Election surveys are only seasonalBy Mahar Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The litmus test of the quality of social surveying is the ability to anticipate election outcomes. In the United States where opinion polling started, the message of George Gallup Sr. was, if his surveys of voter preferences were reliable, then so were his surveys of consumer preferences, his bread-and-butter work. Hence the constant competition among polling organizations, worldwide, for who comes closest to actual election results.
In the Philippines, the main point of SWS survey-work in election time is, if its survey respondents tell the truth about their voting intentions, then they also tell the truth about their poverty, hunger, quality of life, and satisfaction with governance, which are the basic subject matters of the SWS institutional mission. Hence SWS openly subjects itself to the test of election survey reliability every three years, making sure that its survey item about the election race is nonsponsored, so that no one can suppress its publication.
Genuine surveys help political groups in selecting candidates, help business in marketing products, and help government in developing programs for the people. Fake surveys are only for swindlers. They won’t fool people to vote for unappealing candidates, or buy useless products, or support dubious public programs. Good politicians, good businessmen, and good leaders can tell the genuine from the fake. They know that surveys serve to learn what people want, not to tell people what to do.
Election surveys do not sway the voters. When Randy David (see “Politics and its consequences,” Inquirer, 5/9/13) says, “It is worrisome to see how much value Filipino voters and political coalitions assign to surveys to determine the suitability of candidates for public office,” he is right about the political coalitions, but he is wrong about the voters.
In the May 2-3, 2013, SWS preelection survey of registered voters, only 36 percent of the respondents knew of reports on election surveys in the first place; the other 64 percent were unaware of them. Voters are paying less attention to election surveys now than in 2010 or 2007.
Out of the 36 percent aware of election survey news, 25 percentage points said, outright, that the surveys would not affect their vote. The 11 percentage point balance consisted of (a) 3.6 points who said they would switch from weaker to stronger candidates (i.e., llamadistas or “bandwagonners”), (b) 2.7 points who said they would switch from stronger to weaker candidates (i.e., dejadistas or “underdoggers”), and (c) 4.9 points who said they would switch partially from weaker to stronger, and partially from stronger to weaker, candidates. Groups (a) and (b) indicate a weak net bandwagon effect of 3.6 – 2.7 = +0.9 points, i.e., 1 percent of the electorate. Group (c) is just a wash.
These are repeats of noncommissioned items implemented in the SWS final preelection surveys of 2007 and 2010. Those earlier surveys likewise found very little effect of election surveys on the voters. In 2010, the bandwagonners and underdoggers exactly offset each other. In 2007, the underdoggers were 2 points more than the bandwagonners. Thus the pundits who think bandwagonning must dominate are only guessing, and are ignorant of the Filipino voter’s psyche.
Partisan politics does not dominate the opinion polling agenda. In his column, Randy wrote, “What happens to science when its agenda is set by politics? … I am bothered by the way the science of opinion surveys in our country has been narrowly shaped by the short-term interests of partisan politics. … I am particularly troubled that the scientific study of public opinion itself appears to have been narrowly focused on the concerns of electoral politics.” To this, I must say that Randy’s fears are highly exaggerated. He does not know much about the development of SWS’ research agenda over the years.
Inclusive national development. The SWS website (www.sws.org.ph) contains its innovative indicators of poverty, hunger, quality of life, and satisfaction with governance, which have been included in the quarterly Social Weather Surveys for many years, even though nonsponsored. In particular, the SWS surveys showed the noninclusiveness of Philippine economic growth long before the recent release of official poverty statistics for the first semester of 2012.
Global survey research. The prime example of SWS’ global agenda is its membership in the International Social Survey Program (www.issp.org). Since 1991, SWS has done ISSP surveys of religion (1991, 1998, 2008), social inequality (1992, 1999, 2009), environment (1993, 2000, 2010), family and changing gender roles (1994, 2002, 2012), national identity (1995, 2003, and forthcoming 2013), the role of government (1996, 2006), work orientations (1997, 2005), social relations and support systems (2001), citizenship (2004, and forthcoming 2014), leisure time and sports (2007), and health (2011).
The ISSP archive is a treasure house of data for Randy and other Filipino social scientists to do cross-nationality analysis. (The Philippines, through SWS, is the only Asean member of ISSP.) The ISSP topics are decided by a one-country-one-vote process. Its questionnaires are drafted by elected committees, and approved, item by item, by votes of the general assembly. Each member shoulders its own survey costs.
Thus election surveys are only a seasonal activity of SWS, for periodically testing the quality of its work. We await the results of this test, next week.
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