The study of voting behaviour in democratic Indonesia has become one of the most contested areas in the scholarly debate on the shape and character of the post-Suharto polity. In particular, analysts of Indonesian politics have focused on two main questions. First, why have Indonesian citizens voted as they have for parties and presidential/vice-presidential candidates in the post-authoritarian national elections that have now been held three times since the 1998 democratic transition? And second, what are the implications of this behaviour for the quality of current and future Indonesian democratic life?
In a series of studies based on our own national political opinion surveys since Suharto' fall, we have tried to find comprehensive answers to these questions. In our first major discussion of the subject, we argued that leadership or candidate appeal and self-identification with a political party (‘party ID’ in the voting behaviour literature) were the most important factors shaping individual partisan and candidate choices in the 1999 and 2004 elections. With this conclusion, we rejected an alternative interpretation that had been held by most scholars since the earliest democratic elections in 1955. According to these scholars, sociological or cultural factors—most notably religious affinities, but also region, ethnicity and social class—were the principal determinant of Indonesian voting behaviour.
In our 2009 surveys, we found strong continuities but also striking shifts in the factors shaping voter choice. These new findings are based on two national opinion polls that we conducted just after the parliamentary and presidential elections in April and July. Party leader or candidate appeal remains the most important factor, but party and presidential/ vice-presidential media campaigns, especially on television, have become powerful forces in their own right. At the same time, party ID has weakened, though it remains influential in explaining individual votes for some parties and candidates. However, the most remarkable finding of our new research is the prominence of voter perceptions of the national economic condition, a factor that was not significant in 1999 and 2004. Also newly significant is voter evaluation of the economic and other policies of incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, factors introduced into our 2009 surveys for the first time. As in 1999 and 2004, we found little evidence that voters were influenced by religious, ethnic, regional or social class identities and affiliations.