Nicole Seah and Public Opinion


In my last posting, I mentioned that so many local politicians and political candidates lacked charisma, or a simple measure of “likeability”. Since then, a new Opposition candidate has burst onto the scene with oodles of charisma, simply by being herself.

Yes, 24-year-old Nicole Seah is the talk of the town this week, and I’m impressed (along with just about everyone who has seen her debut press conference) at how she’s hitting nearly all the right notes from the get-go. Not because she has a nice-looking profile picture, mind you, but she really carried herself well during that debut event.

You can see that video here:

(BTW, Razor TV, you really ought to stop using Flash video, you realize how many people are using mobile devices that don’t run Flash? And it’s not just Apple products!)

I’ve been observing her phenomenal growth in online popularity over the past two days.

Most Popular Candidate Online?

My friends have been busy sharing the above Nicole Seah video with their Twitter/FB networks frequently (along with very positive sentiments), and she’s probably gotten more visibility than all the new political candidates combined. A homebrew comparison video between Ms Seah and PAP’s Ms Tin Pei Ling (you know, the other young candidate in town) has already popped up.

Both ladies will be contesting in the Marine Parade constituency as part of a larger group of candidates.

My wife pointed out that Ms Seah is adding fans on her Facebook page at an amazing rate. It jumped from 9,000+ people to 14,000+ in just one day this weekend. You know, it took me several months to get our Xbox Facebook page to several thousand people!Ms Tin currently has about 2500 FB fans on her public profile page and it’s growing a lot more slowly.

At the same time, the mainstream media (or maybe it’s just The Straits Times, since I don’t really read the other papers or watch Channelnewsasia regularly) has been slow, or perhaps reluctant to give coverage to Ms. Seah.

What People Want To Read Vs….

Whether it’s government intervention to prevent the mainstream media coverage from skewing their coverage (why, surely people want to read what the ministers have to say about their policies and pre-election financial handouts!) or simply self-censorship, it’s just another disappointing aspect of our local media coverage of the elections. Until I’m proven wrong of course.

Mind you, while the rest of the population goes on with their own lives during this campaigning period, the media is actually in overdrive. Most of the journos in the newsroom are being mobilized, whether they like politics or not, to prepare for action during Nomination Day, Polling Day and all the rallies/walkabouts in between.

I remember we used to create big picture charts so that the non-political beat reporters could learn to recognize the various MPs and new candidates, so you know, you could tell Ah Kow from Ah Ngeow, and who’s that young retired army general anyway?

Yet all this tiring editorial work is pointless if editors don’t realize what people want to read about.To their credit, they do try to find out, but by the time they get a tipoff, get a journalist to do the story and get it published, it’s probably several days after people stopped talking about the topic. But there are things that I’d like to read….

For example, I don’t care to read another long boring full-page profile interview on a new candidate.

  • I want to read what REAL people are thinking about the new candidates! How do people know the candidates are worth voting for when all they have to judge is  their brief media appearances?
  • Why has no newspaper commented or run stories on the odd way the former Chief Of Army speaks? (As an NSmen, it’s my national duty to keep harping on this issue)
  • I want to know what young couples think of Mah Bow Tan’s defence of his HDB “asset enhancement” policy. Is public housing a market for asset play or affordable housing for citizens?
  • I want to know why the singlehood columnists love to talk about their navel-gazing lifestyles and newfound boyfriends but don’t dare to talk about why they like one party’s candidates over the other.

Sure, I could read people’s opinion of candidates online, but why do I pay for the papers then? To read political quotes written by incompetent or jaded speechwriters? Seriously, have you listened or read any political speech these past few weeks that made you feel inspired about anything? There’s a business opportunity for talented speechwriters in Singapore and I’m sure journos would love to transcribe better prose.

With that mini rant over, my point here is that there’s now a very clear awareness plus measurement of

  • What traditional media want people to read (which is perceived by many people to equate to what the Gahmen want people to know about)
  • What people actually want to read, and that’s what they are actively sharing online.

What people want to read does not necessarily correlate to how the people vote, mind you, but I personally see Ms Seah’s appearance as a watershed moment in comparing media production and consumption in the local context.

Why Nicole Seah Is Doing It Right

Also, why are people “liking” and verbally supporting Ms Seah so much? Even though they don’t even know how capable she is?

