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Coasting along

/ 12:34 AM December 19, 2015

My reading of the new performance rating of President Aquino—58 percent satisfied versus 26 percent dissatisfied, or a Good net +32, in the Fourth Quarter Social Weather Survey, done on Dec. 5-8—is that he is now coasting along into his last two quarters in office.

As usual, the newspapers have headlined the drop in his national rating, from net +41 in the Third Quarter of 2015. But I don’t regard the drop as critical, since both numbers are Good (between +30 and +49, in longstanding SWS terminology). His +30 in the Second Quarter was Good. And so the average for the last three quarters, net +34, is also Good. I think Good grades in governance are like bronze medals in an international sports competition; they are real distinctions.

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Actually, the one quarter, in his entire administration so far, that P-Noy was off-form was in the First Quarter of 2015, when he got a net +11, which is termed Moderate (from +10 to +29). That was obviously due to the Mamasapano misadventure last January. That single incident brings P-Noy’s average for 2015 to +28, or Moderate.

Since he has just scored three successive quarterly Goods, with only two quarters left in his term, I think it not unlikely for P-Noy to maintain his record, as the most popular president since the restoration of democracy, up to the very end.

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A Moderate grade is not special, but it does demonstrate competence in ability to satisfy most of the citizenry. It is like meeting the qualifying standard for an event in international running or swimming, or like making the cut in a major golf tournament.

Below Moderate are the Neutral grades of net -9 to +9. Such single-digit numbers are signs of controversy; the satisfied and the dissatisfied are closely divided. Getting a merely Neutral grade is disappointing. A president in this position—like Barack Obama of the United States, at present—has a difficult time getting his programs across.

Without Mamasapano, P-Noy’s 2015 average would have been Good, like his Good +36 in 2014. His earlier annual averages of +62 in 2010, +53 in 2011, and +55 in 2012, were all Very Good (from +50 to +69). Those Very Goods were like silver medals.

Of course, a grade of Excellent (+70 and up) is like a gold medal. It is rare. Corazon Aquino was the only president to ever get an Excellent. She got it in only one survey round (+72 in October 1986). Going from a gold to a silver medal, or from a silver to a bronze medal, is no cause for tears. All medals are distinctions.

Does a president’s popularity affect the “winnability” (or “loseability”) of her/his candidate in the next election? Here is the SWS survey record, from the time that regular opinion polling on presidential performance began in 1986.

Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Noynoy Aquino all had Very Good ratings at the start of their terms. The points at which their grades went Moderate mark the ends of their respective honeymoons. The exception, Gloria Arroyo, began with a Moderate +24, and had no honeymoon at all.

Cory Aquino got her first Moderate in September 1989, after three years in office, and afterwards got a Good only once more. (Note: The SWS polls were still done only twice a year in Cory’s time.) In the preelection year of 1991 her average net rating was only a Moderate +10. It was also +10 in the first half of 1992.

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Fidel Ramos, Cory’s candidate, narrowly won the election of 1992 over Miriam Santiago. He got his first Moderate grades in the first half of 1995, fell to Neutral in the second half of 1995, and then got Moderates throughout 1996. Then Ramos made a comeback, with Good grades again in 1997 (average +44)—i.e., he definitely did better than P-Noy has done in 2015 (average +28). However, in the first half of 1998 Ramos’ grade average slumped to a Moderate +19, which doesn’t look hard for P-Noy to beat in 2016.

Joseph “Erap” Estrada easily won the election of 1998 over Ramos’ candidate Jose de Venecia. Erap got his first Moderate grade in October 1999, after only a year in office, and never recovered. His average in 2000, which turned out to be his last year, was only a Neutral +9.

In her nine years as president, Gloria Arroyo (the running mate of De Venecia in 1998) had only one medal-worthy grade, a barely Good +30 in March 2004. Her win in May 2004 over Fernando Poe Jr. was even narrower (percentage-wise) than that of Ramos in 1992. (FPJ was Erap’s candidate, but Erap’s popularity had been much hit by his impeachment and then arrest for corruption.)

From October 2004 onward all of Arroyo’s grades were negative, becoming Poor (-10 to -29), Bad (-30 to -49), and Very Bad (-50 to -69). In the preelection year of 2009, her average was a Bad net -35. All of the SWS preelection polls indicated that her candidate, Gilbert Teodoro, would lose the 2010 presidential election, His ending up in fourth place demonstrated that extreme unpopularity is transferable.

It was after Cory Aquino died, in August 2009, that Noynoy Aquino suddenly emerged as a strong—indeed, a very strong—candidate for president in 2010. There was a point midway in the campaign when Manny Villar nearly closed the gap between them, but then Noynoy pulled away again. Erap Estrada was never a serious threat, even though he eventually took second place.

The personal popularity of a deceased parent apparently mattered in 2010. Might it happen again in 2016?

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Performance rating, Social Weather Survey
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