Lessons from the campaign trail
I gained a lot of understanding on why voters vote as they do in the local elections, and then vote differently in the national elections, when I tagged along on a house-to-house campaign.
I joined a team of candidates vying for municipal posts in a northeastern Luzon town last Monday. The candidates assembled at the break of dawn to visit each house in one barangay until noon time. To every resident they met, the candidates introduced themselves, gave their credentials-filled flyers and made invitations to an early evening miting de avance at the barangay hall where they promised to speak about their plans.
It was grueling because there was a lot of walking, made more punishing by the sweltering summer heat. A councilor candidate, Frank Verzola, is 70 years old. The vice mayoralty candidate, Joy Duruin, is handicapped by severe gout. The mayoralty candidate breastfeeds her 7-month-old baby in between breaks.
The prevalence of small wooden houses attests to the underprivileged status of the residents. We encountered children taking their meals while seated on ground dirt, women doing laundry, men tending to their fighting cocks and others on their way to work on their rice or corn fields.
We met a tricycle driver who’s partially paralyzed because of a stroke he suffered as a worker in Taiwan. We talked to a young widow whose husband was killed on suspicion that he was having an affair with someone’s wife.
The campaign experience gave me insights that help me understand the seemingly inexplicable direction of the senatorial elections.
I gathered that a combination of morning house-to-house campaign and an evening barangay assembly for speeches is the customary campaign practice for local candidates all over the country. This enables the local candidates to see the living conditions and hear the tribulations of their constituents. This also enables residents to develop a personal kinship with the candidates.
Because the relationship is personal, voters normally judge local candidates on their delivery of assistance, fulfillment of election promises, corruption reputation and overall public service performance. Voters demand accountability on local candidates using these standards. But, of course, vote-buying is a monkey wrench that causes abnormal behavior for voters who struggle with daily survival.
In contrast, national candidates do not visit each household because of inadequate time. The normal strategy for them is to speak before gathered crowds during campaign rallies for the whole town. This depletes their chance to see, hear and feel the hardship of ordinary people. This similarly deprives voters of the opportunity to develop personal relations with them. Because the relationship is impersonal, voters judge national candidates differently from local aspirants.
Since national candidates are distant characters, their undesirable traits resonate with lesser impact among voters who struggle with day-to-day hardship. Because no personal bond is formed that normally engenders expectations and disappointment, voters weigh national candidates less on their ability to fulfill promises, to deliver assistance and their embroilment in corruption scandals. Instead, national candidates — who are mostly viewed as television personalities — are judged on the basis of name recall, entertainment appeal, physical attributes and other traits irrelevant to public office.
I imagined living among the poor, and it infused me with their vantage point. For them, lack of food, medicine and money for school are far bigger and more immediate problems compared to our dispute with China, human rights violations and the uncouth behavior of the President.
Thus, we have Hugpong ng Pagbabago senatorial candidates who are high in surveys despite their criminal records, lack of principles or dearth of relevant talent. And we have Otso Diretso candidates who have not captured the imagination of the masses because they have not calibrated the basket of issues they espouse.
When the local candidates reassembled in the evening for the miting de avance, they struggled to present their platforms in shortened speeches. It was approaching 8 o’clock. Soon, the audience would leave en masse to watch “Ang Probinsyano.”
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