To be realistic, the odds are completely stacked against her. (I can say so because I’m not in her voting district, so I can’t possibly vote for or against her.)

She joined the National Solidarity Party, which has never been much in the public radar. (Heck, I don’t even know any other NSP candidate besides her. I do know they have a cool slogan “Yes We Ken” on their polo shirts)

Her GRC group is up against Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s team, and any pragmatic Singaporean will tell you there’s little extra the NSP can offer versus his team. And she has little grassroots experience, which is what many people need to have as some form of evidence of future political capability (I don’t subscribe to such ideas though)

So to say that people like her because she’s an “underdog” kind of misses the point, as rooting for her is unlikely to result in the results that NSP desires. If I’m going to vote for an underdog, he or she better have an actual chance of winning despite the odds (eg. Rocky Balboa versus Ivan Drago). Sorry guys, I’m being a wet blanket here, but you know reality like I do.

What’s working for her (and not so much her party), is that Ms Seah is so far the only new candidate who’s really just being herself in public, and whether she knows it or not, that’s great execution in public relations. In my stint as a PR guy, I’ve always emphasized this to my colleagues – the best public relations you can do is just being completely natural in front of an audience.

It’s so simple to say, but so difficult for many people to do. Most people believe they need to put on some fake public persona, along with an affected way of speaking (refer back to former Chief of Army), hoping that people will give you the respect because you are speaking “like a leader”. What rubbish. Many companies, and I’m sure the Gahmen too, put their executives through media training which often teaches the wrong speaking skills.

Yes, you need to do your homework, your rehearsals, and learn how to make eye contact. But even more important is that when your public speaking opportunity begins, you are able to chuck aside all the technicalities and let your speech flow naturally with your own personal touch.

Talk to people, not talk at people lah.

What People Really Want To See

Ms Seah’s appearance and initial public performance has probably added a new headache to the PAP’s election strategy. Ms Tin has gotten mostly negative comments from the socialsphere (my term to replace the old “blogosphere”) and the choice to select her keeps backfiring on the Marine Parade team.

SM Goh recently commented in the Straits Times:

SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong urged voters in Marine Parade GRC to compare the People’s Action Party’s five-member team and the opposition’s National Solidarity Party, rather than focus on the two youngest woman candidates. The PAP’s Tin Pei Ling, 27, and NSP’s Miss Nicole Seah, 24, have been the targets of netizens since they were fielded for the coming elections. ‘I am the leader of Team Marine Parade. I have four other very strong members in team Marine Parade. Likewise, you should look at NSP as a team,’ said SM Goh during a walkabout of the constituency with his fellow GRC candidates on Saturday morning.

Look, you don’t need to tell us that. We’re intelligent voters, you know.

But the PAP started it by putting someone who was a political hot potato in the limelight, without truly understanding how the socialsphere would dissect her profile and agenda.

And Ms Tin’s backers need to realize that public opinion is like this – why focus on issues we cannot fully influence (eg. cost of goods, housing, monetary policy etc) when we can sit back and watch an entertaining showdown between two young female candidates? When was the last time we had such an opportunity?

Most people don’t care to read long rambling intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) stories, they prefer to read about gossipy stuff. In a sea of super-successful, multitasking, policy-touting but really quite boring personalities, people are obviously starving for some entertaining characters. (You can also tell that my tabloid newspaper background is kicking in :D)

So far, Ms Seah seems to grasp how Facebook works, with simple updates and frequent, honest responses to comments. I already see groupie-style comments on her page. It’s really that simple – in an age where it’s no longer scalable to do walkabouts and hope to engage as many voters as your time and feet will allow, politicians and personalities need to realize the rallying or media pressure methods of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and Noughties no longer work as effectively.

Today, the speed (some say shallowness) of social media allows likeable people to become even more liked at astounding speed. And for disliked people to drown in an ever increasing chorus of public rejection.

It’s possibly confounding to a senior politician that he can reach out to, or anger, hundreds of thousands of people online in a blink of an eye, but it’s happening and the natural response of many political creatures is to say “Let’s ignore the online chatter, it’s not important. Let’s continue what we’ve always been doing.”

And then leave the Facebooking to some amateur administrators who have never been trained in public communications.

But even if you win the final vote, the reputation that you build during this critical period becomes permanently embedded in people’s minds. Whether Ms Seah wins or not at the polls is not the issue. At this point, she’s already won the war of public opinion and this is something Ms Tin will have to grapple with for the rest of her political career.

