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Chile restricts pre-election polls

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Chile restricts pre-election polls

Chile’s new legislation against publishing voting-intention surveys in the last 15 days before an election was decried this week by the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), as the country neared its presidential primaries on Sunday, July 2, the first time for the ban to take effect.

WAPOR, the leading international professional association for promoting public opinion research, had a role in our Supreme Court’s historic decision to void a similar 15-day ban from the Fair Election Act, for violating freedom of expression (G.R. No. 157571, May 5, 2001). (See “Social Weather Stations v. Comelec: May Election Surveys Be Banned?” by Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, in his book “A Centenary of Justice,” Supreme Court Press, 2001.)

The SWS petition, filed on April 11, 2001, had cited the 1998 Canadian Supreme Court’s decision—pointed out by our WAPOR colleagues—to eliminate a 3-day Canadian ban on publishing such surveys. Our Supreme Court resolved the case with finality in record time, so as not to disrupt the elections of May 14, 2001.

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WAPOR pointed out last Wednesday that the Chilean legislation goes against the actual global trend, which is to reduce the length of bans to a minimum (“Freedom to Publish Polls,” http://wapor.org/freedom/).

It stated: “WAPOR rejects any legislation that unduly restricts the freedom to conduct and to publish opinion polls, as they are important to civil discourse in open societies. Legislation that restricts the publication of poll results is usually based on the assumption that poll results may influence voting preferences. However, scientific research shows that polls are read by interested voters who want to know the state of public opinion regarding a given topic or election. Scientific opinion polls provide important information in an objective way, which otherwise would not be available.”

“Even more important, when they are used, bans on the publication of polls tend to produce a worse situation than the one they aim at preventing. Polls are conducted anyway and they can be published outside the country where the ban is in force. Rumors circulate concerning the results of these polls or of fake polls that have not even been conducted. This situation occurred in recent elections in France and Tunisia.”

“… WAPOR recommends that Chilean legislators and election authorities reconsider the restriction on the publication of opinion polls results. Public opinion polls
offer valuable information in a democratic and free society, whereas its restriction contributes to an unequal access to information and potentially misinformation.”

The situation in Chile. The July 2 elections are primaries, for the various coalitions to select their candidates. The presidential election itself will have a first round on Nov. 19, and, if no one gets an absolute majority, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held on Dec. 17.

The 15-day survey ban was legislated last year, under incumbent President Michelle Bachelet of the center-left Nueva Mayoria, who was president in 2006-2010. She was succeeded by the billionaire Sebastian Piñera, of the center-right Chile Vamos, in 2011-2014. A sitting president is ineligible for immediate re-election. President Bachelet got 62 percent of the vote when elected again in 2014, but later became very unpopular.

A pre-election survey of metropolitan voters on June 13-15, published by El Mercurio on June 18 (i.e., just beating the deadline) put the leaders in the primaries as Piñera and Alejandro Guillier of Nueva Mayoria. For the first round of the election, the survey gave Piñera 29 percent, Guillier 20 percent, 20 percent undecided and the balance divided among others. In a second round of Piñera versus Guillier, the survey had Piñera at 39, Guillier 34, and others undecided.

I think Chileans would like to see more surveys, not less.

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Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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TAGS: Chile, election, pre-election polls, public opinion research, World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR
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