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The 1986 Social Weather

/ 05:05 AM February 27, 2021

In February 1986, while Edsa I was happening, Social Weather Stations was six months old—its birth certificate as a non-profit research institute is dated 8/8/85—and hadn’t done its first survey yet. Its initial work plan, out of a Ford Foundation joint research grant to SWS and Ateneo de Manila University, was to spin off from the well-publicized 1984 and 1985 national sociopolitical polls of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development (BBC), and do four follow-up polls in the next two years, to assess the “Social Weather” leading up to the presidential election set for 1987.

The SWS founders were essentially the same people who had done the two BBC surveys. I was on the BBC research committee, co-chaired by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., and banker Victor Barrios; and I chaired its survey subcommittee (“The Institutional background of the SWS surveys,” pp. vii-xvii of my book, The Philippine Social Climate, PSC for short, Anvil Publishing, 1994).

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The SWS/ADMU plans were upset when Ferdinand Marcos, in November 1985, suddenly announced over US primetime TV—i.e. in the wee hours in Manila, so that Americans learned of it before Filipinos did—that he had decided to change the election schedule, and hold a “snap election” in February 1986. Changing an election schedule is something a dictator can easily do.

At the time the snap election was announced, the Ford Foundation funds hadn’t arrived yet. In January 1986 I was able to find a sponsor for a special pre-snap-election poll, the idea being to use BBC auspices as before. But when I took the idea to BBC, its board, despite the endorsement of its chairman, declined it.

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The explanation I got was that a non-confidential poll, if it showed Marcos ahead of Cory Aquino in the election race, would be very discouraging to the Aquino side, which BBC clearly favored. On the other hand, if the poll showed Cory Aquino ahead of Marcos, then Marcos might cancel the snap election. It would be better, the BBC board felt, to have no survey-based hint of who was leading in the snap election race. (Actually, the Marcos side had long been claiming that the 1985 BBC survey predicted he would win, from a single item finding, not naming an opponent, that “many” would vote for him if he ran for president again.)

Thus, of late February 1986, the only “Social Weather” data was what the 1984 and 1985 BBC polls had found: that (a) two-thirds of the Filipino people disagreed with the presidential power to legislate by decree, and (b) two-thirds, likewise, disagreed with the presidential power to detain any person by fiat alone. In short, that a large majority of Filipinos was unhappy with the Marcos dictatorship.

In fact, there was private polling about the snap election race, but this was only revealed after five years, by Rosario Henares in a 1991 conference paper for the Philippine Statistical Association. She wrote that her firm, Asia Research Organization, did three successive polls in 1986, with the last one, on Feb. 1-5, scoring intended votes as 41 percent Marcos, 42 percent Aquino, and 17 percent undecided. She regarded the undecided as pro-Aquino voters afraid to reveal their preference due to the Martial Law syndrome, and gave the sponsor (unnamed to this day) her judgment that Cory Aquino would win.

The funds for the SWS/ADMU project came after the Marcoses were gone and democracy had been restored. Its four polls in 1986-87 were oriented toward enlightening the public on current social, economic, and political conditions, rather than preparing for an election. The first poll, in May 1986, asked respondents for whom they had voted in the February snap election, and found that 64 percent said Cory Aquino, 27 percent said Marcos, and 9 percent didn’t answer (this and the ARO findings are in “The history of the 1986 electoral surveys,” PSC, pp. 39-40, originally published 11/10/91).

The May 1986 poll also found, among other things, that Self-Rated Poverty had subsided to 66 percent, from 74 percent in July 1985 per the BBC survey (“The war on poverty: flying blind,” PSC, p.130, originally published 6/16/92).

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TAGS: data, opinion, Poll, Social Weather Stations, survey, SWS
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