30 Replies to “Nicole Seah and Public Opinion”

  1. For some reason so many people, and Nicole Seah fans, seem to have left this out or simply do not know. Even Miss Seah has left this out in her current social presence and pages. She’s got the flare and form for public appearances, but I have serious doubts about her background, portfolio, and history. Few people seem to remember that Nicole Seah was from Reform Party and was part of the mass resignation not long ago.
    I want to know, why did she leave Reform Party along with the others. I want to know why they couldn’t band together to oust whoever they were against in RP since their numbers were sizeable. I want to know why they simply shook their butts and resigned when problems surfaced in the party. Will these people do the same if they come into power and make mistakes?

  2. reply to gossiper:
    no ousting at RP out of deference to JBJ.
    the way it’s going RP really lives up to its name: keeps re-forming, if you know what i mean

  3. Hey, you forgot to mention that people become ‘friends’ with Tin Pei Ling on Facebook to write *HATE MAIL*!

  4. Well to be honest, I think Nicole has handled herself very well in front of the media for someone of her age and experience. However, I can’t help but question – Is she really that good, or does she only look good because we’re comparing her to Tin Pei Ling? I’m leaning towards the latter option.

    She does seem to have some amount of grassroots experience, but I don’t like how she (and almost all other political candidates) claim they can “understand” how heartlanders and the under-privileged feel. She grew up in a 5 room HDB flat, and currently holds a job in a multinational company. This puts her well within the upper-middle class in Singapore. She might be able to empathise, but definitely not understand.

    On the bright side, she seems truly sincere and honest, and with all the political hell that’s been going on in Parliament, this is indeed a refreshing change. To me, that’s more than enough to win my vote over.

    That said, there’s a distinction between liking a candidate and liking a political party. If only the rest of the politicians could be more like her in terms of character.

  5. Firstly I would like to declare tt I’m nt SDP fan boy, jus rem watching a vid from SDP via facebook. Qoute: Why are we working like slaves for the Minister wages of 10k per day? Why aren’t they working for the people instead? Think abt it.. do we want to wait for the taxes to hike & kill us then we start crying? Or should we try & learn something new, even it fails.. at least we can learnt frm trial & error.

    It’s time my dear fellow mates, we need a revolution.. let get outof the shell alrdy.

  6. Agree NSP ms Seah has little chance of winning and NSP knew that though they claimed non-suicidal act. So why field at MP GRC?
    few reasons:
    1) capitalise public sentiment to pave the ground for next election five years from now
    2) seize opportunity to stake claim to previously uncontested MP GRC so that other opp backed off
    3) field 29 years old ms seah who had five years of grassroot exp for next election at MP GRC probably as team leader

    Chances r NSP will win MP GRC election 2016. does not matter whether they win or lose this coming election. They have made the right polictical move.

    MP GRC voter

  7. agree with Dave on all 3 counts.
    quite smart on the part of NSP leadership.
    like CST said, this GE is the earthquake the tsunami comes in the next GE.

  8. @Jon. Do you know that Tin Pei Ling’s father owns a Kopitiam? And do you realise that she has dumped her ex-bf for a richer albeit much older guy? And the Kate Spade… Read more online and remember to watch Nicole’s and PL’s videos on youtube before judging.

  9. SG, now that Nicole has appeared (and done well) we should skip all the kate spade, husband, bf stuff.

    my response to Jon is you have answered the question “Is she really that good, or does she only look good because we’re comparing her to Tin Pei Ling?” in your opening statement:
    “Well to be honest, I think Nicole has handled herself very well in front of the media for *someone of her age and experience*.” (emphasis added).

    i think you meant well but i believe the focus should now move beyond comparison with the other young lady.

  10. Folks, I think everyone’s entitled to their own personal lives and actions. When it comes to the elections, if you put aside what the PAP is insisting (vote for your future security or your “asset” enhancement) for a minute, candidates need to appeal to people based on:

    – Their projected sincerity and capability

    – Their ability to connect to individual voters (and this brings in the problem of scalability. I’ve yet to see my MPs on a walkabout, not because I’m avoiding them, but because it’s not possible for them to meet every resident)

    – Their showmanship. I’m not saying a song and dance, but a flair for speaking and impressing will really really make people like you.

