Polling says it’s Jokowi’s election to lose

A new opinion survey from Indikator, a highly-regarded Jakarta polling outfit, predicts a Joko Widodo landslide in July’s presidential elections. More importantly, it sheds some light on just how much the Jakarta governor’s popularity has been a vote-winner for the party nominating him, PDI-Perjuangan—and how difficult it will be for his opponents to halt, let alone reverse, his electoral momentum.

As usual, the Bahasa Indonesia presentation slides can be downloaded here, but I’ll give a quick summary of the need-to-know information in English.

The presidential race…

Prabowo Subianto supporters may want to look away. The chart below shows how respondents answered when asked to spontaneously name their favourite presidential candidate, without being presented with a list of names.

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Jokowi has opened up a 21.5 point lead over his biggest rival, Prabowo, in this ‘top-of-mind’ question— gaining over 10 points since Indikator’s last survey—while the latter’s support has stagnated. Other data in the poll suggest that winning support from previously undecided voters has allowed Jokowi to put more distance between himself and his opponents.

When the pollsters knock out the no-hopers and gave respondents a list of the four most likely candidates to appear on the ballot in July, the results are even better for Jokowi, as the chart below shows. There’s a 33-point (!) gap between him and runner-up Prabowo, and, crucially, he’s around the crucial 50% mark which a candidate needs to get in order to win the presidential race in the first round on 9 July. Such a result would avoid the need for the election to go to a second round in September, saving Indonesia’s political parties (not to mention its taxpayers) untold millions of dollars.

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How can any of his rivals possibly close the gap? At present there are two main lines of attack from opponents. Firstly, that Jokowi has broken his promise to at least serve out his first term as governor of Jakarta. Secondly, the Gerindra party has attacked PDI-P for breaking a promise made before the 2009 elections to support their candidate, Prabowo, this time round.

But the Indikator polling, like previous surveys, shows clearly that neither of these issues resonate with voters. Most either don’t know or don’t care.

The bigger risk for Jokowi is that rival candidates and media outlets linked to them will successfully be able to put a dent in his reputation as an honest politician. Indeed, a recent poll conducted by the Jakarta think tank CSIS concluded that the number one reason why voters will change their minds about their choice of candidate is the latter’s being linked with corruption.

It just so happens that Jokowi’s administration in Jakarta has been rocked by a developing scandal involving corruption in the procurement of city buses. Indikator asked about this, and guess what: most people in Indonesia are unaware of the case, despite widespread media coverage, and only one in five of those who do know say that blame rests with Jokowi, rather than the Jakarta bureaucracy which he is (genuinely) trying to clean up. Nevertheless, the next few months will see increasingly determined efforts by opponents and hostile media outlets to emphasise corruption in the Jakarta government and link it to the governor.

In short: as the polls suggest, only Jokowi’s image being ruined by a serious corruption scandal, or his making an unprecedentedly damaging blunder or gaffe on the campaign trail, are the only things which stand between him and victory in 2014. It is, as they say, his election to lose.

The 2014-2019 parliament and the ‘Jokowi effect’…

But that’s July. Let’s take a look at what might happen on Wednesday, when Indonesians elect new national, provincial and local parliaments.

The chart below shows responses for voting intention, by political party, for the national legislature, the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, People’s Representative Chamber).

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PDI-P gets away with 24.5% support, followed by the old Soeharto machine Golkar (which is significantly outperforming its presidential candidate) and Prabowo’s Gerindra (which isn’t). The results for party support vary from poll to poll, making it difficult to know for sure what will happen on the 9th. PDI-P’s internal polling, for instance, has been showing them doing better than the numbers seen here, and other published polls have had them doing worse or around the same. What’s clear though, is that the party will do exceptionally well in this election compared to its 2009 result.

This is, needless to say, because of the so-called ‘Jokowi effect’ (which has been talked about on New Mandala here, and by Cornell’s Tom Pepinsky here).

One of the most striking results from the Indikator poll, though, was that at the time it was taken only 71% of respondents were aware that Jokowi had officially become PDI-P’s presidential candidate. Certainly, the party has bungled its advertising strategy. One mistake has been the failure to mention Jokowi’s candidacy in PDI-P’s TV spots until the dying days of the campaign. Slick new TV adverts do show ordinary Indonesians learning of the declaration of Jokowi’s candidacy, then joyfully getting to work in support of him:

They’re good ads. The problem is, for most of the legislative campaign, PDI-P has been putting Megawati’s daughter and PDI-P national campaign chief, Puan Maharani, before the cameras:

Now, I’m sure that Puan is a lovely person, but nobody has ever claimed she has any electoral appeal outside the base—or even that much inside it, to be honest. What’s the point of spending a mint on TV advertising that doesn’t feature your party’s main vote-winner?

So, as good as PDI-P’s polling numbers look, it’s clear that the good people at PDI-P head office have, for reasons about which I dare not speculate, not taken full advantage of the opportunity offered to them by the ‘Jokowi effect’.

The takeaway

As the polls stand now, two things seem clear. Firstly, that Joko Widodo looks unbeatable. (Duh). Secondly, that thanks to its having him on board as its candidate, PDI-P is headed for a stunning political comeback after a decade out of government. What will be fascinating to watch on polling day is just how big its victory is. Stay tuned, folks.