The Cameron Highlands by-election results was a wake up call for Pakatan Harapan to go beyond its message of good governance, said the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS).
The think tank, in its preliminary report, said voters who were highly reliant on commodity prices had voted against Harapan as they were struggling.
"A government that is cleaner and free of corruption is great, but a government that can assist these farmers and settlers when times are dire is even more important.
"Perhaps the fact that Cameron Highlands comes barely a year after Harapan's victory (in the 2018 general election) is an advantage for the government, a useful wakeup call to really start governing," said the report.
It noted that the conventional wisdom was that a rural constituency would tend to support the ruling government due to promises of development.
However, it said the dire economic situation faced by many households tipped the favour against Harapan.
The report added that under the previous government, large allocations were provided to farmers, fishermen and rubber tappers which acted as safety nets during bad times.
It said such assistance was substantially less under the current government. This was further aggravated by low commodity prices.
Harapan suffered its first by-election defeat in the Cameron Highlands by-election, losing to BN which won by a 3,238-vote majority.
More than half of the constituency comprises Malays and Orang Asli, with many Malays being Felda settlers who are reliant on oil palm.
"It should be noted that Harapan's popular vote increased by 1.4 percent. Whilst Harapan did manage to secure its Chinese and Indian support, it goes without saying that they failed to reach their target for Malay and Orang Asli voters," it said.