusting to polls-based candidacy for winning those elections or at least minimizing failure and defeat. Previously, the nomination process for local leader elections was based on both the iron law of oligarchy with regard to local elites and the influence of “money politics.” Under this situation, a candidate was in a better position if he or she was part of the local political elite or possessed capital by which to procure a political party as a kendaraan politik (literally, a “political vehicle”). Accordingly, to obtain a political vehicle, candidates paid party elites for approval, a phenomenon known as political dowry (mahar politik). The latter is an amount of money that stands as a symbol of agreement between the party elite and the candidate so that the party or parties nominate the political actor as the only candidate to run in the election. In some cases, the giving of political dowry also means that candidates pay all the costs of both the election nomination process and the campaign. During this time, “money talks” politics, mixed with the influence of the elites’ and local bosses’ weight and approval, are not only the first element in the nomination process but to some extent are really the only game in town.
The period of Pilkada, which started in June 2005, has changed the local political landscape by emphasizing that politics is no longer centered merely on local elites. Instead, local direct elections provide greater room for the will of the people to be the new political epicenter. Unfortunately, most political parties were not ready to adjust to this new environment. Many parties, including major ones such as Golkar, held old views in facing the new situation: they assumed the effective working of the political machine and patrimonialism. Parties in general did not have any idea how to respond to the modern political challenges until they suffered defeats in the early stages of new direct local leader elections. For instance, the champion of the 2004 general elections, the Golkar Party, was beaten in almost 70 percent of local leader elections up until December 2005.21)
Responding to those embarrassing defeats in the early stages of the first cycle of Pilkada, the Golkar Party revised its implementation guidelines (Juklak) for short-listed candidates to take advantage of polling techniques. Golkar declared in December 2005 that it would rely on polling as the primary method for identifying candidates in local leader elections (Juklak 5/2005) and invited pollsters to assist the party in determining and selecting candidates. Golkar determined that it would examine the public acceptability of a candidate through periodic polling because it wanted to nominate the most popular and least disliked candidates. In Golkar’s understanding, the use of polling in the determination of prospective candidates would seem to increase the party’s success rate in local leader elections.
The Golkar way of polls-based candidacy created a domino effect, spurring other political parties to also utilize polling as a new device in reforming the selection process and improving strategies for winning local leader elections. The PAN in 2006 decided, based on the national meeting held that year, to utilize polling as part of its process for identifying candidates. The PD in 2007 also turned to a pollster for help with its candidate identification and nomination processes. Finally, although it had unofficially and partially utilized polling since 2006, the PDIP officially decided in 2010 to take advantage of political polling as part of the party’s decision-making process.22) Among the main reasons why parties utilize polling is the need to modernize the party, minimize money politics in local candidate selection, and reduce potential conflicts among political actors. Another reason is that political parties need to adapt to new situations in order to maintain their relevance in society.
1. Golkar Party
Golkar is one of the parties that have consistently applied polling in the recruitment of prospective regional leaders. The Golkar Party issued its Operational Guidelines Number 5 in 2005 and strengthened those guidelines in the most current version (Juklak Number 2 in 2009) (Dewan Pimpinan Pusat Partai Golkar 2009a). The new guidelines require that the National Assembly of Party Leaders (Dewan Pimpinan Pusat, DPP) select the most electable candidate based on polling outcome. In particular, the new guidelines require polling to be undertaken at least three times during the candidacy process. The guidelines also clearly divide the work between the party and the pollsters. Pollsters have been given a strong and independent role in measuring the popularity, acceptability, and electability of candidates, all important ingredients in the nomination process.
In Table 1, it can be seen that the party incorporates polling throughout the candidate nomination process. Among the 14 steps making up the candidacy process, almost half are handled by professional pollsters.
Since the Golkar Party decided to utilize polling, the party has hired at least three independent pollsters and polls-based political consultants. All polling activities were undertaken by the Indonesian Survey Circle in 2005, the LSI in 2006, and Indo-Barometer in 2008. Political consulting services were provided by the Indonesian Survey Circle and Indo-Barometer. Meanwhile, from the beginning, the LSI consistently worked only on polling.
