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Filipino voters are not sheep

/ 01:00 AM March 05, 2016

Contrary to some pundits’ references to them as “bobotantes,” Filipino voters are not dumb.  They are not stupid. They are not easily led by the nose.

I have no doubt that Filipino voters are equally as upright and civic-minded as voters in other countries that are basically democratic.  I base this on several pieces of survey evidence.

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Filipino voters put social interest above self-interest. In the Social Weather Stations national survey of April 2010, respondents were asked which of two statements was closer to their personal belief: (a) “Iboboto ko ang isang kandidato kung ako mismo ay makikinabang sa kanya kahit na ang karamihan ay hindi” (“I will vote for a candidate if I will benefit personally from him/her, even if most people will not benefit”); and (b) “Iboboto ko ang isang kandidato kung ang karamihan ay makikinabang sa kanya kahit na ako mismo ay hindi” (“I will vote for a candidate if most people will benefit from him/her, even if I personally will not benefit”).

The survey found 86 percent preference for statement (b), and 14 percent preference for statement (a). It was the second time that SWS used this probe.  In a survey of April 2007, 79 percent chose social interest, and 21 percent chose self-interest.

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(Whenever survey respondents are given two choices, the order of the options is alternated so that half of the sample hears option (a) first and the other half of the sample hears option (b) first.)

Filipino voters believe in voting according to conscience. In the April 2010 survey, respondents were asked: “May mga nagsasabi na (a) dapat bumoto nang ayon sa konsensya, manalo man o matalo ang kandidatong ibinoto. May mga nagsasabi naman na (b) sayang lang ang boto kung malamang na matatalo ang kandidato, kaya’t dapat iboto kung sino ang nangunguna at malamang na mananalo. Alin po sa dalawang ideyang ito ang mas malapit sa inyong sariling paniniwala?” (“Some people say that (a) one should vote according to one’s conscience, whether one’s candidate wins or loses.  Other people say that (b) a vote for a losing candidate  is a waste, so one should vote for a candidate who is ahead and will probably win. Which of these two ideas is closer to your personal belief?”)

The survey found 77 percent chose attitude (a), and only 23 percent chose attitude (b).  In 10 preelection surveys probing this from 1992 to 2010, the conscience-voters ranged between 77 and 87 percent.

Filipino voters deny the existence of command voting. The April 2010 survey asked: “Alin naman po sa dalawang sumusunod na pangungusap ang mas angkop sa barangay na ito? (a) Ang karamihan dito ay pinagsasabihan na lamang ng mga lider kung sino ang kanilang iboboto;

(b) karamihan dito ay nagdedesisyon ng sarili kung sino ang iboboto nila.”  (“Which of the following two statements is more applicable to this barangay? (a) Most people here are just told by the leaders whom to vote for; (b) most people here decide for themselves whom to vote for.”)

Of those surveyed, 84 percent chose (b), and only 16 percent chose (a). In eight preelection surveys that used this probe from 1998 to 2010, those saying that in their area the people, rather than the local leaders, decide their votes for themselves ranged between 79 and 89 percent.

Filipino voters consider popular support more powerful than political machinery. The April 2010 survey gave two choices: “(a) Ang partido ng kandidato ang nagpapanalo sa kanya; (b) ang pagpanalo ng kandidato ay dahil sa tunay na popularidad, may makinaryang pampulitika man o wala.” (“(a) The party of a candidate wins the election for him/her; (b) “a candidate wins due to true popular support, with or without political machinery.”)

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The survey found that 78 percent credited election victory to true popular support for the candidate, and only 21 percent credited it to the candidate’s party.  In five preelection surveys probing this from 1992 to 2010, those believing in the power of popular support ranged between 61 percent and 85 percent.

Nevertheless, most Filipinos think that taking money in an election is justified. In 12 preelection surveys from 1992 to 2010, SWS asked if the respondents agreed or disagreed that: “Sa isang halalan, hindi masama ang tumanggap ng pera, kung pagkatapos ay boboto ayon sa konsensiya.” (“In an election, it is not bad to accept money, if one votes according to one’s conscience.”)  One of those who justified this attitude was, as I recall, the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, who was backing Ramon Mitra for the presidency in the 1992 election.

In 5 of the 12 surveys, agreement was at 50 percent or more. At no time was disagreement dominant. The smallest plurality was in April 1992, when 39 percent agreed and 36 percent disagreed, or almost an equal split.  The strongest agreement was in April 2010, when 60 percent agreed, and 37 percent disagreed.

Professional election campaigners use surveys because they know better than to take voters for granted. I have done surveys for all the elections since 1984, except for the 1986 snap election (see “Surveys of elections past,” Opinion, 1/23/16), or a total of 11 elections.

Campaigners’ use of election surveys is increasing, not decreasing. They need much more than horse-race statistics. They want to learn how to make their candidates more attractive—and their opponents less attractive—to voters. They know that voters are not sheep.

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Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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TAGS: Election surveys, Elections 2016, Social Weather Stations, survey, voters
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