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The SWS preelection surveys

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The very preelection survey of Social Weather Stations was in the period Feb. 24-March 21, 1987, during the campaign for 24 Senate slots in the May election that year. It found an exact 12-12 tie between the pro-Cory and anti-Cory candidates.

The final outcome of the May election, however, was 22-2 for the Coryistas.  Critics of SWS claimed that it proved that surveys can’t predict elections.  But what campaign manager Paul Aquino told us was that the survey woke them up to the realization that they had been taking things too easy.  He was able to convince President Cory Aquino of the importance of her personal presence in the ground campaign; she raised her candidates’ arms aloft, and did her famed “Cory magic.”

After that solo election survey in 1987, SWS did two surveys in the 1992 campaign, and gradually increased the survey frequency in later elections.  For the last three election campaigns, the series has been monthly. The first round this year was reported on Jan. 27.  The February round came out last Tuesday.  It will be followed by rounds in March, April, and the first week of May.
The national election race item of the SWS surveys is not commissioned, but is done on SWS’ own account for public disclosure, with the rights of first printing assigned to BusinessWorld. SWS subscribers pay fees for access to details of the race by area and demographics, but may not publish such details. SWS maintains sole right to publish its own-account survey items.

As in previous campaigns, some changes in the monthly standings of the candidates have happened.  This simply indicates that voter preferences are not static. There have been leaders who maintain their leads throughout the campaign.  There are some who drop down, and eventually lose.  There are some candidates who lag behind at first, but later catch up and win.  Some never reach the winning circle at any time.  Why these changes happen is for campaign managers to explain, if and when they care to do so.  The changing of voters’ minds is part of their freedom of political expression.

SWS is completely nonpartisan in elections, neither supporting nor opposing any candidate.  SWS does not accept commissions to work exclusively for any political person or party. Monitoring campaign messaging and/or advertising is not its job.

It is the voters, not the pollsters, who make candidates win or lose.  The act of asking the people their voting intentions can be done without influencing their answers.  The field interviewers are trained to practice the principle that there are no wrong answers; what they are directed to seek are truthful answers. The interviewers are all direct hires, individually supervised by the senior field staff; SWS does not outsource its interviewing.

In the first place, the question about votes is asked at the very beginning of the interview, preceded only by noncontroversial “ice-breakers,” like whether the respondent is optimistic or pessimistic about her/his quality of life in the future.  Respondents make their voting choices by shading ovals on a paper ballot, with the candidates’ names appearing as in the official ballot, arranged alphabetically by the names the candidates have formally indicated to the Commission on Elections.

Knowing what surveys say about general voting intentions makes few voters change their minds about their candidates.  We glean this by polling how voters themselves describe their reaction to election surveys.

Election surveys can only affect voters who know about them.  This awareness is growing.  In the week before the May 2007 election, 48 percent of voters surveyed by SWS said they knew of some election-survey news.  Of these 48 percentage points, (a) 32 said the surveys would not affect their votes, (b) 3 said they would switch their votes from weaker to stronger candidates, (c) 5 said they would switch from stronger to weaker candidates, and (d) 8 said they would switch partly from weaker to stronger, and partly from stronger to weaker, candidates.

Those in group (b) are “bandwagonners,” those in group (c) are “underdoggers,” and those in group (d) are something of both.  Thus, the net effect of election surveys in 2007 was relatively favorable to underdogs.

In the week before the May 2010 election, the awareness of election surveys was already at 64 percent.  Of the 64 percentage points, (a) 48 said the surveys would not affect their vote, (b) 4 said they would switch their votes from weaker to stronger candidates, (c) 4 said they would switch from stronger to weaker candidates, and (d) 7 said they would switch partly from weaker to stronger, and partly from stronger to weaker, candidates. Since the bandwagonners and the underdoggers balanced out, the election surveys of 2010 had no net effect on voters.

Among those who were aware of election surveys in early May 2010, 73 percent called them “good,” and only 6 percent called them “bad,” for the country; the rest said they didn’t know. Among those unaware of them, 57 percent called them good, and only 4 percent called them bad.  In any case, there are roughly 12 persons who like election surveys, for every person who dislikes them.

Only time will tell the final outcome of the campaign.  Watch for the final SWS election survey, to be published in BW before Election Day.  That’s as far as SWS will go to predict the outcome of the 2013 election.  Every election presents a challenge for the science and art of opinion polling.

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


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