Opinion poll freedom in the world | Inquirer Opinion
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Opinion poll freedom in the world

Last week’s 65th international (as distinct from regional) conference of the World Association for Public Opinion Research, held in Hong Kong, was historic for being held outside North America or Europe for the first time. Wapor’s new policy, led by current president Tom Smith, has set the conference venues on a three-year cycle of North America (Boston next, in 2013), then Europe, then elsewhere, so as to be more truly a world association.

The conference, hosted by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme (POP), was also Wapor’s most successful since establishment in 1947, with 118 papers, presented by 241 registered participants (with 124 from Asia and 10 from the Philippines)—all record-high numbers.


The global barometers. In his opening speech, Dr. Smith recalled how pioneers of Wapor, the European Society for Marketing and Opinion Research, and the American Association for Public Opinion Research, all founded soon after World War II, had conceived of “international barometers of public opinion” as a means of promoting world peace.

The first to be set up was Eurobarometer, now 40 years old, an official European Union operation. The New Europe Barometer, involving mainly Eastern Europe and Russia, came later. There is also Latinobarómetro, Afrobarometer, Arab Barometer, and South Asia Barometer. Asian Barometer, which focuses on democracy, is separate from AsiaBarometer, which looks at quality of life. An Asean Barometer is being planned. Thus, Social Weather Stations is not alone in using meteorological lingo.


Opinion poll freedom. The conference chair, POP Director Robert Chung, then gave early results of a new Wapor survey of country experts on the freedom to publish opinion polls, particularly those election-related. It is the fifth in a series that started in 1984, with 49 countries, and continued in 1992, 1996, 2002, and 2012, with 85 countries at present.

Bear in mind that opinion pollsters, by their very profession, are committed to the democratic guarantee of freedom of expression for all. Expression includes asking questions—on any topic, including elections—and answering them. Everyone—pollsters as well as journalists—should be free to address any question to anyone.  Everyone should be free to answer, or not to answer, any question.

Dr. Chung reported that, out of 83 countries replying to this item in 2012, a majority of 45 have no blackout period for preelection polls. The other 38 with a blackout are a sizable minority that deserve attention.

The following countries have no embargo, in either 2002 or 2012, on publishing polls prior to elections: Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States.

Thus, election surveys in the above countries were free to publish 10 years ago, and have stayed free. (In the Philippines, the Supreme Court ruled any embargo on preelection polls as unconstitutional in SWS v. Comelec, G.R. No. 147571, May 5, 2001. Our case was helped immensely by Wapor friends who directed us to international jurisprudence, particularly in Canada, that led then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban to describe opinion polling as “a new paradigm of free speech”.)

The Wapor survey found 34 countries with some embargo in both 2002 and 2012. Those where the duration of the embargo was shortened over that period, with the change in number of embargo days in parentheses, are: Slovakia

(-14), Switzerland (-10), Bulgaria and Slovenia (-7), Uruguay (-5), Czech Republic and Mexico (-4), South Korea (-2), and France, Israel and Nepal (-1). These countries became more free.


The countries where the embargo was unchanged between 2002 and 2012 are: Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, Macedonia, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Turkey. Those where it was lengthened are: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada and Norway (+1), Brazil (+2), Costa Rica, Romania, Russia and Venezuela (+5), Colombia (+6), Taiwan (+10), Argentina (+14), Ukraine (+15), and Honduras (+45). This last group of countries became less free.

The Wapor survey found that 21 percent of the countries either forbid exit polls or never conducted any.  (In the Philippines, exit polling is covered by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling in ABS-CBN v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 133486, Jan. 28, 2000.)

After Dr. Chung’s report, I was pleased to inform the group that, in the 2010 election, the Comelec for the first time included the legitimacy of preelection surveys and exit polls in its nationwide training for people involved in implementing and safeguarding the election process.

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Filipinos at the conference were: Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who chaired a session on political issues; Judee Lyn Aguilar, Eero Rosini Brillantes, and Geraldine Brillantes, from the Senate; Joel Flores and Famy Ravalo from TNS Philippines; and Iremae D. Labucay (“How Southeast Asians view China’s influence in Asia”),  Gianne Sheena Sabio (“Are we a greener nation now? Trends in pro-environmental behaviors of Filipinos [1993-2010]”), and Linda Luz Guerrero and myself (“Tracking suffering and economic deprivation in the Philippines over time”), from SWS.

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or [email protected]

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