    – Their party policies and team makeup and ability to execute (which is always an unknown for newbies until you vote them into power).

    But for some folks like Nicole Seah, the journey, not the end, is where she will learn the most from and build her future career, whether in politics or not. I’m happy that there are individuals willing to go on the journey like her, despite the overwhelming odds.

  11. @Gossiper:

    [quote]I want to know why they simply shook their butts and resigned when problems surfaced in the party. [b]Will these people do the same if they come into power and make mistakes?[/b][/quote]

    If they make a mistake & resign after being elected, it’s better than our various minister who just tell you sorry, it’s a honest mistake, Let’s move on or No amount of engineering can prevent this blah blah blah isnt it?

  12. @ SG

    If you do read my post, I’m not saying that Tin Pei Ling is good. She’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. I’m just asking – Does Nicole Seah look better because she is compared with Tin Pei Ling?

    @ ymac

    Thanks for your constructive response. In comparison with the other candidates, she doesn’t stand out that much; there are other opposition party members I would love to see in Parliament over her.

    She doesn’t have the credentials of Chen Show Mao, and she doesn’t have the capability, wit and sharpness of Sylvia Lim. Neither does she have the experience of Tan Jee Say or Dr Ang Yong Guan. What she does have, and I repeat, is more than enough to win my vote, is a sense of sincerity and honesty, which is something a government in Singapore desperately needs.

    @ Ian Tan

    Yep. I think the important thing is to look at party policies. As much as we may like a particular candidate as a person, what they’re really bringing to the table are the policies that they plan to advance. We have to look past their “showmanship” and look to what they, as a party, plan to implement.

  13. Even if the opposition as a whole doesn’t seem that good, it’s still worth giving them a try to know if it’ll work out. At least give them a decent shot at trying their best to make a difference.

  14. Plus, presence of opposition in parliament will keep PAP on their toes. The government will have to be more accountable and PAP will be less complacent.

  15. And individually, Nicole has single-handedly proven that there are sharp, likeable and genuinely passionate young politicians. And it’s also worth comparing Nicole with Tin because in doing so, NSP has shown that PAP’s talk of how there are only enough talent for one ruling party is complete bullshit. Unless, of course PAP are saying NSP should be the ruling party… Seeing PAP desperately trying to blindly back Tin and avoid comparisons to Nicole is really a pathetic sight…

  16. To those who question Nicole Seah, choose PAP and you may live happily in material ignorance. Question is for how long? Till the day you grow old and start wiping table in hawker centres to pay off your mortgages? Or would you trade all that misery for just one chance to make a change to the inhuman policies created by PAP to destory the Singapore citizen and their future.

    Would you trade ALL that tyranny in the PAP government for a possible new government albeit weaker in the beginning?

    Think about it carefully!

  17. My thoughts:
    – PAP’s belief was that TPL is a given, just like many of the other PAP candidates. She WILL be an MP regardless what happens, since she’s on GCT’s solid team.
    – This election is just a process, and TPL is already focusing on what needs to be done once she’s in.
    Thats why i believe TPL was less prepared.
    – Nicole on the other hand, knows what she’s up against…not just in this election, but for the REST OF HER LIFE. Of course she’s better prepared. and she probably understands the conversations and mood of people on social media..she probably was listening a lot more, than TPL was.

    Anyway, this is going to be a watershed elections, where i believe social media can swing the votes.

  18. i don’t trust both. But looking at the big picture, i think that the pap team is still better than the nsp team (seriously, their “star” player is a 24year old with little or no political experience? she may have potential, but if she’s one of the best they have, who’s going to mentor her?).

    im certainly not going to vote for a party just because their frontwoman (mascot?) is pretty, educated (above average but not spectacular) and knows how to market herself.

  19. well well well, which lady do not like a nice bag is no lady!! oh, nicole seah is in advertising. nicole seah sure put that to good use. she peppered her word with sentances like ‘ i am not a scholar’, ‘I think I am overseas when i take the MRT’, ‘i dun know if that old woman will have money for her next meal’ etc other heartland staff. she sure studied the ‘Obama effect’. besides those attention, politically correct statments the heartlanders love, what else did she say? nothing. no alternatives, no solutions. just fueling some anti foreigners comments adding fuel to the flames. she mentioned to the press that if she is elected, unlike tin, she needs no mentor. dun you think her head is getting too big? she really think its that easy. well, if her wish comes true, lets see how can she ever balance the GRC budget with so much freebees she will give.

    offering no solutions, just comments anyone can say. yes she speaks well, thats basically it. but this election is no Singapore Idol.

    well, i just cant stand her. reminds me of another well spoken politician, is she a tamer version of pauline henson?

