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Open Access Political opinion polling in post-authoritarian Indonesia: Catalyst or obstacle to democratic consolidation?

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Political opinion polling in post-authoritarian Indonesia: Catalyst or obstacle to democratic consolidation?

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The introduction of democratic elections in Indonesia after the downfall of Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order regime in 1998 has triggered intensive scholarly debates about the competitiveness, credibility and representativeness of these ballots. The main focus of such discussions has understandably been on the primary actors in the elections – parties, individual candidates and voters. But this concentration on voting behaviour and electoral outcomes has shifted attention away from another development that is at least as significant in shaping Indonesia’s new democracy: that is, the remarkable proliferation of opinion pollsters and political consultants.The central role of opinion polls in post-Soeharto politics – and the diversity of views expressed in them – have challenged many of the conventional wisdoms held about the Indonesian electorate. The picture that emerges from the rapid spread of opinion polls in recent years, and from their profound impact on the political elite, points to an increasingly sophisticated (and diversified) electorate. The rise of opinion polls as key elements in electoral politics has been so fast and so consequential that Indonesia now faces the same dilemmas typically associated with the dominance of pollsters in consolidated Western democracies.This article discusses the implications of the rising importance of opinion polling for Indonesia’s consolidating democracy.

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