Measuring the ‘NU effect’ in Indonesia’s election

Recent analyses of Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election have shown conclusively that religion and ethnicity play a central role in explaining vote support for the incumbent president Joko Widodo. Jokowi prevailed in districts with majority non-Muslim populations, and his opponent Prabowo Subianto tended to earn most of his electoral support in Muslim-majority districts. But among those Muslim-majority districts, there is wide variation in Prabowo’s success rate, falling along an axis of Javanese versus non-Javanese. Although such analyses invariably face the problem of ecological inference, the data are “consistent with a growing cleavage between Muslims and non-Muslims alongside an ethnic cleavage between Javanese and non-Javanese.” Continue reading →

Dress to progress: religious veiling facilitates young women to pursue a career

The practice of veiling, or wearing a headscarf, has dramatically increased in the past decades. In Indonesia, for instance, very few women wore a veil in the early 1990s, but a recent survey reveals that more than 70 percent of Indonesian Muslim women wear a veil (Fossati,, 2017). While much of the popular debates interpret this phenomenon as religiously motivated, a growing body of literature shows that veiling, especially since the 1970s, was not initiated by older, religious women in rural areas, but instead was championed by young, educated, urban middle-classes. Smith-Hefner (2007) reports that university students who opt to wear a veil tend to study in the medical and engineering program. They are those who would benefit the most from new, lucrative jobs created by economic development. Why do they choose to veil? Continue reading →

Female political empowerment decreases mortality in developing countries

Gender equality in political participation may make a difference. Ross Macmillan, Naila Shofia, and Wendy Sigle show that women’s presence in national legislatures above a threshold of around 30 percent is associated with significant declines in childhood and maternal mortality, even after controlling for other features of women’s status like education and labour force participation. This association is particularly strong where economic and social development is low and democracy weak. Continue reading →

7 out of 10 Indonesian Muslims want sharia law-really?

Originally published on The Jakarta Globe, May 10, 2013

The recent study on “Muslim views on religion, politics and society” by the Pew Research Center has stirred horror among young and progressive Indonesians. This fear is not unreasonable: the study featured in The Jakarta Globe edition 1 May 2013 seems to strike down the long-standing image of Indonesia, and Indonesian Muslims, as a moderate, peaceful and democracy-embracing society. According to the study, 72 percent of Indonesian Muslims favor sharia law as the official law of the land. The study also finds that nearly half of this group is in favor of stoning adulterers and of using corporal punishment - like whipping and cutting hands for theft and robbery. Continue reading →

Although produced by a reputable research center, the image about Indonesian Muslims that emerges from the study seems remote from reality. The fact is, Indonesians have never expressed an overwhelming support for Islamic parties. The three democratic elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009 prove it so starkly: the total vote for Islamic parties altogether has never exceeded 41% though almost 90 percent of the population is Muslim; it dropped to less than 30 percent in the last election. Moreover, recent national polls predicted that this support will continue to evaporate. So, what was going on here?

Our first concern of regarding the Pew survey has to do with the framing of the question in section Q79a: "Do you favor or oppose making sharia law, or Islamic law, the official law of the land in our country?" Presenting only two options, “favor” or “oppose”, to the respondents (who are relatively strong believers in Islam) clearly tends to lead the respondents to choose a particular answer. Moreover, this is unusual since the common practice is to offer a range of choices, e.g. from very supportive to neutral to very opposed. In addition, we are curious regarding what kind of merit, if any, this question has when trying to capture the views of a society. If one is interested in opinions about the ideal balance of religion and law, it would probably be more effective to ask respondents if they prefer sharia law to neutral (neither sharia nor secular) law to secular law, or something else along this spectrum.

The study asserts that 72 percent of respondents favor sharia as the law of land; however, it also shows that 76 percent in the same sample think that sons and daughter should receive equal rights to their parents’ inheritance. In theory, if sharia is really what this group prefer, support for equal inheritance rights should not be higher than 18 percent. Strangely, only 66 percent of respondents prefer giving Muslim leaders and religious judges the power to decide family and property disputes. Wait: there are at least 6 percent who say they want Sharia, but do not want family matters to be resolved in a religious way! To make matters more confusing, the same survey reveals that 78 percent of respondents are concerned about extremist religious groups (who are the main proponents of sharia law); nearly half of the respondents think that divorce is morally acceptable, and more than half (58 percent) of them think that polygamy is morally wrong. We can go on and on with this list, but the bottom line is, these logically inconsistent results make it very hard for any reasonable person to draw a sensible picture of Indonesian public opinion. So what exactly were the respondents trying to say when stating their support for sharia?

Unfortunately, the cross-tabulations and the individual level dataset are not yet released. Hence, it is not possible for us to make a secondary analysis to assess, for instance, if the sample taken for the study gives an accurate representation of Indonesian Muslims, i.e. in terms of age, education, occupation, rural-urban balance, etc. A 'weird' sample (without some relatively complicated statistical adjustment) can obviously give a skewed picture of the actual views of the population.

It is not surprising that a very different picture emerges when we explore three other rigorous and reputable international survey collections.

According to these other sources, the Indonesian public has converged to a clear consensus about the role of religion in private and public life. Indonesians seem happy with the current arrangement of religious and positive law in the country. First of all, data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) 2008 show that Indonesians almost unanimously (93 percent) agree or strongly agree that all religious groups should have equal rights. Interestingly, these numbers are perfectly intact (92 percent agree) when we filter for devout Muslim respondents; the percentages are not statistically different even when we filter only for Islamist party voters.

The same survey also shows that among Muslim respondents, more than 70 percent agree or strongly agree that religious leaders should not influence people’s vote, and more than 60 percent agree or strongly agree that religious leaders should not influence the government. Interestingly, when we filter only for respondents who declare to choose an Islamist party, the percentage even increases slightly (even if not statistically significantly).

Half of the Muslim respondents think that religious authorities currently have about the right amount of power; the rest are split between thinking that they have too much and too little power. Furthermore, 63 percent of the Islamist voters express at least some confidence in courts and legal system, and only 11 percent express no confidence at all. These numbers clearly challenge the notion that most Indonesian Muslims desire to increase the role of religion in politics and law.

The World Value Survey (WVS) for Indonesia, conducted in 2006, gives additional key information: 97 percent of Islamist voters think that having a democratic political system is very good or fairly good. Interestingly, devout Muslims and Islamist voters are not statistically distinguishable from the rest of the population when it comes to this issue.

Finally, when Indonesian Muslims are asked (in WVS and Asia Barometer 2007) about what problems they worry the most, issues like poverty, unemployment, crime, and income inequality turn out to be the most important concerns. Clearly, the majority of Indonesian Muslims are not an unreasonable group, preoccupied with imposing their religious views in politics and in the public sphere. Rather, they care more about how the government could improve the economic well-being of the country and maintain order and peace.

To conclude, some questionable choices in the Pew survey methodology (in particular, question wording) and some logical inconsistencies in their results, together with the very different portrayal of Indonesian Muslims that emerges from other recent surveys should induce any reasonable person not to take the Pew study too seriously. We are not saying that the numbers presented there are wrong; we just think that they are quite strange.

*MPA, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), MPP, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, currently, an analyst in a private company in Berlin, Germany

** Ph.D., Political Science, Columbia University. Researcher in Governance and Methodology at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin; member of the Advisory Board of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the institutions he is affiliated with.

The most recent World Value Survey (WVS) Indonesia, 2006. Can be downloaded at

International Social Survey Programme 2008: Religion III (ISSP 2008) is available at

The Asia Barometer is available at

The authors' analysis and statistical replication files are available upon request.