Things are getting from bad to worse for the PAP’s public comms war. After releasing a population white paper that has failed to reassure its voters, the PAP is now forced to the defensive as opposition parties and the citizenry revolt against its latest message. The PAP is now in damage control mode, spouting messages like “This is a projection, not a target” and “We are creating more land, homes and infrastructure”.
A damaging soundbite
But the latest PAP soundbite – “We are planning for a worst-case scenario.” is both illogical and self-damaging.
It is a message that doesn’t make sense. The term “worst-case scenario” implies that the author has zero control over some aspects of a situation, thus the author must prepare for a time when things could get worse. But population growth is entirely within PAP’s control. Our TFR is below 2.1, so population growth can only happen when the government approves work passes and allows new immigrants.
Hence a 6.9m population is not a “worst-case scenario”. It is an entirely controllable possibility. When the PAP says “We are planning for a worst-case scenario”, a logical person will interpret this as “We are giving ourselves the option to let our population hit 6.9m”.
Choose your words wisely
There’s one thing the PAP government has been consistently doing for many years, and that is that they will package a whole slew of messages and policy announcements together at once, and unleash it like a coordinated opera. The same opera has happened for the population white paper. After the paper was released, there were follow-up messages on land reclamation and new HDB towns. Before the paper was released, there were announcements to help grow babies and how our public transport system would grow over time
But this coordinated opera has been hijacked by the alarmist messages in the population white paper. All of the PAP’s other efforts in growing infrastructure and babies have been undermined by that single 6.9m number. One wonders if the message could have been improved by not stating the 2030 figure instead.
From a public comms perspective, it is never good to be on the defensive. But now that the PAP is stuck in that position, they should choose their words ever more wisely. A less alarmist soundbite would have been “We are building spare capacity while slowing down our population growth”.
PAP ministers, you had promised to be at least be better at your communication, so please fix it before all the swing voters decides to cast you out.