In elections past, last night’s events would have featured thousands of voters, sometimes braving the rain and standing in muddy fields, to hear politicians tell them why they deserve to be elected.
But with physical rallies cancelled because of Covid-19 safe distancing measures, interested voters would likely have been found glued to phones, laptops and televisions to catch rallies by political parties 2020-style: online, streamed and televised.
After two nights of political videos and broadcasts, a clearer picture of the online campaigns by each party is starting to take shape.
Many will no doubt miss the atmosphere of the physical rallies, but parties have shown so far that there can be advantages to conducting election hustings virtually.
The People’s Action Party (PAP), Workers’ Party (WP), Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) were among those to have already tried out an online event of some sort since campaigning formally began on Tuesday.
Each party took quite different approaches to these e-rallies, in a sign that this new medium is still being explored as a means to reach out to voters.
While the likes of PAP and PSP had live shows, the SDP and WP went with pre-recorded segments. Each choice had its trade-offs. Live shows meant candidates could engage with viewers in real time and are generally cheaper to produce. But these are also more susceptible to technical glitches.
And the different parties also tried different forms.
The PAP’s East Coast GRC e-rally took the form of a live panel discussion, with candidates sitting in chairs on a stage, giving speeches and answering questions that were being sent in.
Unlike those of the opposition parties, the show was targeted specifically at East Coast residents. There were no other PAP candidates or party leaders featured, and some topics centred on the GRC.
And while the session was streamed live on the constituency’s Facebook page, some 200 residents also participated directly in the webinar via teleconferencing tool Zoom.
Since Tuesday, the PSP has also started streaming Zoom sessions on Facebook for its daily show rounding up the party’s activities. The party has taken the approach of treating the broadcast like a conference call between its members, without taking any questions from the public.
The WP, meanwhile, opted for the format of a talk show for its daily programme, the Hammer Show. The first episode yesterday, which was pre-recorded, featured videos of speeches by candidates interspersed with a panel discussion helmed by WP leaders Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim.
The SDP also went with a pre-recorded video, but perhaps did the most of any party to take advantage of the platform.
Party chief Chee Soon Juan delivered his speech against a plain background, but as he spoke, charts, photos and news clippings were put up as his backdrop. This allowed him to reinforce the points he was making.
Towards the end of the speech, the party added an orchestral backing track, in a bid to provide the atmosphere for a big uplifting finish.
It was a good use of graphics and music, and added impact to the speech in ways that might not have been possible offline. Rarely, if ever, has a slide presentation featured at an election rally.
But if there was one thing all the different attempts had in common, it was that the focus was firmly on the message to the voter.
The lack of a carnival-like atmosphere – there was no cheering, nor any risk that someone carrying an umbrella would obstruct the view – also meant there were no distractions.
If a viewer tuned in, what he or she would have seen most of the time would be a candidate making his or her case to voters.
Throughout the first two nights, there were few of the zingers, one-liners or gimmicks that speakers often use to elicit a reaction from crowds at rallies.
It is certainly a more sober way of conducting political discourse, and there may be a case to be made that some of these efforts should be repeated at future elections, when physical rallies can resume.
The other advantage online campaigning appears to have is reach. Parties had worried ahead of the campaign that the lack of traditional rallies might mean it would be harder to reach some voters, especially the elderly and others less comfortable with technology. The PAP in some constituencies tried to bridge the gap by having volunteers hand out fliers promoting the online rally.
Retail politics will still be needed. But the online campaigns so far have also helped push rallies to new audiences – ones that parties may not have been able to reach before.
Take the WP’s Hammer Show. At midnight last night, the video had chalked up more than 120,000 views on Facebook. It is not clear how many different people that represents, but it is a safe bet that it is far larger than the number of people who would have ever trudged out to a rally if it was a damp Wednesday night.