Organized Panel Session
In Malaysia, ethnicity is the primary social cleavage around which politics is articulated, organized, and contested. Some recent scholarship suggests that urbanization has emerged as an important secondary social cleavage driving political conflict. Urban voters were thought to be more pro-democratic than rural voters. They were therefore more likely to support the Pakatan Rakyat and Pakatan Harapan opposition coalitions, as compared to the long-ruling Barisan Nasional incumbent coalition. These studies typically relied on qualitative evidence to support their arguments. In this paper, I bring in new evidence to assess if there are indeed significant differences in political attitudes between urban and rural voters in Malaysia. Using survey data from the World Values Survey and the Asian Barometer, I find that there are indeed differences in political attitudes between urban and rural Malaysians, but only if the urbanization variable is considered alone. When other demographic variables such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, income, education, and use of the internet are controlled for, the differences between urban and rural Malaysians diminish substantially. In addition to the new quantitative evidence, I buttress my arguments with qualitative evidence from fieldwork during the GE14 election campaign in Selangor. Comparing urban, semi-urban, and rural Malay-majority districts in the state, I found that the majority of voters demanded the same thing from their politicians – better governance competency to improve their everyday lives.