The gloomiest time ever
All-time survey records are shattering, right and left.
The latest one reset is the proportion of Filipinos pessimistic about their future quality of life: “SWS May 4-10, 2020 COVID-19 Mobile Phone Survey, Report No. 12: Record-high 43% of Filipinos expect their life to worsen in the next 12 months,” www.sws.org.ph, 6/23/20.
With only 26 percent now optimistic about their future, Net Optimism is at a new record low -18 (correctly rounded). This is an unprecedented super-collapse of 62 points from the excellent December 2019 level of +44 (48 percent optimists minus 4 percent pessimists).
The worst previous drop into pessimism was a 19-point fall from net +6 in August 2004 to net -13, the previous record low, in March 2005. That pessimistic spell lasted for four quarters; positive optimism was restored in December 2005, at +6.
In the SWS survey archives, the very first national poll on the Filipino people’s expectations of the future was in April 1984, 36 years ago. At that gloomy time, with Ninoy Aquino’s assassination only eight months old, and annual hyperinflation at 50 percent, pessimists about the coming year were 30 percent, and optimists were only 26 percent. That made the starting point of Net Optimism in the data series negative, at -4. Negative levels are rare; in 135 surveys since 1984, it happened only nine times.
By the second poll, in July 1985, still under the Marcos regime, the table had already turned, with optimists outnumbering pessimists by 36-26, or net +10. The third poll, in May 1986, the first after the People Power revolution, saw a radical change to 40 percent optimists versus only 9 percent pessimists, or net +31. Optimists grew even further to 45 percent in March 1987 (i.e., after the ratification of the new Constitution), while pessimists stayed at 10 percent, setting a new record of +35 that was unmatched for 26 years, until September 2013.
It reached +40, which we call “excellent,” for the first time in December 2015, and stayed “excellent” in 14 of the next 16 quarters, until the end of 2019. Thus, the May 2020 pessimism is a sudden, radical change from the recent favorable times.
The pessimism is geographically widespread: very bad in the Visayas (net optimists -37, down by 71 points from last December) and in Mindanao (-32, down by 77), bad in Metro Manila (-16, down by 60), and painful in Balance Luzon (-4, down by 51).
The people’s sad outlook for next year is not due to direct victimization by the pandemic. Philippine COVID-19 cases have reached 33,069, deaths have reached 1,212, and recoveries have reached 8,910 (worldometers.info, 6/25/20). Cases minus deaths, minus recoveries, equals 22,947, the current active infected cases.
This puts the case rate at 1 for every 3,300 Filipinos. This is not the infection rate, which could be much higher, but is unknown, and unknowable without random testing of the population (see my “Random testing is what we need,” Opinion, 5/9/20). For every 100 cases, there are about 4 deaths, or 1 death per 25 cases. A batch of 25 cases results in 1 death, 7 recoveries, and 17 active cases, presumably under treatment.
The people’s pessimism is not due to their actual danger of being infected, but to their fear of being infected, and the extreme hardships they are undergoing on account of the government’s quarantine policies (see my “Hunger, fear, caution, dependency,” 5/30/20, “Allow people the freedom to earn a living,” 4/18/20, and “Restore jeepneys and tricycles,” 3/21/20).
Unfortunately, optimism is least among those who need it the most. The 83 percent losers that I wrote about last week (“Very historic, very sad,” 6/20/20) are very pessimistic (net optimism -25), whereas the 10 percent whose lives were unchanged from last year are fairly optimistic (+10), and the 6 percent whose lives improved are highly optimistic (+25).
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