A Thai soldier poses for photograph with Thai women during an event called "Return Happiness to Thai People" in Bangkok on June 7, 2014. Pic: AP.

We here at Siam Voices usually do not cover Thai opinion polls for two reasons: first, there are too many of them out there on a weekly basis by the major survey institutes (ABAC, NIDA and Suan Dusit) alone, and second, they’re mostly crap! The main problems with Thai opinion polls are the wording of the questions and a rather small sample size of the people being surveyed. There have been several examples in the past that at least raised some eyebrows about the questions asked and the results that come out of that – see a few of Bangkok Pundit’s numerous posts here, here and here.

After the military coup last month at the height of a prolonged political crisis with street protests and a (man-made) political impasse, the first several opinion surveys are saying that the general mood has improved – despite heavy-handed and draconian measures such as media censorship and detentions by the military junta and a “happiness campaign” to win back the hearts and minds it those it had intimidated.

Let’s start with Suan Dusit Rajabhat University‘s June 15 survey, ranking the top 10 things that made 1,634 respondents the most happy about the military coup (paraphrased):

  1. No more political protests – 93.09%
  2. Situation is safer – 87.12%
  3. Reduced cost of living, fixed fuel and gas prices – 85.99%
  4. Rice farmers are getting paid – 84.29%
  5. Fixing the economy – 80.24%
  6. Battling corruption – 77.32%
  7. Commitment of junta’s work – 73.53%
  8. Soldiers ensuring a safer daily life – 73.14%
  9. Increased arrests of criminals – 71.96%
  10. Free stuff by the junta (World Cup free-TV coverage, concerts, movie tickets etc.) 71.31%

“ความสุขที่ประชาชนได้รับ จาก คสช.”, Suan Dusit Poll, June 15, 2014 – (PDF)

None of the previous Suan Dusit surveys (among them titled “Top 10 things Thais think should be reformed” and “What the junta needs to say to convince you“) have actually asked if the respondents are actually happy with the military coup. That was remedied in the most recent poll by them on June 22, on the one-month anniversary of the coup.

The National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta is known, scored an approval rating of 8.82 out of 10 points in a poll of 1,600 people conducted by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University and released Sunday.

Those surveyed cited the junta’s ability to quickly implement short-term measures needed to restore stability and economic confidence, as the main reasons for their positive reviews.

The majority of the people polled said they were satisfied with the absence of the protests and political violence that began at the start of the year and escalated until the military took charge of the government on May 22.

About 65% of respondents said they wanted the military to remain in charge of the country to complete its measures to eradicate corruption and speed up economic and political reforms.

Thai Junta Scores High Approval Rating, Despite Concerns“, Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2014

To be precise, they asked 1,614 people in the final question:

5. How satisfied are you with the junta’s governing after one month?

  • 50.84%: Very satisfied, because situation is peaceful, order has been restored, problems being solved swiftly etc.
  • 39.57%: Somewhat satisfied, because security has improved etc.
  • 5.27%: Not satisfied, because it’s only a short-term solution, there’re still conflicting news etc.
  • 4.32%: Not satisfied at all, because it’s undemocratic, rights are being restricted, no freedom etc.

“ประเมินผลงาน 1 เดือน คสช. ประเมินผลงาน 1 เดือน คสช.”, Suan Dusit Poll, June 22, 2014 – (PDF)

However, in a previous question in the same survey 37.98 per cent of respondents also see that people who are “not accepting and protesting the coup, saying their rights are being restricted” as an actual problem!!

Another head-scratching survey result was carried out by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) – whose political impartiality is questionable, since NIDA-associated personnel were involved in the anti-government protests – which found this…

The Nida Poll was carried out on June 20-21 on 1,259 people all over the country to gauge their opinion on who the NCPO should nominate for prime minister. Most of the respondents, 41.30%, said the NCPO should nominate Gen Prayuth, the army and NCPO chief, for the post.

This was followed by 8.5% for two-time former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, 2.38% for former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, 1.43% for former finance minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula and 1.19% for former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

Most Thais want Prayuth as PM“, Bangkok Post, June 22, 2014

It found 5.24 per cent suggested former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Chuan Leekpai, Gen. Surayud Chulanont among other politicians and senior military figures. That leaves a significant 26.5 per cent that had no answer at all, while 10.33 per cent said nobody’s apt for the post – that’s hardly an overwhelming “majority” as the Bangkok Post has titled it.

And finally, in the wake of the junta organizing free screening of the fifth installment of the nationalistic, dramatized biopic series of the 16th-century King Naresuan, the ABAC Poll of the Assumption University:

The opinion survey was carried out on June 15 and 16, involving 424 people who went to see the free screenings of the movie on Sunday.

Nearly all respondents, 95.3% to be exact, said they came away happier after seeing the film. However, 5.4% said they were only moderately happy with it, while 0.9% said they were no happier.

Thais cheered up by Naresuan movie“, Bangkok Post, June 17, 2014

That sentiment was also echoed by the so-called “Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association” (whose name apparently is mangled in translation) whose majority (93.7 per cent) of 424 Bangkok-based moviegoers were “happy” to have seen the movie – what else would an institution with that name have found out? Just to be clear, a sample of only 424 people are overwhelmingly positive about a movie they have seen for free!

All these surveys prove the main problems with Thai opinion polls – a small sample group and the wording of the questions and possible answers – still exist. This is especially true in the post-coup environment, where criticism of the military is difficult at best and public dissent not tolerated. It is unlikely that the positive-sounding poll results reflect the complete picture – which also explains why the deputy national police chief can claim that “90 per cent of various opinion polls support” the junta’s work.

Only a real, all-encompassing method to hear out the opinion of a large section of the population could bring in a clearer picture like, you know, a referendum, or an election…!

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.