Statistics as holiday gifts? | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Statistics as holiday gifts?

/ 05:02 AM December 16, 2023

What can survey researchers give for the holidays, that doesn’t cost money? We don’t have free samples or promo items. Statistics can’t be eaten. They don’t help the poor and the hungry by being thrown at them. Actually, survey data aren’t consumable—one person’s using them any number of times doesn’t lessen their usefulness for other persons. They’re not subject to depreciation either; they don’t get worn out. (But they could get lost, so it’s essential to have backup copies, in case of an accident.)

In principle, scientific survey statistics work through a process involving the eye, the heart, and the mind: (a) they promote true—not fake—awareness of problems, (b) they provoke consciences about the problems’ urgency, and (c) they facilitate scientific analysis of how the problems came about and how to solve them. The ones with the means to solve the problems are not the researchers but other people—in government agencies, private sector companies, nonprofit institutions, and so forth—if they pay attention. If not put to proper use, the statistics are only like flowers or decorations.

Personal optimism has recovered. The latest Social Weather Report is: “48% of adult Filipinos say their Quality of Life (QOL) will improve in the next 12 months,”, 12/12/2023. With 6 percent expecting their QOL to worsen, Net Personal Optimism as of September 2023 comes to +42. (It’s called “personal optimism” to distinguish it from “economic optimism” which probes into the future of the “economy,” rather than of the survey respondent personally.)


That’s already close to the +43.5 full-year average in pre-pandemic 2019. Social Weather Stations (SWS) rates as Excellent a net score of +40 and up; this happened 20 times in 150 surveys since 1984. The other SWS categories are Very High (+30 to +39; 24 times), High (+20 to +29; 38 times), Fair (+10 to +19; 23 times), Mediocre (+1 to +9; 21 times), Low (-9 to zero; 8 times), and Very Low (-10 or less; 5 times).


The misses are easier to count than the hits. In 150 surveys, the net score was zero or negative only 13 times, or in 8 percent of the cases. The first time was in the pioneering survey by the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference (BBC) in April 1984, The BBC survey found 30 percent pessimism, versus only 26 percent optimism, for a net score of -4.

This Low score, going back to the time of Ferdinand E. Marcos, was obviously affected by the 50 percent inflation in 1984, the record worst in post-war history. In 1985, hyperinflation simmered down to 25 percent, and net optimism had its first positive score of +10 (now classified as Fair).

Personal optimism was positive throughout the terms of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Benigno Aquino III. All the other negatives happened in the terms of Joseph Estrada (who had a Very Low -13 in October 2000, during “juetenggate”), Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (also with a Very Low -13, in March 2005), and Rodrigo Duterte (bottomed at -19 in May 2020, the first pandemic year). Then from November 2020 onward, net optimism went back to positive.

Progress from the past carries over into the immediate future. A typical Social Weather Survey interview uses the gainer-loser question as an ice-breaker and then segues into the optimist-pessimist question. As expected, the answer to the second question connects very strongly to the answer to the first question.

In September 2023, the net optimism score was only +24 among those with QOL worse than a year ago, the Losers. On the other hand, it was +41 for those with unchanged QOL. It was +62 for those with QOL that got better, the Gainers.

The social inequality in the trend from the past also carries over into inequality in personal expectations for the future (see “How’s the economy? For whom?” 12/9/23). Broken down by schooling level, the net optimism score is only +30 for elementary school dropouts. and +38 for elementary graduates up to some junior high school, compared to +46 for JHS graduates up to some college, and also +46 for college graduates.


For the Self-Rated Poor, the September 2023 net optimism score is +39. On the other hand, it is +43 for the Borderline, and +46 for the Not Poor.

By area, the most optimistic is now Balance Luzon at net +50, followed by Mindanao at +43. Visayas (+30) and the National Capital Region (+30) are below average.

Do so many numbers seem like decorations on a Christmas tree? In its early years, SWS would make a consolidated public report on net optimism together with net gain, poverty, hunger, and many other core indicators, including public safety and satisfaction with governance.

But we discovered that the mass media could not digest so much new data at one time. They would pick and choose only a few points considered the most newsworthy, and neglect so many other points. We concluded that reporting only a few items at a time is a more effective communications strategy. Don’t let all the holiday presents be opened together!


Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Contact: [email protected].

TAGS: gifts, optimism, statistics, survey

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.