The numbers on Duterte
The latest Social Weather Stations survey, conducted only a little over two weeks ago, has unsettled Malacañang; it has been forced to issue an unusual statement about the President’s popular support, asserting that “love is still there” for Mr. Duterte despite double-digit drops in both his net satisfaction and net trust ratings.
Even at the height of their popularity, Presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada or Benigno Aquino III — or their various spokespersons — never spoke of public love, only public opinion. To speak of love is to protest too much.
But it is easy to lose sight of the obvious: When we read public satisfaction over his performance as an indicator, the President continues to enjoy majority support. Despite the general decline in his numbers, Mr. Duterte still has a 67-percent satisfaction rating nationwide.
Even in those categories where he saw the steepest drops in his numbers, he still enjoys a level of public satisfaction above 50 percent: In Balance Luzon (that is, Luzon excluding Metro Manila), his satisfaction rating is 59 percent. In the Visayas, it is 64 percent. In the rural areas, it is 65 percent. In class E, it is 61 percent. Among women, it is 65 percent. In the 35-44 age group, it is 66 percent. And among those voting-age survey respondents with some elementary or some high school education, his public satisfaction rating is 61 percent.
This is still a considerable political advantage, and even those judges who sit on the political fence will learn to look past the decline in the ratings and focus on the President’s continuing political viability.
No need to speak of love; instead, the word should be all about work: fixing the different messes the Duterte administration both inherited and created, putting an end to the deeply flawed anti-drugs policy and reforming the national police organization, resolving the crisis in Marawi and the growing threat from Islamic State-inspired extremism, getting to the bottom of the billion-peso shabu smuggling scandal at the Bureau of Customs, censuring political allies who are clearly angling for electoral or economic advantage, and so on, ad infinitum.
It is important to remember that Mr. Duterte was elected with a “much trust” rating of 54 percent (the survey was taken about a week before election day). When he took his oath of office, his “much trust” rating had soared to 84 percent (the survey was taken about a week before inauguration day).
Here is a variation of the so-called rally-round-the-flag effect; Filipinos were happy to place their trust in Mr. Duterte now that he had won the presidency. Other presidents, even those who had only succeeded to the office, not elected in their own right, have enjoyed this effect.
But this effect is only temporary. Those who support Mr. Duterte and have seen both his trust and his satisfaction ratings go up must come to terms with one of the principal lessons of history: Even politics follows the laws of gravity. It is only a matter of time.
To be sure, a survey is only a snapshot in time. To understand the decline in the President’s numbers, we must wait to confirm it in the next round of surveys.
Mr. Duterte has had ups and downs with the polls before; his controversial cursing of the Pope in late 2015 caused his numbers to drop (forcing his presidential campaign to issue statements about a possible visit to the Vatican). But they rebounded.
Will the decline in September 2017 be reversed in the next survey? Or will the President’s numbers continue to fall?
The long-term trend is clear. Starting with a 76-percent rating in September 2016 (the first survey conducted after he took office), his nationwide satisfaction rating is now at 67 percent. From his 84 percent “much trust” rating in September 2016, his trust level is now at 73 percent.
Aside from these reminders of the laws of political gravity, warning signs are there for anyone, even the President, to see: A 19-percent fall in his satisfaction rating in the last three months in Class E, to which demographic most of the people killed in the so-called war on drugs belong, is a sign of political danger.
A similar 19-percent drop in his satisfaction rating in the Visayas, where many people appreciate his use of Bisaya, should be seen as worrying. Is the President listening?
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