Duterte’s high satisfaction rating: Credible?
Critics of President Duterte are befuddled by his high satisfaction rating in the Social Weather Stations surveys, given joblessness, widespread criminality and the high cost of food—issues that impact on the daily lives of the great majority of the population. A September survey found 70 percent of adult Filipinos satisfied with the performance of the President.
The difference between the respondents’ perception of the President’s performance and his critics’ assessment of it may be attributed to the ambiguity of the question asked of the SWS survey respondents. The question was: “Please tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the performance of Rodrigo Duterte as President of the Philippines.”
Alfred Whitehead wrote in “The Art of Asking Questions” that “language is always ambiguous as to the exact proposition which it indicates.” The ambiguity occurs because each individual interprets the question from his own viewpoint. As a result, the respondent’s interpretation of the question—specifically the word “performance”—may be different from another person’s understanding. So when adult Filipinos are asked if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the President’s performance, each respondent has his or her own frame of reference.
When it comes to national or political issues, the frame of reference is likely to be characteristic of sub-groups of Philippine society—socio-economic classes, geographical clusters, educational brackets, etc. Robert L. Kahn and Charles F. Cannel wrote in “The Dynamics of Interviewing” that to determine the frame of reference of a respondent in a public opinion survey, respondents are asked why they feel the way they do about a topic, in order to make explicit the frame of reference from which they answered the question.
We do not know the basis of the answers of those who said they were satisfied with the President’s performance. SWS did not ask its 1,500 respondents in its September survey why they felt the way they did about Mr. Duterte’s performance.
The 1,500 respondents of the SWS survey were supposed to be representative of all sub-groups of the 54.4 million registered voters. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Philippine population breaks down into 1 percent AB, 9 percent C, 60 percent D, and 30 percent E. If the 1,500 respondents in SWS’ September survey are representative of the voting population, then only 15 respondents came from the socio-economic class AB, 135 from Class C, and 1,350 from among those belonging to the socio-economic classes D and E.
The 2004 presidential election can give us an idea how the DE classes regard the presidency. Almost 12 million votes were cast for Fernando Poe Jr., who did not have the formal education or the experience in governance that would have prepared him for the position. The bulk of those votes could only have come from the DE classes, as they constitute 90 percent of the voting population.
In the case of Mr. Duterte, the majority of respondents may have a common frame of reference: the fulfillment of the promises he made when he campaigned for the presidency. But President Duterte himself admitted in August that he was wrong to assume that he could eliminate the illegal drug trade in three to six months. He also intimated that he might not succeed in eradicating corruption. As to crime, it should be obvious even to the people from the lower economic classes that crime is still rampant, even ascendant, as reflected in the news programs of major TV channels.
The SWS respondents’ frame of reference in assessing his performance cannot, therefore, be Mr. Duterte’s fulfillment of his campaign promises, for he himself has admitted that he has failed to fulfill many of them.
We cannot tell what their frame of reference is, as they were not asked why they were satisfied with Mr. Duterte’s performance. It could be the performance of something unrelated to governance. Whatever those satisfied with the President’s performance based their opinion on, it is not the same as that of the President’s critics, as each individual in that camp has a different understanding of performance.
The critics should not be disturbed by Mr. Duterte’s high satisfaction rating.
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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has long been a keen observer of Philippine politics. He was in charge of public opinion surveys of Robot Statistics, the Gallop Poll affiliate, in the early 1960s.
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