Social Climate

Prolonged high optimism

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Last March 9, SWS issued the finding of its December 2011 national survey that 38 percent of adult Filipinos nationwide expected their personal quality of life (uri ng pamumuhay) to improve over the next 12 months, and that 9 percent expected it to worsen.

The resulting personal optimism net score (optimists minus pessimists) of +29 is classified by SWS as High (from +20 to +29). Scores of +30 and up are called Very High.

In 10 quarterly surveys from September 2009 to December 2011, the net optimism scores were +24, +21, +26, +36, +32, +35, +24, +27, +30, and +29.  The first four were in the final 12 months of the highly unpopular Arroyo regime, as the light at the end of the tunnel came into sight.

The record-high +36 was in June 2010, just before the inauguration of Noynoy Aquino as president. But it should also be noted that the earlier high scores of +24, +21 and +26 happened when the people did not yet know who would win the election; optimism was high regardless of who the election winner would be.

The series of 10 consecutive high, if not very high, net optimism scores, covering two and a half years, is unprecedented in our experience of 102 national surveys since 1984. The series of six consecutive high/very high net optimism scores during any presidency is likewise unprecedented.

Asking for personal optimism/pessimism is routine in surveys worldwide. It is about as common as getting a person’s blood pressure to help assess his/her health. It is a very useful indicator of the “social health”.

Terminology. Most of the time, optimists predominate over pessimists. SWS assigns the term Fair to net scores of +10 to +19, since this range contains both the median (the midpoint) and the mode (the single most-frequent) of previously recorded observations.

SWS uses the term Mediocre for the range of +1 to +9, which is below normal yet positive. It uses Low for the range of -9 to zero, and Very Low for -10 and below.

Note that each term corresponds to a 10-point range, except that the top and bottom terms are open-ended.  This piece will abbreviate Very High, High, Fair, Mediocre, Low and Very Low by VH, H, F, M, L and VL respectively.

Past presidents. The SWS archives have two optimism scores from the time of Ferdinand Marcos: a -4 (L) in April 1984, and a +10 (F) in July 1985. These are from the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference surveys.

In Cory Aquino’s time, the SWS surveys were semestral. The 13 national optimism readings include two VHs, five Hs, three Fs, and three Ms. The VH +35 in March 1987 was the record high for over 23 years, until the +36 of June 2010.  The lowest score was +6, in July 1991. The closing score was +22 in April 1992.

In Fidel Ramos’ time, the SWS surveys were quarterly, producing 26 optimism scores: two VHs, 13 Hs, 10 Fs, and one M. They started at +33, and stayed double-digit except for a +6 in October 1995, during the rice crisis.  The closing score was +23 in April 1998.  Thus median optimism was high in both Cory’s time and FVR’s time.

There were only 12 surveys in the time of Joseph Estrada. Net optimism started at +26, and then had five consecutive Fs. Starting October 1999 there were three Ms, three Ls and one VL (-13 in October 2000), rendering median optimism mediocre in Erap’s time.  The closing score was zero, in December 2000.

In Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time, there were 43 optimism surveys, starting with a +4. In the first 39 surveys, from January 2001 to June 2009, there were five Hs, 14 Fs, 14 Ms, four Ls, and two VLs.  The high of +24 was in February 2001; the low of -6 was in June 2008. Neither Erap nor GMA ever had a VH.

High optimism returned only in the last four quarters of GMA’s term when the end was near, as said earlier.  Given GMA’s great unpopularity in her last five years, I would rate the optimism of her time on the basis of the initial 39 surveys, for which the median was mediocre.

Optimism in relation to governance. Tabulations suggest that the latest high optimism rate is due to very high public satisfaction, not only with President Noynoy’s personal performance, but also with the general performance of his administration.

Among those satisfied with Aquino, net personal optimism is +31, or a grade of VH. It is +29 or H among those neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. On the other hand, it is only +17 or F among those dissatisfied with him.  Thus overall optimism is at H because of the very small size of the third group.

Those satisfied with the national administration have a net optimism score of +32 or VH. Those who feel neutral have a net score of +22 or H, and those dissatisfied have a net score of +25 or H. Therefore no realignment of satisfaction with the administration could reduce optimism below H.

Optimism in relation to economic situation. Other tabulations show net optimism at +31 or VH among both the employed and the unemployed, and at +22 or H among those not in the labor force.

It is a VH +35 among those who don’t self-rate as poor, and an H +22 among the self-rated poor. Thus poverty matters, but not enough to bring down optimism below a grade of H.

Optimism among those free from hunger has a VH score of +33.  It is only +17 or F among those in moderate hunger.  What matters most, as usual, is severe hunger, where optimism is at a mediocre +7.

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph. Special tabulations are by Josefina Mar of SWS.

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