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High optimism continues

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Last Wednesday, BusinessWorld’s top story “Optimism dips but still ‘high’” was based on the first quarter 2012 Social Weather Survey release “Net personal optimism at +28; net economic optimism +6.”

Net personal optimism is the difference between the percentage that expects improvement, and the percentage that expects worsening, in personal quality of life (PQOL) in the next 12 months. SWS considers it “high” when in the range of +20 to +29.  “Very high” is for scores of +30 and up. These are above the historically most common range of +10 to +19, termed “fair.”  Scores of +1 to +9 are “mediocre.”

Net economic optimism is the difference between the percentage that expects improvement, and the percentage that expects worsening, in the economy in the next 12 months.  SWS terms it “high” in the range of +1 to +9, “fair” from -9 to zero, and “mediocre” from -19 to -10.  Any positive net score is an achievement, since it is common for most people (anywhere in the world, mind you) to be skeptical about the economic future.

The BW phrase “optimism dips” is correct, since the 2011Q4 net personal optimism was +29—only one point higher, take note—but sounds as though we should feel disappointed. Under its subhead “Palace expects numbers to improve,” it quotes President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda thus: “With verifiable results like GDP and results on government consumption and government expenditures, I believe we will see the optimism of Filipino people begin to materialize.”

With anyone who thinks that Filipino optimism has not yet materialized, I gently but firmly disagree. Strong Filipino optimism came back long ago, and is still with us.

In “Prolonged high optimism” (Inquirer, 3/17/2012), I pointed to the consistently high, if not very high, optimism since late 2009—i.e. as soon as it was clear to the public that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could not extend her presidency—as unprecedented in survey history since 1984.

No presidency ever saw seven consecutive quarters of high/very high optimism scores before. The previous best was four consecutive, under Fidel Ramos, from 1994Q3 to 1995Q2.  The scores in the first seven quarters under Noynoy Aquino have been +32, +35, +24, +27, +30, +29, and most recently +28.

If those were an NBA star’s points in his last seven games, I wouldn’t pan his latest score of 28 as a “dip” in shooting, even though below the 30-point borderline for “very high” scoring.

What about the first quarter’s spikes in economic deprivation? The new optimism score is from the same 2012Q1 survey that reported unusually high hunger, self-rated poverty, and unemployment.  This means that the spikes in economic deprivation did not drag down personal optimism. SWS cross-tabulations confirm this, as follows:

Net personal optimism in 2012Q1 was +28 among adults coming from families not suffering hunger, likewise +28 among those from families in moderate hunger, and +29 among those from families in severe hunger.  Thus there was no difference across hunger categories.

Net optimism was +39 among those from families that said they were “not poor,” +32 among those from families that put themselves “on the borderline,” and +21 among those that self-rated as poor.  Thus poverty status made some difference, but net optimism among the poor still rated as “high.”

Net optimism was +29 among the employed, and +32 among the unemployed (those without current work, and also looking for work). Thus the unemployed were actually more optimistic, a bit, than the employed.   The average optimism score settled to +28 when those not in the labor force were factored in.

Life-satisfaction matters more. At any single point in time, personal optimism appears more closely related to satisfaction with life. From one point in time to another, worsening of deprivation is not the only reason people may become dissatisfied with life, and consequently turn pessimistic. Conversely, relief from deprivation is not the only reason a person may become satisfied with life and consequently turn optimistic.

My report “Life-satisfaction and dissatisfaction” (Inquirer, 6/2/2012) of dissatisfaction ranging from 23.5 to 39.4 percent in 2002-2008 implied that life-satisfaction ranged from 76.5 to 60.8 percent in that period, i.e. during the Arroyo presidency.  There was no life-satisfaction survey in 2009.

My report of dissatisfaction ranging from 14.3 to 24.3 percent from 2010Q3 to 2012Q1 implied that life-satisfaction ranged from 85.5 to 75.5 percent in that time; a tiny few were Don’t Knows.  So it is clear that Filipinos have been feeling more satisfied with life under the current than under the former administration.

I attribute this not to new economic achievements, but to marked improvement in governance, evidenced by high public satisfaction with the performance of the national administration on many issues, relative not only to the Arroyo time but also to all previous times.

In 2012Q1, adults satisfied with life were 41 percent optimistic and 5 percent pessimistic about their next 12 months’ PQOL, for a net optimism score of +36, which is very high.  On the other hand, those dissatisfied with life were 22 percent optimistic and 17 percent pessimistic about their coming PQOL, for a net score of +5, which is mediocre.  The overall net optimism was a high +28 because the satisfied side constituted 75.5 percent, whereas the dissatisfied side was only 24.3 percent.

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.


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