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Freedom to ask questions

/ 02:24 AM September 26, 2015

In the recent SWS report as to who are the “three best leaders” that Filipinos think should succeed to the presidency, what really mattered was that there was no list of candidates supplied to prompt the respondents, not the number of names asked for. For as long as the official candidates are not yet known, the strict way to be fair to all potential candidates is not to use any list at all.

Actually, the original survey question could even have asked for an indefinite number of names. It was only for simplicity that it asked respondents for a maximum of three names. Whether the question asked for one, up to two, up to three, or any number, once it was formulated it had to be maintained from survey to survey, to allow valid comparison of the results.

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When multiple answers are allowed from a respondent, then the total number of answers will surely exceed the total number of respondents. Thus, the sum of the proportions of each answer will exceed 100 percent. Numerate readers who added up the proportions in the table on the SWS webpage, and arrived at the sum of 156 percent, thereby should have realized that the average number of answers was 1.56, or let us say 1.6, per respondent.

Since the webpage table states that a total of 7 percent said “none,” “don’t know,” or refused to answer, one can infer that 93 percent gave at least one name. I can add here the unpublished information that this 93 percent consisted of 45 percent who gave one name and 48 percent who gave more than one. For those who gave up to two names, the average number was 1.4. Roughly speaking, every 10 adults gave 14 names if asked for up to two, and 16 names if asked for up to three.

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This process, which leaned over backward to search for dark horses, resulted in 11 politicians being named by at least one-half of one percent of adults as worthy successors to the presidency, as of Sept. 2-5, 2015. It was equally fair to all aspirants. It gave no advantage to any one of the 11, and it put no handicap on any one outside the 11.

The SWS survey numbers speak for themselves, in describing the relative standings of the putative contenders. It is the movements in standings that make an electoral competition more interesting, if only as spectator sport.

In 2010 the most interesting race was that for vice president, as Jejomar Binay moved up steadily from a distant third place to pass second-placer Loren Legarda, and in the final weeks reached neck-and-neck with Mar Roxas, whose campaign may have grown complacent on account of his initial big lead at the starting gate. The surveys did not participate in this race; they only watched it.

Actually, competent critics already know this. They already know, or should know, that pre-election surveys do not influence how the voters vote. Rather, the surveys can influence the political financiers and other players with the means to influence the campaigns. Such players are just as smart as the critics. By this time, three decades into open opinion polling, after the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship, they know which surveys are scientific and which are not.

Let’s have more competition. To those who insist that the SWS survey system is flawed, the ultimate response is: DO YOUR OWN SURVEYS; TAKE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEM.

Make your own scenarios of who will be the competing candidates; give your rationale for inclusion and exclusion of the names. Commission your survey from some competent, identifiable institution. Be transparent about the methodology, and prepared to make the raw data public if legally demanded in accordance with the Fair Election Act. Let us see if you can predict the final outcome of the elections.

(I am not looking for business for SWS. As a founding member of the Foundation for Economic Freedom, I believe in open competition as the guarantee of quality in services to the public. The Philippines is a bustling democracy, with enough opinion polling opportunities for all.)

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In the advanced democracies, many media companies conduct or else commission their own surveys. They have their own professional pollsters, and create their own consortia for broadcast and print activities. They can ask whatever survey questions they think will produce newsworthy materials.

Freedom of speech requires a series of freedoms. Freedom of speech, in a democracy, is meaningful when it involves a collection of several freedoms. Freedom to talk to oneself in an empty open field—far from walls, since “walls have ears”—cannot be enough.

One must also be free to seek listeners. Listeners must be free to listen, as well as free not to—or perhaps to listen for a while, and stop if it’s boring—and do something else instead. Freedom to listen is part of freedom of speech.

In a genuine democracy, a speaker is free to ask any question of a listener; the listener is likewise free to answer or not to answer. If the listener prefers a different question, the speaker might accede, or might not. Freedom to ask questions, and choose how to ask them, is part of freedom of speech.

In democratic discourse, asking questions and responding to them are activities that may be freely recorded (with the consent of questioner and respondent), and then freely summarized and transmitted to others. Such freedom is not for the media, editors, pundits and reporters alone. It is also for opinion pollsters, who are, by profession, the most scientific means for the people at large to express themselves.

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TAGS: freedom of speech, Jejomar Binay, Loren Legarda, Mar Roxas, Social Weather Stations, survey
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