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How to misreport a survey

/ 10:46 PM November 23, 2012

A GOOD example of how to misreport a survey is the headline “BIZMEN: CITY GOV’T CORRUPT” of the Panay News last Nov. 20 over Jezza Nepomuceno’s rendition of the 2012 SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption, presented in Iloilo City by SWS vice president Linda Luz Guerrero the day before.

It so happens that the story’s title and lead paragraph—“Eighty-five percent of businessmen here experienced corruption in the city government, the 2012 Survey of Enterprises on Corruption by the [sic] Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed”—are wrong. Its second paragraph, claiming that “69 percent of businessmen here experienced corruption at the barangay level” is also wrong.  [Bold mine]

The numbers “85” and “69” were the result of a series of questions about respondents’ views as to the existence and location of corruption, and not about respondents’ own experiences with it.


Perceiving public sector corruption.  First, the businessmen were asked if, in their opinion, the extent of corruption in the public sector was “a lot”, “some”, “a little”, or “none”.

Those who did not answer “none” were then asked at what governmental level the corruption happens—whether national, city/municipal, provincial, or barangay—and were told that multiple responses are acceptable.

In Iloilo City in particular, out of those perceiving the existence of government corruption, 84 percent located it at the national level, 85 percent at the city level, 78 percent at the provincial level, and 69 percent at the barangay level. This is where the “85” and the “69” came from. Please note that none of these numbers quantifies businessmen who have experienced corruption.

Perceiving bribery by private companies.  A third instance of misreporting in the Panay News item is the allegation that “The survey also showed that 40 percent of enterprises resorted to bribery to win public contracts.”

But what the survey actually asked was “How many companies in your own line of business give bribes to win public sector contracts—is it almost all, most, a few, hardly any, or none?”  This counts those who see certain extents of bribery, not those who resort to bribery.

In Iloilo in particular, 40 percent answered either “almost all” or “most”; this is the source of the reporter’s number. For the entirety of areas surveyed (the other areas being Metro Manila, Angeles, Cavite-Laguna-Batangas, Cebu, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro-Iligan), an average of 41 percent answered either “almost all” or “most”.  Thus, Iloilo is not an unusual case.

Being personally solicited for a bribe. Actually, the SWS Survey of Enterprises does have items that delve directly into respondents’ experiences. These are the items to which the reporter should have paid attention.

For instance, the survey asked each respondent whether her/his own enterprise was asked, in the past year, for a bribe in connection with: (1) getting local government permits or licenses; (2) assessment/payment of income taxes; (3) getting national government permits or licenses; (4) complying with import regulations, including paying import duties; (5) supplying the government with goods/services; (6) collecting receivables from the government; and (7) availing of government incentives. These called for seven separate questions.


In Iloilo City in particular, 47 percent of the enterprises had been solicited for at least one of the seven types of bribes. For the entirety of areas surveyed, an average of 50 percent were solicited for at least one of the seven types.  Thus, Iloilo City is below average for bribery-solicitation in general.

With respect to the second specific bribe, namely for getting local permits/licenses, those solicited in Iloilo City were 28 percent. This item should have caught the reporter’s attention, if her primary interest was local corruption. For the entirety of areas surveyed on this item, the average of businessmen solicited was 31 percent, i.e., Iloilo City was below average.

Knowing personally about government corruption.  The SWS survey also asked when was the last time that the respondent had personal knowledge of public sector corruption in his/her own sector of business—was it within the last month, the last 2-3 months, the last 4-6 months, the last 7-12 months, or over a year ago?

In Iloilo City in particular, 20 percent said in the last month, and 13 percent said in the last 2-3 months. These are very close to the all-area averages of 21 percent in the last month, and 12 percent in the last 2-3 months.  Based on this, the frequency of corruption in Iloilo City is not particularly high.

Sincerity in fighting corruption.  One of the “agencies” that the respondents were asked to rate in terms of sincerity in fighting corruption was their own city government.

For all areas in the survey, the average Net Sincerity rate (the percentage calling it sincere minus the percentage calling it insincere) for the city government is +21.  This is in the range of +10 to +29 that SWS classifies as Moderate. In Iloilo City in particular, the businessmen gave the city government a net sincerity rating of +31, or better than average.

All in all, I see no reason for the Iloilo city government to feel embarrassed by the findings of the 2012 SWS Survey of Enterprises.

Advice to reporters.  Study the wording of survey questions very carefully. They are intended to get as close as possible to the core of the issue, stopping short of self-incrimination.

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TAGS: column, interpretation of survey results, Mahar Mangahas, opinion survey
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