In general the surveys break down our population into six age groups: 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64 and those 65 and above. The surveys tell us (for the purposes of this piece I’ll just focus on the most recent Pulse Asia Jan. 22-26 findings) that between the two leading contenders, Benigno Aquino III is strongest among the 18-24 and 45-54 age brackets (9-point leads, respectively), 55-64 (10-point lead) and 65 and up (a 19-point lead!) age groups. Manny Villar is strong in the 25-34 (10 points) and 35-44 (4 points) age groups.
On one hand, voters with the greatest life experience (if you’re 65 you were born after the war ended in 1945, so your memories go as far back as the Quirino years, probably), or who are contemporaries of the two leading candidates (Aquino falls within the 45-54 bracket, Villar falls within the 55-54 bracket) and those with the least life experience (if you’re 18 now, and thus a first-time voter, you were born in 1992) all seem to have a similar perspective in that they are generally for Aquino. Villar’s constituency, age-wise, seems to be those currently just starting to climb the corporate ladder or who are in middle management [or of OFW age]. Villar’s constituency happens to be the most numerous portion of the population. [See this chart a friend prepared containing age groups and significant dates that molded the attitudes of particular generations].
I have had the chance to give talks to groups of university students lately. Belonging to the 18-24 age group, they comprise 14 percent of the voting population. They are at the tail end of what I believe will come to be known as the Arroyo babies, just as my generation is known as the martial law babies (born during the earlier part of the Marcos administration, 8 to 17 years old when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, and 11 to 20 years old during Edsa in 1986).
There are the Edsa babies, born from 1977 to 1986, the oldest of whom were in primary school when Ninoy was shot, or in primary school when Cory Aquino left office. Politically, they came of age in the presidential elections of 1998 or 2004.
The Arroyo babies are those who have come of age in time for this election and are first-time voters, as well as those who came of age, politically speaking, in the aftermath of Edsa Dos, and voted for the first time in 2004. That is, those who are 18 to 31 years of age. The oldest were around 22, seniors or fresh graduates, when Edsa Dos took place. Perhaps they felt the disappointment of the post-Edsa Dos years (and the panic of Edsa Tres) most keenly – they didn’t go out into the streets during “Hello, Garci” or NBN-ZTE scandals. The middle includes those who were college freshmen during “Hello, Garci,” and who are 22 years old today, fresh graduates who may not have participated in rallies during “Hello, Garci” but who expressed indignation over the NBN-ZTE hearings.
This is a generation, then, that is basically aware of only two presidents: Estrada and Arroyo. Of this generation, a McCann study in 2007 said: “Teens are watching less TV, listening to less radio, reading less books and magazines, are doing less sports, interacting with friends face-to-face less frequently, and spending less money on traditional consumer items…. thanks to virtual connectivity technology like text messaging and the Internet.”
This doesn’t seem to be a generation that can be swayed one way or another by mass media, in that they probably pay attention to the news only in times of natural disaster but without keeping tabs on political developments. They are, however, a generation that may be swayed, particularly effectively, by advertising because when they do watch TV, the ads can touch them, particularly during prime time.
Manuel Villar, for example, during the whole of 2009 and in the first week of January, poured a tremendous amount of resources into ads targeted specifically at those 18 years old and above, belonging to the socio-economic bracket D and E. In 2009, he had 4,710 TV ads, of which 3,944 were 30-seconders. In the first week of January alone, he had 296 spots. More than half of the ads during both periods were broadcast during prime time, meaning more than 90 percent of viewers got to see his ads at least once a day and those seeing his ads twice or thrice a day in the high 80s.
Of course, saturating the airwaves cost a pretty penny: a conservative estimate puts Villar’s 2009 spending at P640 million, and during the first week of January at about P70 million or P240 million for the whole month (Teodoro, by one estimate spent P29.5 million, and Aquino P7.8 million).
What is equally important is that the Villar ads have not only been relentless, but methodical. And they are working. In a month, Pulse Asia reports that Aquino has gone down 8 points, Villar increased by 12, Estrada lost 7, while the other candidates remain basically unchanged with negligible levels of voter support.
At this point, the two leading contenders are now neck-and-neck going into the official starting line of the campaign. Since every election is about the future, the question then becomes, which of the two leading contenders can lay claim to the first-time voters, the Arroyo babies.
Let me close with two opinions from this age group. One who belongs to the older range of the spectrum puts it this way: “Erap was tried and found guilty, hence his current standing. We tolerated Gloria because nothing has been proven. Hence, same with Villar: nothing has been proven, and he says he cares for the poor, so, vote for him.” Another, more in the middle of this age group, says, “The numbers say that we have resigned and accepted corruption as a fact of life since we became very politically aware in Edsa Dos.”
But as for the tail enders, the first-time voters, their views are the most surprising of all. They are the least touched by the question of ethics as a factor in electing public officials.