30 years of statistics for advocacy
Today’s date, Aug. 8, is when the incorporation of Social Weather Stations, a nonstock, nonprofit organization, was formally approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, in 1985. SWS’ first task was to do, in partnership with Ateneo de Manila University (Admu), four national surveys of public opinion and the quality of life, leading up to the presidential election of 1987, for open publication.
Fate decreed a “snapping” of the election to February 1986. As officially counted by the Batasang Pambansa, the winner was Ferdinand Marcos; as counted by the National Movement for Free Elections, the winner was Corazon Aquino. The issue was settled by the People Power revolution.
In the first SWS/Admu survey, in May 1986, 64 percent of respondents said they had voted for Cory Aquino, 27 percent said they had voted for Ferdinand Marcos, and the rest did not answer. Seventy percent said Cory Aquino was the winner in their own electoral precinct.
The third SWS/Admu survey, in March 1987, found 12 Cory candidates and 12 opposition candidates in the lead for the 24 Senate seats at stake in the election of May 1987, two months away. Duly alerted, President Cory personally campaigned for her candidates, and brought the final score to 22-2; so it is possible to sway voters in a short time.
The military coup attempts of August 1987 and December 1989 were rapidly followed up by SWS surveys. These showed that President Cory’s suppression of the rebels had rallied the people to her side.
In 1990, most Filipinos favored retention of the US military bases. They were thus disappointed by the Senate’s decision not to ratify the treaty that would have allowed it. But, a year later, they changed their minds and concurred with the Senate after all.
SWS has now served the country through scientific survey research for 30 years, encompassing five administrations. It is an active participant in democratic discourse, trusted by partisan and nonpartisan groups alike. It has been assisted by many—and is thankful to them—but is beholden to none. It has proven that open and publicly accessible measurement of the quality of life is not only a worthwhile, but also a sustainable, activity.
The quality of life has a political dimension. Satisfaction with the working of democracy was strongly boosted by the well-accepted presidential election outcomes of 1992, 1998 and 2010. Yet the popular victory of Erap Estrada in 1998 did not prevent his equally popular ouster by People Power II in 2001. The people can change their minds.
Ever since 1986, the performance of government has, by and large, been decent. All presidents, except Gloria Arroyo, got positive ratings in their time. But President Noynoy Aquino’s popularity in the past five years has been unprecedented. So has been the people’s optimism for their personal futures.
The SWS strategy for helping to promote national development is to generate periodic statistics to call attention to important issues. Surveys of the people’s reports about themselves, and their views on conditions external to them, are practical and reliable ways of obtaining data.
The quarterly tracking of poverty and hunger has revealed their volatility. Their chief enemy is inflation, rather than slackness in economic growth. Lessening the numbers of the deprived definitely spreads happiness and satisfaction with life.
Three decades of survey history show inflation as the most important source of dissatisfaction with governance, ahead of corruption.
The source of most of the published SWS reports is the quarterly Social Weather Survey, an internally-initiated national survey of adults in which roughly half of the questionnaire is unsponsored. Sponsors of specific items may publish their findings at their discretion any time; but after three years their items are open to public research.
More subject matter is available in the gigantic SWS archives. Voting intentions. Exit polls. Evaluation of elections by poll workers, by voters, and by the disabled. The state of the judiciary and the legal profession, as seen by judges, lawyers and the general public. Public and private corruption perceived and experienced by managers of enterprises. Attitudes on reproductive health. Reading habits. Smoking habits. Consumer coping behavior. Impact evaluation of conditional cash transfers. Assessment of integrated social services in local areas. The impact of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Attitudes toward peace processes with rebel groups. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Revenue administration reform.
SWS is the Philippine member of several cross-country survey networks. Its 24 rounds for the International Social Survey Programme (1991-2014) have covered religiosity, social inequality, the environment, gender roles, national identity, role of government, work orientations, social support systems, citizenship, leisure time, and health.
SWS has done three rounds of the World Values Survey (1996-2012), three rounds of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (1998-2010), and four rounds of Asian Barometer (2002-14). SWS has been the Philippine fieldwork provider for 11 rounds of the Gallup World Poll (2006-15; data proprietary to Gallup).
The SWS surveys are diligently archived for public research. As of June 30, 2015, the Survey Data Bank has 517 survey data sets, of which 249 are national surveys, involving 753,486 respondents and 91,589 questionnaire items—an ever-growing treasure chest of data to help tell the history of the Filipino people.
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