Surveys of freedom to dissent
The quality of opinion polling depends, of course, on the cooperation of the survey respondents. Are the President’s numbers high simply because the Filipino people are afraid of him (see John Nery, “Surveys in a time of fear,” Opinion, 7/30/19)? I am content to verify the SWS ratings with other polls of his personal popularity (see my “The role of alternative data,” Opinion, 7/13/19).
SWS’ traditional means of assessing fear is to probe directly with the following “agree/disagree” test statement: “I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration. (Nasasabi ko nang hayagan at walang takot ang lahat ng gusto kong sabihin kahit na ito ay laban sa administrasyon).”
This survey item has five response-choices: strongly agree, somewhat agree, undecided, somewhat disagree and strongly disagree. Net Agreement is the percentage of the two agree-answers
minus the percentage of the two disagree-answers. It is the net personal freedom to dissent, as felt by citizens themselves.
This item has a very long history. It was first used in July 1985, during Marcos’ authoritarian regime, in a survey done for the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development. Since then, SWS has repeated it many times.
From a representative national sample of 2,000 adults, the 1985 BBC survey found 33 percent agreement and 29 disagreement, or +3 Net Agreement (correctly rounded). This has proven to be the all-time low personal freedom to dissent in survey history.
Under Cory Aquino, net personal freedom to dissent reached its all-time high +63 in March 1987. That was just after the ratification of the new Constitution, with gross agreement at 74 percent and gross disagreement at only 11 percent. Its low point, out of eight surveys in Cory’s time, was +16 in September 1988.
In Ramos’ time (three surveys), the net personal freedom was from +28 to +47. Under Estrada (eight surveys), it was +34 to +41; under Arroyo (nine surveys), +22 to +42; under Aquino III (six surveys), +24 to +42; under Duterte (five surveys), +23 to +41.
The range under Duterte is not unusual. The high +41 was in June 2019, when 59 percent agreed, and 18 percent disagreed. From 1986 to now, personal freedom to dissent never returned to single-digit.
The June 2019 SWS survey added two new probes about freedom to dissent:
1. “It is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth. (Mapanganib na mag-lathala/mag-print o mag-broadcast ng anumang kritikal sa administrasyon, kahit na ito ay katotohanan.)” In June 2019, 51 percent agreed and 20 percent disagreed with this, or a net +31 perception that it is risky to publicize criticism, even if truthful, of the administration.
2. “Mass media in the Philippines have freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press. (Ang mass media sa Pilipinas ay may kalayaang sa pananalita, pagpapahayag at pamahayagan.)” In June 2019, 67 percent agreed and 10 percent disagreed, or a net +57 affirmation of media’s constitutional guarantee of freedom.
Analysis of these new items along with the traditional one shows, firstly, that those seeing danger in publicizing criticism of the administration feel personally much freer to dissent (net +57) than those seeing no danger in it (net +24).
Secondly, it shows that those who affirm media’s freedom of expression feel personally very free to dissent (net +56), whereas the few who deny media’s freedom to dissent do NOT feel personally free to do so themselves (net -25).
These interesting discoveries about the Filipino people bear more thought.
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