Are Leni and Isko turning the tide?
A common refrain in the world of high-stakes diplomacy is that “nothing is final until it’s final.” One can’t say the final outcome for sure, especially in an extremely fluid situation. The same can often be said about our elections, where early frontrunners often don’t end up in a desirable place by the time the actual votes come in.
Think of then Vice President Jejomar Binay, who actually worked his way back to the front of surveys in the opening weeks of 2016, but just for his campaign to peter out amid catastrophic performances in the presidential debates. Perhaps drawing lessons from Binay’s campaign, the current frontrunners for the top two positions in government have largely shunned public debates hosted by world-class journalists in favor of, let’s just call them, “influencers.”
While former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has bothered to participate in a couple of probing one-on-one interviews, presidential daughter Sara Duterte seems to be skipping any kind of serious policy scrutiny altogether. “I’ve already decided that I will do this campaign without joining debates,” the former Davao City mayor told reporters recently, setting another new low for Philippine politics.
But is this strategy of winning-by-avoidance backfiring? There are indications that other candidates, especially Vice President Leonor “Leni” Robredo and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno, are beginning to pick up momentum by choosing to participate in exhaustive policy discussions as well as aggressive grassroots campaigns.
The self-styled impresarios of the two dynastic frontrunners are fond of portraying the race for the top two positions as a done deal. What these gleeful partisans often omit is the inherent fluidity of their patrons’ support base. Lest we forget, Pulse Asia survey shows that Marcos Jr. was only at third place with barely 13 percent of the prospective votes heading into the third quarter of 2021.
Just months before candidates began registering their bid for elected offices, the so-called “Duterte-Duterte” tandem was seen as a supposedly invincible ticket. Not long after, it became clear that the Mindanao-based dynasty would have to bid farewell to Malacañang soon.
Even the most encouraging surveys, meanwhile, show that majority of prospective voters, who have expressed preference for Marcos Jr., could still switch to alternative candidates come election day. This is why the “second preference” rating of other leading candidates such as Leni and Isko is extremely important, underscoring their potential to expand their current base of support and voter preference come election day.
So far, both Leni and Isko have not only participated in all major presidential debates but have also proven to be tireless campaigners, flying from one corner of the country to the other, meeting countless voters in the often-neglected peripheries of the Philippines.
As the leading “second preference” candidate, Isko is banking on a potential Rodrigo Duterte endorsement in order to split the “Sara All” Mindanao bandwagon behind Marcos Jr., whose sudden surge in surveys last year was largely a product of his eleventh-hour alliance with the presidential daughter. Hence, the seemingly bizarre “Isko-Sara” tandem is being promoted among some pro-Duterte constituencies.
As for Leni, she is picking up endorsements from local government officials, including stalwart Duterte supporters, amid the huge outpour of grassroots support and “grand rallies” across the nation, including in the “Solid North” provinces. The “Pink Wave” enthusiasm has clearly left an impression on even the most opportunistic politicos.
Some observers have tried to make something out of observable data based on Google Trends, which show a huge spike in Leni-related search online, to predict a massive surge in upcoming surveys for the opposition.
Yet still few peer-reviewed studies back up the premises of such analysis.
Not to mention, simple expression of “interest” online isn’t necessarily tantamount to voter “preference.” If that were the case, the “interesting” Trump should have handily beaten “boring” Biden in both surveys and actual voting in the 2020 elections. Yet Trump lost by millions.
What’s clear, however, is that Leni’s intellectual courage to attend all key presidential debates and her relentless grassroots mobilization is beginning to bear fruit. Under Leni’s leadership, the opposition is finally spawning a truly inclusive, nationwide movement for progressive reform, which could change the trajectory of our besieged democracy.
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