Bad numbers

/ 05:28 AM July 13, 2018

The second-quarter Social Weather Stations survey shows two aspects of the same reality in the Philippines: President Duterte remains popular, but he is losing popular support.

He told reporters he didn’t mind the 11-point drop in his net satisfaction rating. “I do not care. Make it 15. Wala na ako diyan (That no longer matters to me). It does not interest me at all.”


But there were times in the past when the President would refer in his rambling speeches to his
landslide victory or to his high ratings, as an affirmation of his mandate.

To be sure, nobody questions his mandate. His election has never been an issue; his gross satisfaction rating may have gone down from 70 percent last March to 65 percent in June, but that is still a considerable majority. He retains supermajorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and he has demonstrated control over a compliant Supreme Court. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has managed to distance itself institutionally from the President’s violent antidrug campaign, but there is no undercurrent of restiveness in the ranks.


But for the first time in his national political career, the President has suffered two consecutive quarters of falling ratings. From plus 58 in December 2017, his net satisfaction score slipped to plus 56 in March 2018, and then to plus 45 in June. His previous low as president was reached in the September 2017 survey, when outrage over the killing of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old innocent, drove his rating down to plus 48; but he managed to recover in the next quarterly survey.

The latest SWS poll, conducted from June 27 to 30, may be understood as confirmation of a new pattern.

His ratings took a hit in every area: down 20 points to 34 in the National Capital Region; down six to 33 in the rest of Luzon; down 18 to 47 in the Visayas; down six to 76 in his own bailiwick, Mindanao. In urban areas across the country, his net satisfaction rating fell 18 points to 38; in rural areas, it dropped four points to 52. In Class D, the country’s largest demographic, his rating was down 14 points to 43. It was only in the smallest sector ABC (66) and in the poorest, E (52), where the President’s net satisfaction rating improved, by three and four points, respectively.

Do these numbers matter? They do, firstly because they represent the views of voting-age Filipino citizens. In that sense, they are not merely numbers. Secondly, because despite what the President himself says, or his various spokespersons aver, the Duterte administration is, in fact, highly sensitive to public opinion. This is part of the character of the administration, forged in the smithy of the election campaign; its leaders see themselves as riding, or borne aloft, a popular wave. They are very conscious of the President’s popularity.

And, thirdly, these numbers matter because many of the administration’s political plans, and some of the administration’s sources of political support, are based on the President’s high ratings. Slowly take that away, and what have you got? Members of the political class rushing to create a new system of government, proponents of postponed elections, justices looking at post-judicial appointments, all without guaranteed cover of the President’s popularity.

It is not only the gelling of those dissatisfied with President Duterte at the 20- to 25-percent
level (look at the numbers: 25 percent in NCR, 24 in the rest of Luzon, 20 in the Visayas, 23 in urban
areas, 21 in Class D, 20 percent through the country). It is also the President’s continued lack of strategic and message discipline, when he keeps insulting the God in whom 80 percent of the population profess belief. His double-digit drop in June must be attributable in part to his “stupid God” remarks of June 22—in the same way his gratuitous cursing of the Pope in November 2015, in the run-up to the election, caused his voter preference numbers the following month to be cut in half.

A fall in ratings is only political gravity at work. Would the President be able to defy the laws of gravity once more? That’s possible, but already it looks unlikely that he will scale the heights of even just a year ago. This explains the rush to change the Constitution right away; its proponents fear the sky is falling.


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TAGS: popularity, Rodrigo Duterte, Social Weather Stations, survey, SWS
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