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Trillanes, Honasan most vulnerable now?

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The results of the April 13-15 Social Weather Stations survey are in, and for the first time two nonreelectionist candidates for the Senate have broken into the Top 4. The number of survey respondents who said they would vote for Nancy Binay and Cynthia Villar rose from 47 percent in March to 49 percent in April, enough for them to tie for joint 3rd-4th place.

But I would guess that the real story from the April results, from the point of view of the campaigns themselves, is the sharp declines in voter support for the ex-soldiers running for reelection, Antonio Trillanes IV and Gringo Honasan.

(Caveat emptor: As I have done in previous columns, I equate the voter preference of the respondents participating in these surveys with voter support, and assume that these numbers will translate, more or less directly, into actual votes. More qualifications need to be made, but that is the gist of it.)

The number of respondents who said they will vote for Trillanes fell five points, from 44 in March to 39 in April; this marks the first time Trillanes’ voter support has fallen below 40 percent since the August 2012 survey. Voter support for Honasan fell six points, from 43 to 37; Honasan’s numbers, however, track a roller-coaster ride since August, reaching a high of 48 in January, dropping even more steeply to 34 in February, rising by nine points back to 43 in March—and now back down at 37.

I take the drop in voter support to mean that Trillanes and Honasan may now be the most vulnerable of the viable candidates—at risk of junking, political dirty tricks, the general drying up of financial support. It is worth noting, for instance, that three candidates each from the main political coalitions, Team PNoy (Grace Poe, Trillanes and Jun Magsaysay) and UNA (Jackie Enrile, Honasan and Migz Zubiri), will be contesting the last three slots. Why would a political operator train his (metaphorical) guns on, say, Poe, who has more or less plateaued at a still high 39, when there seems to be a significant downward movement in the electoral fortunes of Trillanes or Honasan?

It is a scenario that must be eerily familiar to the two of them. Honasan came in 13th in 2001 and 10th in 2007; Trillanes placed 11th in 2007 (the same election where Zubiri, controversially, came in 12th).

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Can someone like Teddy Casiño take political advantage of the drop in voter support for the ex-soldiers? His campaign, after all, can be seen as a necessary corrective to the Filipino electorate’s occasional love affair with military men.

His difficulty is that he seems to be stuck in the single digits; from a high of 11 percent in January, voter preference rates for him have slid to 9 in February and then remained steady at 7 in March and April. It seems like a long way to the winner’s circle.

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To point out the obvious, however, the race to the Senate is a matter of ranking; it is the first 12 who will make it, regardless of the difference in voter support between the front-runner (Loren Legarda since December, now at 59 percent) and the tail-ender (in the April survey, that would be Enrile and Honasan, who share 12th-13th place, with 37).

To put this simple truth in another way: The difference in the number of votes between the topnotcher in the 2010 Senate race (Bong Revilla, 19.5 million) and the 12th-placer (TG Guingona, 10.2 million) was greater than the total number of votes for Risa Hontiveros, who placed 13th (9.1 million).

So whether Trillanes or Honasan comes in 9th or in 12th place doesn’t really matter; they still end up back in the Senate.

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But can we trust the surveys in the first place?

We should certainly use survey results with the appropriate caveats and a healthy sense of skepticism; the 2004 SWS exit poll remains a low point, and the astounding victories of Trillanes in 2007 and Vice President Jojo Binay in 2010 should remind us that surprises are still possible.

But bottom line? I think polls conducted by reputable institutions like SWS and Pulse Asia can be trusted. They are reputable (unlike, say, the comical non-entity called Proberz which emerged in the 2004 elections) because their work is based on global standards, and because their track record is there for all to see. They both take pride in their election surveys, precisely because these track the actual election results well.

In other words, the very surveys attacked by candidates who aren’t doing well in them are the pollsters’ business cards; they serve as proof to future clients (not all of them political) that the survey groups do have their finger on the public pulse.

Besides, the late Trillanes surge in 2007 and the steady Binay rise in 2010 were captured by survey data; that made Binay the perfect choice to serve as keynote speaker at SWS’ 25th anniversary, in late 2010.

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We should think of surveys as a kind of mirror—perhaps not as insightful about a given society as the best of that society’s literature or cinema, but a reasonably faithful reflection nevertheless.

If we don’t like what we see, we are free to ignore it; we should certainly refrain from preening, looking at our reflection in every side-view mirror. But if we refuse to use a mirror, or smash every single one in sight, the fault may lie not in our ill-starred reflection, but in ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised when we go out looking like a mess.

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jnery@inquirer.com.ph/On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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