Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2015
The political conflict in Thailand during the past six years, involving increasingly large numbers of participants outside the usual elite, has elicited a great deal of speculation on the background of the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts. Foreign journalists, relying on interviews with the red-shirted demonstrators, have tended, for example, to conclude that most of these demonstrators are rural, poor, and primarily from the Northeast. Yellow Shirts, insofar as they have been able to attract interest from these journalists at all other than as the group that closed down Suvarnabhumi Airport, are said to be supporters of the “elite”. These views nicely complement each other and simplify matters for their audience.
Matters are a little more complicated, as was pointed out in a presentation made by one of us during the 2009 Year-End Conference of the Thailand Development Research Institute. Based on an extensive survey, that presentation came to the preliminary conclusion that there is no substantial difference in the social backgrounds of people who support the Red and Yellow points of view. It is important to bear in mind that, in both that presentation as well as in what follows, we are not studying the demonstrators themselves, who are only about 1 or 2 per cent of the population, but the much more numerous people who support the points of views expressed in the demonstrations.
This paper uses the same data as the earlier presentation, but it substantially refines that presentation's preliminary finding by using what we believe to be a more thorough and objective method to classify respondents into Reds and Yellows and then to find out what socioeconomic backgrounds appear to make people choose to lean towards the Reds, the Yellows, or neither. The paper is somewhat unusually ordered: the next section describes the data source used and proceeds directly to the results of the analysis. We leave to the end the technical details of how we proceed from the data to the results.
The data used both in the earlier presentation and in this paper come from a survey of political attitudes conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO), using a questionnaire prepared by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). The objective of the survey was to answer broad questions relating to economic inequality to the political divide that affects Thai society.