The new system has, on the one hand, led to a significant degree of displeasure in the Golkar’s local cadres, as it is seen as a re-centralization of the decision making of nominating candidates. Seen in this way, the involvement of pollsters has strengthened the domination of the DPP over the DPD in the candidacy process. The new system indicates a centralization of political recruitment. On the other hand, the new guidelines have had a somewhat significant impact on the party’s success rate in local leader elections. From January 2006, soon after the Golkar guidelines were implemented, until the end of the year Golkar won more than 64 percent of the 75 elections it participated in. After utilizing polling, the party’s achievements in gubernatorial elections were better than they had been in 2005. Golkar won 46.8 percent of elections at all levels of the first wave of Pilkada.23) Up until December 2008 Golkar had won 42.42 percent of all elections held at the district and municipal levels and 25 percent of all elections held at the provincial level. It is also interesting to note that 72 percent of Golkar’s achievements after 2006 were made through coalitions with other parties. This provides evidence that polling led Golkar to improve its winning strategy by increasing cooperation with other parties (coalition) to significantly achieve victory in the first cycle of Pilkada.
2. National Mandate Party
Since 2006, the National Mandate Party (PAN) has applied a new approach to invite prospective candidates. Unlike the previous approach, where the party selected only the internal party’s cadres, following its 2006 national meeting the PAN opened the possibility for outsiders (non-internal party cadres) to apply for nomination in local leader elections under the flag of the party. This decision challenged previous mechanisms, which emphasized that only the original candidates were to be supported by the party, with no room for outsiders. Accordingly, the party incorporated elements of political polling as a key part of the candidacy process. The new approach in the candidacy process is as outlined in Table 2.
Table 2 shows that polling is an essential factor in deciding which candidates the party will support. To gain the optimum outcome, the party also requires two other qualities of its candidates—namely, integrity and capacity—as part of its final decision. Yet, “electability” is most important among the candidacy criteria.24) Regarding this new approach, Viva Yoga Muladi, the former deputy secretary-general of the PAN, highlighted that the new system was designed mainly to foster party modernization and to make the party more rational and inclusive.25) Most important, implementing polls-based candidacy was intended to prevent the political tendency of using the party as merely a “rental” political vehicle in elections. Moreover, the inclusion of polling in the nomination phase has allowed anybody, whether a party’s cadre or an outsider, to gain the support of the party based on his or her potential to win the election.
The role of polling was strengthened after Drajat Wibowo, the academic wing of the party, and Aria Bima Sugiarto, the former executive director of the Jakarta-based pollster Charta-Politica, achieved the top-ranking positions of the DPP in the present era of the Hatta Rajasa administration. These two men are the figures behind the emerging role of polling in the party. To support the thorough modernization of PAN, party elites are in the process of creating internal pollsters as a strategic instrument to be wielded in both local and general elections.
Regarding the employment of polling in the party’s candidacy process, one of the main rationales was that until December 2005 the party was a notable loser in elections. The party failed to succeed, or to be part of the winning coalition, in 86 percent of elections up to 2005. After the implementation of the new procedure of Winning the Local Leader and Vice Leader Elections, PAN started to employ polling to help its candidacy. As a result, the party experienced a dramatic improvement in performance: it won individually, or as part of the winning coalition, in 32 percent of elections in 2006, 22 percent in 2007, and 23 percent in 2008.26) The contribution of the new procedure has been that polling outcomes, for instance, have guided the party to take the principal position in 64 winning coalitions in 273 elections from 2006 to 2008. In other words, the surveys have assisted the party in seeking opportunities and developing coalitions with other parties that carry electable candidates.
3. Democratic Party
Two years after the wave of local leader elections, the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD) issued an organization rule (Peraturan Organisasi) on February 9, 2007, that specifically regulated the implementation of the mechanism for choosing candidates for local leader elections. Under the new rule, the party decided to follow the path of polls-based candidacy prior to elections. Incorporating polling in a party’s decision-making process is seen as a realistic policy for the PD. As a relative newcomer compared to other major political parties, the PD has only a few grassroots support groups and does not possess many reliable and capable original cadres to boost its performance. Therefore, polling has become not only a device to ensure that the party supports the candidate with the greatest chance of winning, but also an instrument to seek potential political actors to be included in the party as part of local and national party development. Polling results are also designed to help the party make political alliances and coalitions at the local level with the most appropriate party, even with a party that it generally opposes.27) All these measures ensure that the party plays a part in running the local government.28)
The PD decided to adopt the new mechanism of polling under the rationale of improving political performance.29) The old system of selecting candidates for local leader elections was allegedly vulnerable to the abusive politics of “buying a boat” (literally membeli perahu, or “buying a political vehicle”); many such cases were internally detected.30) Therefore, under the new regulation number 02/2007, the function of Team 9 (three people from the DPP, three from the DPD, and three from the DPC to verify which candidates will run for elections) has been improved by incorporating polling in the process. As seen in Table 3, independent polling has assisted Team 9 in identifying potential candidates. The results are submitted to the DPP to be examined and approved.