IRI Focus Group Findings: Malaysian Youth Want Change, Dismiss Party Outreach, Reject Divisive Tactics

Washington, DC – Focus group research released by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research (CISR) examines the motivations and political preferences among first-time Malay, Chinese, and Indian voters aged 18-25 in Malaysia’s 15th General Election (GE15) in the key states of Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, and Selangor. The findings offer political parties and candidates several recommendations to improve their engagement with young voters in future elections.  

The research shows that first-time voters were strongly motivated to participate in GE15 by the experience of voting and a sense of duty as well as a desire for change associated with their frustration in political leaders, the state of politics, and economic hardship.

“This new data clearly indicates that young Malaysians want to see fairer, more inclusive politics and are motivated by making a difference,” said Johanna Kao, Senior Director for Asia-Pacific at IRI. “Youth participation is a key element to democratic advancement.”

Focus group participants largely dismissed parties’ traditional, in-person campaign outreach techniques as impractical and ineffective at engaging newly empowered voters. Given their skepticism of politicians’ sincerity during election time, the findings suggest candidates should demonstrate authentic, meaningful interaction with communities and propose practical solutions. 

“Our focus groups show that traditional campaign outreach does not appear to work with younger voters,” said Kao. “Political parties and candidates must find new ways to connect with young audiences that build confidence.”

Most participants, including Malays, rejected the use of divisive racial and religious messages during GE15 and viewed such tactics as attempts to manipulate voter sentiment rather than address substantive issues. The findings suggest that politicians must appeal to younger voters’ desire for inclusion to gain their support.


Nine focus group discussions were conducted between May 24 and June 4, 2023, among Malaysians aged 18-25 who voted in GE15 in Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, and Selangor. Three focus groups were conducted in each state, one each for Malay, Chinese, and Indian groups. Kuala Lumpur based market research firm Central Force conducted the focus groups on IRI’s behalf.

The report and its findings are qualitative research and do not necessarily represent the opinions of all people throughout Malaysia.

Up ArrowTop