by Mathis Lohatepanont and Chitchaya Chimtanoo
Thailand’s election season is notorious for bringing out a tsunami of election banners that are stuck on every possible tree and electrical pole. But in the past election, a voter might be forgiven for feeling lost while trying to digest this potentially rich source of information for voter preferences.
Thailand’s 2023 banners were interesting because they often contained photos not only of a local candidate but also of the party’s prime ministerial candidate. In addition, the banners displayed a dizzying array of numbers — mostly sums of money attached to the various policies the parties were proposing. In short, the posters contained a dizzying array of information that demonstrated how the political parties were attempting to sell their brands and differentiate themselves from the competition.
But how successful were the different parties at communicating their brands to the public? To what extent were voters actually able to remember and distinguish the political parties and their policies? This is not simply a theoretical question; after all, clear party brands allow for stronger and more meaningful attachments to voters as they are better able to discern whether they can identify with that party (Lupu 2017), and policy differentiation only aids voter decision making (Lupia and McCubbins 2000) to the extent voters correctly perceive those differences. To investigate these questions, we administered a survey in Thailand a month after the election asking voters to match key components of each party’s campaign with the correct political party.
The survey was administered online to 1249 voting age respondents with quotas for age and gender. Respondents were asked to link 1) prime ministerial candidates, 2) policy proposals, and 3) election slogans with the correct political parties that proposed or used them. The prime ministerial candidates were either the sole candidate or, in the case where a political party proposed multiple candidates, the person who was known as the “top” candidate or discussed most frequently in the media. The public policies selected were the “signature” policies that frequently appeared on party banners and in the media. The chosen slogans were also the ones that frequently appeared on banners and in the media. Table 1 summarizes the information shown to respondents.
Table I. Selected Prime Ministerial Candidates, Policies, and Slogans
Prime Ministerial Candidate
1. Move Forward
“Turn off the switch” on the 3Ps and take the military out of politics
เปลี่ยนรัฐบาลไม่พอ ต้องเปลี่ยนประเทศ [A change in government isn’t enough, we must change the country]
2. Pheu Thai
Provide everyone above 16 with 10,000 baht in digital money
คิดใหญ่ ทำเป็น [Think big, act smart]
3. United Thai Nation
Increase monthly benefit for state welfare card holders to 1000 baht a month
ทำแล้ว ทำอยู่ ทำต่อ [We’ve worked, we’re working, we’ll keep working]
4. Palang Pracharath
Increase monthly benefit for state welfare card holders to 700 baht a month
ก้าวข้ามความขัดแย้ง [Let’s move past political conflict]
Three-year consumer debt moratorium
พูดแล้วทำ [We do what we say]
Price guarantees for rice, cassava, rubber, palm, and corn
สร้างเงิน สร้างคน สร้างชาติ [Build up money, build up the people, build the nation]
7. Chart Thai Pattana
Create carbon credit system for farmers
ว้าว ไทยแลนด์ [Wow Thailand]
8. Chart Pattana Kla
End credit bureau blacklist system
เศรษฐกิจต้องเรา [For the economy, choose us]
We then constructed two sets of the questions. Each respondent was asked to evaluate two of the four most recognizable candidates, policies, and slogans (#1-4 in Table 1) as well as two from the remaining four more minor parties (either #5-6 or #7-8) for a total of four questions. This was to ensure a similar level of difficulty without exhausting respondents by having them evaluate all eight parties.
The reason why we emphasized election banners is because we felt these were the election materials that the largest number of people were most exposed to. Not everyone may be following politics on social media, but almost every voter, except for those who lived abroad, would have been exposed to the banners at some point while on the road.
Personalities and Policies
Predictably, personalities were more recognizable than policies to our respondents. When asked to identify PM candidates, policies, and slogans from five parties, the median number of correct responses for PM candidates was 3 out of 4, while the median number of correct responses for the other two categories were 1 out of 4.
The results for the top two parties stand out. 88 percent of respondents were able to identify Pita Limjaroenrat as Move Forward’s candidate for prime minister, while 82 percent recognized Paethongtharn Shinawatra as Pheu Thai’s candidate. Remarkably, a rather high portion of the respondents were also able to identify the Move Forward and Pheu Thai policies, with 71 percent recognizing the Move Forward policy and 67 percent recognizing the Pheu Thai policy, respectively. The divergence between the ability to match parties and policies for the rest of the parties are much starker. While roughly 64 percent of respondents could identify Prayut Chan-o-cha as the United Thai Nation Party’s nominee, for example, only 22 percent was able to identify the party’s policy proposal.
Some Brands Were Stronger Than Others
What might explain these results? Overall, the fact that Move Forward and Pheu Thai were the two parties who respondents were best able to identify is not surprising. It accords with findings in the political science literature that clear party brands should be an advantage to parties, all else equal (Lupu 2017). In this instance, the two parties with the clearest brands were the two parties that also did the best at this election.
The fact that personalities were more recognizable than policy is predictable but worth explaining. Firstly, political parties continued to place significant emphasis on their leaders in social media campaigning, and their images were also often reproduced online by supporters. As Aim Sinpeng writes, “much of the MFP’s online popularity was about Pita and his persona. This was most evident on TikTok where Pita was more popular than the MFP itself.” Secondly, as described previously, the sheer weight of information being communicated to voters by the different parties may have simply left them drowning in campaign messages; in the end, particularly for the lower-polling parties on which voters focused less, the personalities proved more memorable. Third, various TV channels held numerous debates in the leadup to the election — far more than the three scheduled debates preceding a US presidential election, for example. Even if people could not remember what each party leader had said, they could have at least remembered the candidates on stage.
