Survey of Thai Protests: Clues for Democracy Development and Peace

An interesting survey (FinalSurveyReportDecember20) was conducted by the Asia Foundation on the Thai protests at the end of 2013 both PDRC and Red. This post is an attempt to analyze it within the framework of the Democracy Development course conducted by Prof. Larry Diamond on Coursera as well as add my own observations.


Prof. Diamond stresses the need for cross cutting cleavages for the management of conflict within a democracy. Cleavages in this context means different salient identities be it ethnicity, class, political standing or other ways by which people maintain a strong ideology and shapes their worldview. What this means is that people in a democratic society need to socialize, interact and be exposed to people from other salient groups in order to get used to having an understanding of each other across divisive lines and learn to compromise. For example, Bhuddists and Muslims can interact with each other in a professional guild. The wealthy and the poor can both be members of the same political party etc. Since minimizing cleavages means having people from broad swathes of society, the first bit of information I will try to glean is how cross cutting the various groups are.

Educational cleavages

Since education is an indicative of many different factors including income level, social standing, job prospects and even political rights it is important for any mass movement that claims to be representing the people to have participants with roughly the same educational background as the population of Thailand. Neither the UDD nor the PDRC is representational of the education level of the population of Thailand, both groups are under represented by those in the primary and secondary group however the PDRC is much more over represented by those with Bachelor and Master’s degree and is heavily under represented by those with lower education levels. This is already a warning sign whereas the UDD is roughly proportionally represented by the various groups the PDRC completely alienates those with education levels of secondary school and below.

Geographical cleavages

Geographical cleavages are an important factor since it is very difficult to create cross cutting cleavages across large geographical boundary. It is for example much more unlikely for someone in North Thailand to be exposed to the same social group as somebody from South Thailand and it is much easier for people in the north to reinforce political ideas from each other as it is for those from the South. Since both protests were held in Bangkok, it is not abnormal for people from Bangkok to be over-represented. The fact that more Bangkokians attend the PDRC rally could be more indicative of the excellent logistic network that the UDD has established for getting people to protest sites in Bangkok more than their lack of support. This is another warning sign, the UDD is clearly over represented by people from the North while the PDRC is over represented by the South, East and Western region. This is a dangerous gap that can be fixed at an institutional level in order to make sure that elections are not a zero sum game, that the region that loses an election but is still representative of a significant part of the population is still represented in directing resources and has a say in how the country is to be run. This is done by having a more consensus approach to democracy rather than the present majoritarian one (see work by Ljiphart). Another way to diffuse this problem is the decentralization of power to ensure that the stakes at the top are not so high and political conflict is reduced to a more local level.


The difference here is consistent with the educational levels. It can be clearly seen that the UDD is blue collar while PDRC is white collar. This again is a major cleavage that needs to be addressed in both groups, UDD needs much more self employed small business owners and the PDRC will need many more farmers, non-skilled workers and laborers. It would be helpful to study why different demographics are drawn to these different groups.


Income determines many things including access to healthcare, education and quality of life. What is clearly striking is the UDD participation by those in the lower income group and the PDRC in higher groups. These results are somewhat interesting because it implies that the UDD is represented mainly by poor labourers and farmers from the North East and the PDRC is represented by rich small business owners and professionals from the South. This does not give an accurate picture of Thai demographics as one glaring question is where do the farmers in the South stand? Are they completely unrepresented by either of these highly vocal groups? The Asian Foundation needs to make raw data of individual results available for analysis and normalization. Perhaps one glaring issue is this one 96% of the participants of the PDRC came on their own and 4% came by group arranged transport. It will be most useful to isolate the demographics of those who came by themselves in the UDD and compare it directly with those of the PDRC and see how similar their demographics are. It is entirely possible that if one looks at the 4% whose transportation was sponsored, that their demographics could be much more similar to those of the UDD.

Support for Democracy

Prof. Diamond hypothesizes that in order for democracy to be consolidated in a country, the support level for democracy across the population should exceed 70%. What we have here is a very worrying sign of a support for authoritarian rule. One can glean further insight by looking at the satisfaction levels of the performance of democracy. Here it can clearly be seen that the PDRC supporters are unhappy with the performance of democracy and this paves the way for support and legitimization of authoritarian rule. Ironically, further insight into this can be gained from the question of “What does democracy mean to you?” This is a classic case of a difference in understanding of the majoritarian democratic model which is represented by UDD’s support of the statement “only majority is acceptable” vs a more consensus “Listen to everyone’s opinion” model understood by PDRC. It is very much possible that the disillusionment in democracy is caused by the majoritarian system which is a common criticism. The unfortunate part of this survey question is that each of these phrases is heavily used by the propaganda machine on either side and it’s possible that usage of these phrases are the reflective result of the phrases being part of their identity rather than an actual understanding of what it means. The good news is that here we can get more clues that this problem could lie in the majoritarian (only majority is acceptable) vs consensual (must listen to everyone) issue and by exploring solutions proposed by Lijphart we could see the end of the end of the political conflicts in Thailand. One criticism that was raised is to question how dedicated PDRC supporters are to a consensual style of democracy considering it is them who is calling for authoritarian rule. The data shows that a large portions of both camps agree that sovereignty belongs to the people and everyone is equal. It is possible (and my opinion) that PDRC participant’s support for authoritarian rule is comparable to a quote that has been wrongly attributed to Henry Ford “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”. To firmly believe that they support an authoritarian regime is to make an attribution error which will ruin the opportunity to form common ground and to reach a solution that is acceptable to all sides.


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