Cameron Highlands: Under the microscope
Cameron Highlands is known for its cool weather and tea, but it was also the site of one of GE14’s most interesting parliamentary contests (and it may not be over yet). In this two-part post, we explore the results of P78 Cameron Highlands to understand the voting trends at play there. The constituency was (unusually) unchanged in the recent redelineation exercise, and its boundaries have remained unchanged since 2003.
Cameron Highlands is a rural and mixed seat, with roughly 34% Malay, 30% Chinese, and 15% Indian voters. It also has the largest presence of Orang Asli voters in Peninsula Malaysia, at 21%. This racial breakdown makes it an interesting competitive battleground.
In GE14, Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Sivaraj Chandran eked out a narrow victory with a majority of 597. For context, this was the 13th smallest majority in GE14. There were 790 spoilt votes (in case any readers from Cameron Highlands who spoiled their votes wondered).
The following figure shows the vote shares for BN and the opposition Pakatan in each of the last four elections. Each subsequent election, BN’s vote share has decreased (from 72% in 2004 to 42% in 2018). Given the trends of BN and Pakatan, BN’s survival could have something to do with the five-cornered fights starting in GE13.
By looking at the results from different polling areas/districts, we can gain several insights.
Crowded fields increase competition, helping some but hindering others
The more parties competing in any election, the more each party has to do (theoretically) to fight for its vote share. In GE13, three parties and two independent candidates contested the election. In GE14, five different parties contested the election – most significantly, PAS got thrown into the mix.
This led to a decrease in the vote shares of the three parties that previously contested in GE13. The BN vote share decreased from 48% to 42%, the DAP vote share decreased from 46% to 40%, and BERJASA’s vote share decreased from 4% to 0.33%. PAS won 15% of the vote here in GE14.
If we look at the voting patterns in FELDA areas (prototypical rural and ethnic-Malay dominant areas), it’s clear that PAS was the primary reason for the drop in support for both BN and Pakatan. The figures below shows the votes won in the Sungai Koyan polling areas from GE13 to GE14 – PAS visibly ate away a significant chunk of BN and Pakatan’s respective vote shares.
BN typically outperformed Pakatan with the demographic in these areas. However, because PAS attracts voters from a similar demographic to BN, you could argue that BN suffered more from the greater competition, which resulted in BN’s diminished margins in GE14.
Shifts in support based on race and geography
Cameron Highlands is a distinct constituency for its high number of Orang Asli voters (the most in Peninsula Malaysia). Orang Asli voters largely supported BN in both GE13 and GE14. 9 out of 29 polling districts in Cameron Highlands consisted of at least 95% Orang Asli voters. The following figure shows the BN vote share in these districts – support for BN got consolidated amongst Orang Asli voters in GE14.
The majority Orang Asli polling districts are largely rural. In contrast, there are three polling districts in Cameron Highlands that have towns or urban characteristics. These districts saw a consolidation of support for Pakatan in GE14. Readers will recognize these as the tourist centers of Cameron Highlands.
Pakatan lost to BN in Tanah Rata in GE13 by a 1.4% margin. In GE14, Pakatan defeated BN by a margin of 17%. This was probably due to PAS siphoning off over 11% of the votes, which may have otherwise gone to BN. PAS played a similar role stealing BN support in Berinchang. This led to an increase in Pakatan’s margin over BN from 11% in GE13 to 15% in GE14.
In Bandar Ringlet, PAS appears to have chipped away at Pakatan’s margin instead. Pakatan beat BN by a 59% margin in GE13, but only a 50% margin in GE14.
Shifts in support based on age
Perhaps the most interesting insight comes from looking at saluran-level data. In large polling districts, voters in a polling station are typically divided into different saluran (streams) based on their age. We looked at 11 polling districts with multiple streams and of different geographical types and compared
The following figure shows the change in vote share for each party by a district’s geographical type, and comparing old voters (usually voting in Saluran 1) and young voters (Saluran 3/4/5).
Interestingly, voters of different ages did not change in systematically different ways from GE13 to GE14, but we can observe generally higher levels of support for each party amongst particular age groups (e.g. in Lembah Bertam, a plantation, support for Pakatan is generally higher amongst younger voters from saluran 3/4/5).
This figure also makes it easy to see that Pakatan made marginal inroads with Orang Asli voters in GE14. Another obvious insight is that the introduction of PAS in GE14 significantly affected BN and Pakatan’s performance in FELDA areas.
In contrast to prior posts that have looked at general nationwide trends, we can zoom in to the results of a single constituency. Analyzing results at the polling district level and even the saluran-level gives us additional insights into what happened in GE14, and helps us know what to look out for in the next election. We expect Cameron Highlands will be another exciting contest.
Researched and written by Kai Syuen Loh and Danesh Prakash Chacko of Tindak Malaysia. This post was edited by Kevin Soo.