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Why are politicians going the other way?

It is 40 days before the elections and the tempo of political activity and readjustments has increased.

People are driven by two sets of seemingly contradictory signals—the public opinion surveys that suggest that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. remains the leading candidate; but the signals coming from the mammoth pink rallies, reportedly as high as 140,000 strong in Pasig, suggest a different trend. For a time, the surveys were unassailable as portents of the vote to come. But the inconsistent signals have generated a quest for a more encompassing, higher-level understanding.

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This is why Google Trends, which gives Vice President Leni Robredo higher search scores than Marcos Jr., have been resorted to as a possible triangulating measure to deepen the current basis of understanding.

A key to understanding the crosscurrents and undercurrents that could explain the movement of objects on the surface of the water is a method called “causal layered analysis” created by Sohail Inayatullah. Essentially, it looks at an emerging reality as an iceberg—we can see only the tip, often mistaking it for the whole because it is the only one accessible to our senses.

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Causal layered analysis tells us that the tip of the iceberg is the “litany,” or the dominant, official, and unquestioned view of reality. Immediately beneath the surface of the water is the “social causation” level, which is where the data of the litany is explained and questioned using various factors accessible within the system. The third is the discourse or “worldview” level, where deeper, unconscious, ideological belief systems give meaning and commitment to specific understandings of the system and its litanies. The fourth level is the “myth or metaphor” level where feelings and actions are located. Moving up and down and understanding the dynamics among these layers enables different ways of knowing.

Public opinion is our social skin, as Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann tells us. We long to belong, and we want to be comfortable in the embrace of the majority. While the surveys consistently support the narrative of a Marcos victory, this very strong statistical trending is alarming an increasing number of people, who try to compensate by voting with their feet in rallies.

At the worldview level of analysis is the sense of existential threat to democratic governance that is being demonstrated by the more educated segments of the population. A Marcos victory conjures a more mortal danger to the body politic, while at best a Robredo victory is pictured as a leadership setback to her detractors.

This worldview propels these “minorities” to demonstrate their convictions in rallies, surprising even themselves with the tremendous mammoth crowds they have gathered.

These rallies could transform the “litany” the way they have created incentivizing routines that have been attracting ordinary people. VP Leni is clearly the main attraction in these rallies. Charisma is at play—many supporters finding meaning in being able to give her tokens like flowers, sashes, and other wearables.

There is also easy authenticity in the way VP Leni interacts with the audience, building on the real connections with peoples and communities she has logged across the archipelago over the past decade. She reads out messages on handmade posters raised up by individuals in the crowd, and vicarious electric sensation runs through the whole assemblage.

Perhaps the murals sprouting in neighborhoods are more sensational signals. They are open displays of conviction and affection, also becoming a form of defiant sacrifice as authorities have been known to erase and paint them over.

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So, could these signals of a changing “social skin” factor be now translating into the calculus of politicos that the surveys do not tell the entire story?

This week, we saw Pantaleon Alvarez and the Reporma party abandon their presidential candidate Sen. Ping Lacson to openly endorse Leni Robredo, alongside other local politicians making similar crossovers. My fellow columnist Richard Heydarian makes the intriguing point that politicians are gravitating away, not toward, the “litany” winner, Marcos Jr. Politicos, who have greater sensitivity to the pulse of the voters, know something we don’t. President Duterte himself refuses to endorse Marcos Jr., and that speaks volumes.

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TAGS: 2022, election, Google Trends, politics, survey, vote
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