It is also interesting to observe that some party brands appeared to be stronger than others. Move Forward had the highest number of respondents who were able to identify their policy proposal and election slogan. This reflects both Move Forward’s self-branding as a stridently anti-establishment party, but may also simply our self-reported Move Forward-leaning sample—people tend to remember best the party and policies they prefer (Jerit and Barabas 2012). The strong recognition of Pheu Thai’s 10,000 baht policy might also reflect both the media splash that the policy’s announcement made, along with a reputation built over many years of a party that delivers on its populist promises.
The results for the UTN party are also worth noting. UTN is one of the only parties for whom their slogan was more recognizable than their policy. In fact, the percentage of respondents correctly linking the party with its slogan is second only to MFP, and almost all self-identified UTN voters in our sample correctly identified their party’s slogan. Perhaps this was because the UTN slogan (We’ve worked, we’re working, we’ll keep working) clearly implied incumbency, helping voters link the slogan back to Prayut and his party. It may very well have been this stronger brand that helped propel the UTN on the party-list vote, putting it far ahead of Palang Pracharath, whose was also an incumbent party but whose brand was more muddled according to our data. Note that both Palang Pracharath and Bhumjaithai did poorly in on party list, where party brand should matter most, and captured most of their seats from the constituency vote, which relies far more on the individual brands of local candidates than the party brand as a whole.
There were also a number of interesting cases of brand confusion. Chart Pattana Kla’s slogan was “for the economy, choose us” — reflecting the party’s focus on economic policies. However, a plurality of respondents assigned this slogan to Pheu Thai, perhaps reflecting Thaksin’s longtime identification with development of the grassroots economy. On the other hand, the leading response for Bhumjaithai’s slogan, “we do what we say,” was that it belongs to Move Forward. It appears that Bhumjaithai’s attempt to hammer home the message that they had followed through on their pledges to legalize marijuana for medical purposes may not have fully worked.
Finally, we found that our survey respondents were largely unable to distinguish between Prawit’s proposal to increase monthly benefit for state welfare card holders to 700 baht a month, from Prayut’s proposal to increase it to 1,000 baht a month. Prawit had tried hard to be identified with this policy, going as far as to release a music video calling him “Pom 700” (‘Pom’ is Prawit’s nickname.) Despite these efforts, only 31.44 percent of people were able to correctly match the Palang Pracharath policy. Additionally, 28.2 percent incorrectly believed that the 700 baht monthly benefit for state welfare cards was a policy proposed by the United Thai Nation Party. A similar situation occurred with the policy proposed by UTN, where 35.74 percent believed the 1000 baht increase in benefits was from the PPRP, and only 22.24 percent were able to identify this as UTN’s policy.
What does the future hold for Thai political party branding strength? At this election, the cleavages of Thai politics still remained relatively clear: there were parties that had supported the Prayut administration, parties that had opposed the coup all along, and a number of parties that seemed ready to jump on any ship. However, the formation of the Srettha Thavisin government required cross-camp political deals that has certainly muddied many parties’ brands and made it harder for parties in the current government to project a clear party brand going forward. On the other hand, the fact that parties in the opposition, particularly Move Forward, do not have to make compromises in order to govern, could potentially boost the value of their brands.
The authors are grateful to Professor Allen Hicken for his guidance on formulating this survey, along with his comments and suggestions while revising this piece. We would also like to thank Professor Joel Selway for his editing and helpful suggestions.
Jerit, Jennifer, and Jason Barabas. 2012. "Partisan perceptual bias and the information environment." The Journal of Politics 74, no. 3: 672-684.
Lupia, Arthur, and Mathew D. McCubbins. 2000. "The institutional foundations of political competence: How citizens learn what they need to know." In A. Lupia, M. McCubbins, & S. Popkin (Eds.), Elements of Reason: Cognition, Choice, and the Bounds of Rationality (Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology, pp. 47-66). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511805813.003
Lupu, Noam. 2017. Party Brands in Crisis: Partisanship, Brand Dilution, and the Breakdown of Political Parties in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sinpeng, Aim. 2023. “After Thai Elections, an Unstoppable Political Force Meets an Immovable Object.” East Asia Forum. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2023/05/29/after-thai-elections-an-unstoppable-political-force-meets-an-immovable-object/ (October 7, 2023).
Table II. Percentage of Correct Identifications by Party
Prime Ministerial Candidate
United Thai Nation
Chart Thai Pattana
Chart Pattana Kla
 The better known MFP signature policy proposal was to end military conscription, but this proposal was shared by Pheu Thai. In the end, we chose their proposal to “turn off the switch on the 3Ps” and take the military out of politics as this was a formula specifically used by Move Forward on election banners and reflects their proposals on demilitarization.
 We did not use the more famous Move Forward slogan, ka kao klai prathet thai mai muen durm, because it included a reference to the MFP.
 Pheu Thai’s election slogan in full was kid yai, tum pen, Pheu Thai took khon, but we chose to cut the final portion of this slogan as it would have included the party name, making the answer too obvious.
 This is obviously not a method without weaknesses. For example, we did observe that some parties highlighted different policies in different areas. The Democrats, for instance, highlighted their proposal on free school milk in urban areas while emphasizing their agricultural pledges in rural areas. In the end, we chose the pledge on price guarantees as it also reflected the work that the Democrats have been highlighting over the past four years and was common on posters in both urban and rural areas. lost while trying to digest this potentially rich source of information for voter preferences.