Survey results define strategies, not determine candidates
THE RESULTS of the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showing Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as the leading presidential candidate drew virtually the same reactions from the other hopefuls.
Sen. Grace Poe, erstwhile leader in the polls, said she and her campaign staff will use the results as their guide in reaching out to the 50 million voters. Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Poe’s spokesman, said her rating would recover when they focus on her message of inclusive growth and good governance.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, unperturbed, went on with his sorties in the South. But Mon Ilagan, the voice of Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said the survey results only serve as “tools for planning” for the most important survey, the one that will take place on May 9, 2016. Binay will continue to show the public his solutions to the problems in poverty, Ilagan said.
Former interior secretary Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party’s standard-bearer, downplayed the results, believing that the rankings will change in the next few weeks. To him the most important survey is the one on Election Day. Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez, speaking for the “Daang Matuwid” coalition, said Roxas will improve his ranking as he continues to articulate his message of straight-path governance to more people.
That is what campaign managers and strategists should do about results of voter preference surveys—formulate strategies out of them. Rankings in political polls are temporary; they reflect voters’ preference at the time the survey was conducted. The question pollsters ask the voter is: “If elections were held today, who would you vote for?” not “Who would you vote for on Election Day?”
A lot of things can happen between the time the survey is conducted and Election Day. Not only that, those with stakes in the elections will make things happen, either to boost their candidate’s political stock or to erode his or her opponent’s standing.
Shortly after he was sworn in as vice president, Binay made known that he would be gunning for the presidency in 2016. As the only declared candidate, he ranked No. 1 in the polls from the time surveys on possible presidential candidates began to be conducted. However, those with presidential aspirations of their own tried to put him down by accusing him of massive graft and corruption when he was mayor of Makati. Still he remained No. 1.
But when certain leaders of the Liberal Party hinted that they were going to put up Poe as its standard-bearer in 2016, the senator suddenly surged ahead in the polls. Soon after, Rep. Toby Tiangco, interim president of Binay’s party UNA, raised the residency issue against Poe. That was followed by questions about her as a natural-born Filipino citizen.
Now Duterte has emerged in the polls as the front-runner in the presidential derby, and the camps of Poe, Binay and Roxas are reformulating their strategies to win on Election Day. What they should not be oblivious to are the answers to a question in the same SWS survey—the effect of the endorsements of President Aquino, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Arroyo on their candidate. The net effect of an endorsement by Mr. Aquino is -6; by Estrada, -6; and by Arroyo, -34.
Voter preference surveys have become major factors in Philippine politics. A high ranking in the polls instead of substantive experience in public service or private enterprise has become an important, if not the top, consideration of political parties and alliances in their choice of nominees for national elective offices. Both Mr. Aquino and Speaker Sonny Belmonte thought that was the wise thing to do when Poe emerged in the polls in July as having the highest percentage of voter preference.
“President Aquino has no choice but to endorse the ‘unstoppable’ Sen. Grace Poe as the administration’s standard-bearer,” this paper quoted Belmonte as saying in July. This paper also quoted a source close to Mr. Aquino as saying that “the President is a firm believer in ‘the numbers,’” meaning the results of the surveys in which Poe ranked No. 1 and Roxas No. 4.
Survey results should form the basis of campaign strategies, as the camps of Poe, Binay and Roxas realize. Survey results should not determine the party’s nominee for president.
The reaction of the camps of Poe, Binay and Roxas to the SWS survey results is in sharp contrast to those of past presidential candidates. Gilbert Teodoro, Lakas-Kampi’s standard-bearer in 2010, dismissed the usefulness of surveys. “I don’t pay attention to surveys anymore,” Teodoro said then. Had he believed in surveys, he would have known that “galing at talino,” which made up his campaign slogan, are not what voters seek in a presidential candidate. Otherwise, they would not have elected Estrada president.
Richard Gordon, another detractor of opinion polls, could have drawn better insights into the Filipino voter had he used surveys. He would have determined that his campaign theme of change, of “pagbabago,” did not jibe with his image of a traditional politician.
The two nonbelievers in surveys placed fourth and sixth, respectively, in the 2010 presidential election. Of the 36 million votes cast in 2010, Teodoro got only 11.3 percent and Gordon 1.4 percent.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. was a research associate at the Gallup Polls affiliate Robot Statistics when it was the first and only public opinion/market research firm in the country.
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