  20. I think it is still too early to judge whether Nicole or Tin Pei Ling would make a better politician. Neither of them has had any real accomplishments yet.

    And I do not think that politics should be based on personality. People shouldn’t vote for a candidate just because of their ability to ‘connect’, their oratorical skills, or their PR handling ability. In fact, I would admit I am a little suspicious of people who handle themselves too well on the media – there has been far too many cases of form over substance politicians overseas.

    The fact that we are even obsessing over Nicole Seah’s great PR skills is rather sad. Why is there a dearth of blogs dissecting the NSP’s manifesto, their plans and policies? I can safely say that out of 10 websites commenting on Nicole Seah, less than 1 of them will have even any analysis of NSP, the party she represents. Singapore’s democracy will never mature until people stop being shallow and move beyond such voting styles.

  21. I fully agree with Lionel. I am saddened that Singaporeans easily judge a person by looking at the surface! I personally am put off by her acting – crying for no real reasons!!

  22. Suggest between now and the next GE Nicole Seah applies to join Mediacorp since she is such a good actress who can turn her water taps on and off at will. She could be the lead character in Little Nonya II the sequel. She ought to be good enough to get the Best Actress Award and even oust the two aging queens and the new princess.

  23. Can’t agree more with Cheong Pek Kong. Where is Nicole Seah going to get the money to help all the poor aunties and uncles. To be realistic, quite often poverties are self inflicted because in most cases some of these people could not differentiate between “needs” and “wants” and end up squandering their scarce resources on unnecessary purchases. Sure, there will always be some who are genuinely in need of help and it is the duty of any government of the day to extend some form of financial assistance to them. Ms Seah had not once enlighten us on how she is going to find the money to elevate the sufferings of the poor. I think she is more suited for tear-jerk role with Mediacorp. She is certainly crafty though.

  24. Agree with Poor Young Man about finding money lor. So like Cheong Pek Kong says, act in Mediacorp like the new Rui En, Joanne Peh, Jeanette Aw, etc plus do product endorsements to get plenty of money to help the poor. My dear Nicole, helping people needs a lot of Vitamin M not just talk, ask questions and cry you know. Her present job’s pay where can get enough money for her charitable causes minus all the money she may be spending on her immaculate dressing. You notice hah not a strand of her hari out of place whenever in front of TV camera. Unreal right? Or may be Caldecott Hill Ah Jie or Princess quality leh. So Mediacorp are you reading this? Please recruit her into your drama unit lah and help her charity causes and boost your own flagging drama ratings. Guarantee the whole of Singapore including those who don’t understand a word of Mandarin will tune into her dramas just because she is Nicole Seah, the celebrity who nearly KO Lau Goh’s team. Don’t play play guarantee she will be more “hong” than Mediacorp’s current princess because she already got fan club mah.
    I no joking leh because if she can earn plenty Vitamin M she can help me because I also one of those old uncles Poor Young Man mentioned. $400 grow and share money how to last one year, Ms Seah?? Help ah!

  25. Hi everyone,

    A few requests from me if you want to comment on my blog.

    1. Respect everyone as an equal.
    2. Comment on people or issues as you would like people to comment about you – with a measure of respect and civility.
    3. Be balanced, try to see things from more than one perspective. You’ll then realize some of your comments are probably not worth penning down.


  26. Hi Ian, I fully agree with you – lets be thankful for this facility and use the platform with respect and civility. And please avoid using vulgar languages – they serve no purpose.
    The election is now over and it is time to look at how we can survive as a nation against the backdrop of an ever fast changing world. The world does not owe us a living and though we may not like some of the policies we are all Singaporeans and it does not make sense to “cut the nose to spite the face”. If we add up all the pluses and minuses it is fair to say that there are a lot more pluses than minuses going for us here. There are no such thing as a perfect society. We all make mistakes, including our leaders; if not why would there be a piece of rubber at the end of a pencil. It was invented precisely because we make mistake (admittedly, the rubber or eraser is less often used now in this technological age).

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