History of Survey Institutions in Indonesia: The Difference Between Past and Present

Jakarta, CNBC Indonesia – Every general election (election), the results of political surveys conducted by survey institutions often become a reference for the public.

By looking at the survey results, the public can find out the level of electability of each candidate in the election contestation. This can happen thanks to the application of appropriate methodology, so that survey results are able to achieve a high level of accuracy similar to the results of official calculations by election organizers.

However, survey results often generate controversy, especially those released by survey institutions that are considered not credible.

Since when have political survey activities by survey institutions been carried out in Indonesia?

Indonesianist Marcus Mietzner in his research entitled “Political Opinion Polling in Post-authoritarian Indonesia: Catalyst or Obstacle to Democratic Consolidation?” (BRILL, 2009) states that the existence of a political survey must basically fulfill two conditions.

Firstsociety must experience civil and political freedom. Secondthe existence of professional surveys that require methodology, experienced researchers, and large sample respondents.

Of course, said Mietzner, these two conditions cannot occur in an authoritarian or pseudo-democratic country. In the Indonesian context, for example, political survey activities could not have occurred in the period 1959 to 1998, more precisely in the era of Presidents Soekarno and Suharto.

“Between 1959 and 1998, Indonesia was governed by an authoritarian regime that closed the space for survey or the emergence of different perspectives from ordinary people,” Mietzner wrote.

Only after that period could political surveys be carried out in Indonesia. The Institute for Research, Education and Social and Economic Information (LP3ES) is the main driver. For this institution, political surveys are not something strange.

At the end of Soeharto's rule, LP3ES once carried out a quick count (quick count) in Jakarta for the 1997 elections. Then in the 1999 elections, LP3ES also conducted a survey of the electability of political parties in the Java region.

At that time, LP3ES placed the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) led by Megawati Soekarnoputri in first place, followed by the National Awakening Party (PKB) and Golkar. However, unlike today, the survey results in the early stages were not of much concern.

Mietzner said this could happen because in the 1999 elections voting had not yet become a tool for political actors to gain an image that could increase their vote share.

Political parties still use traditional methods of campaigning and have not used political surveys as in-depth studies. After all, at that time, executive and legislative membership was not directly elected by the people, but was still regulated by a conspiracy of elites.

2004 Election & the turning point from academic to commercial

The 2004 election was not only the first democratic party that allowed the people to directly elect the president and vice president, but was a turning point that changed the elite's view of political surveys.

System one man one vote clearly changing the electoral paradigm from being initially managed by elites to now making the people's voice truly taken into consideration. According to Mietzner, the 2004 presidential campaign gave rise to many survey institutions that changed Indonesia's political landscape.

Political survey calculations then helped to enliven the figure of Indonesia's future leader. One of those who conduct political surveys is the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) which was founded in August 2003.

Two months before the election, citing reports Detik.com (11 May 2004), LSI released the results of a national survey which stated that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) would win the election with 40% of the vote. LSI's calculations ultimately proved accurate: SBY won the first round, although the final percentage was different from the KPU's official calculation.

Interestingly, the 2004 campaign period also made survey institutions change their direction.

Before the 2004 election, Mietzner said, pollsters were largely driven by academic curiosity and a strong interest in preventing manipulation in the first post-authoritarian election.

“Therefore, the main sponsors of survey institutions at that time were not parties or candidates, but foreign donors such as USAID and similar institutions who wanted to advance democratization in Indonesia,” wrote Mietzner.

However, in the 2004 election, survey institutions not only presented their survey results, but also provided advice on how executive and legislative candidates could win the election. Since then, said Mieztner, survey institutions have been divided into two camps.

First, an academic camp that believes that surveys must meet society's needs for information and transparency. This camp is always open to politicians regarding information, but does not refuse payments.

It's just that, Mieztner said, they refuse to advise political actors on how to run a campaign, create a certain image, or design a platform to help defeat opponents.

Second, commercial or business stronghold. As the name suggests, the survey institute that is part of this has a mission to help politicians win elections. Of course, by setting rates for collaborating politicians. They not only conduct surveys, but also organize the course of the campaign. Starting from building an image and spreading promises through various media.

The split of survey institutions into two camps, especially in the business camp, has given rise to its own problems. According to Mieztner, these problems can take the form of manipulation, commercialization and potential partiality. Not to mention, this also increases campaign costs.

However, on the other hand, the proliferation of survey institutions in Indonesia has an important meaning for the development of democracy.

“The existence of open, competitive and uncensored activities by survey institutions is a strong indication of democratic dynamics. […] “More importantly, opinion surveys and quick counts have increased the credibility of elections which contribute to democratic stability in Indonesia,” wrote the researcher from Australia National University.

Over time, survey institutions add their own color to each election. Now, there are 40 survey institutions registered with the KPU for the 2024 election.

[Gambas:Video CNBC]

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