By next week, we can expect the two major polling firms to inaugurate their series of monthly surveys focused on the national campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if, starting with the first surveys of this year, the polling firms will start using sample ballots to engage in actual simulations of the elections. The choices reported by respondents would then more accurately mirror actual voting conditions.
Campaign strategists and political observers on all sides will be anxiously awaiting the January surveys, which will establish in many ways, the placement of the various candidates at the starting line, since the official campaign begins on February 9 (because of automation, there’s been an artificial hiatus between the filing of candidacies last November and the official start of the race early next month). So the January surveys will be taken by all sides as an indication, not only where they stand, but whether individual candidates kick off the formal campaign with an upward or downward trajectory in public perception.
Pulse Asia conducted its most recent survey from December 8-10.
Social Weather Stations results for a similar period, December 5-10, were as follows:
A more recent survey was commissioned by Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, covering the period December 27-28 with a large respondent base.
This survey caused quite a stir in political circles because it allowed the Villar campaign to claim it was narrowing Aquino’s lead, validating the NP strategy of saturating the airwaves with commercials. In a recent commentary, Filomeno Sta. Ana III estimated the cost of the saturation drive at billion.
Recently, SWS released the findings for specific questions asked by Zamora which explored five specific scenarios. These questions are interesting in that they give an insight into what the Villar camp considers possible scenarios it has to consider.
The first question involved voter preferences if it were a two-man race:
The second question explored the possible impact of Estrada withdrawing from the race:
The third question explored the possible impact of Teodoro withdrawing from the race:
The fourth question explored the relative impact on the two leading contenders, of Teodoro being in the race:
The final question explored the relative impact on the two leading contenders, of Estrada being in the race:
There are many insights that can be gleaned from the above: the presence of many candidates harms Aquino more than it does Villar. Aquino’s original constituency has remained durable but Villar has been more effective in converting new supporters. The gap between the two leading contenders, while narrower, still represent many millions of votes. You could argue Teodoro’s staying in the race harms Aquino more than it does Villar, as does Estrada’s remaining in the race, but withdrawal of one or both ultimately keeps the current proportions between the leading contenders about the same: neither gains significantly from the withdrawal either of Teodoro or Estrada.
I’m sure you can glean many other insights from the above, too. See Mon Casiple’s take on it:
If the survey’s error margin of 2.2% is factored in, Noynoy basically maintained his standing – something which had been the case since September 2009.
Former president Erap Estrada also essentially maintained his standing – he has 15%, losing only a single point. Former defense secretay Gibo Teodoro likewise maintained his 5% standing.
So where did Villar got his 6% increase? A little from Noynoy and Erap, more from the undecided voters. One can say that the tremendous (and very expensive) Villar media barrage during December helped achieved this.
However, the road ahead is rougher for Villar. For one, the Noynoy figures – unchanging as they are – means that Villar will have to do more than what he is doing now to bring these down. If this means throwing dirt on Noynoy, it risks a boomerang reaction from voters who have considered Noynoy as the candidate for reform. It would only solidify Noynoy’s vote. If this means strengthening his own percentages, Villar will have to cannibalize or woo Erap’s votes and also bring Gibo into his fold. At this time, there is only a little percentage left that can be categorized as undecided.
The situation here is slowly turning into a no-holds-barred political wrestling. At the same time, there is simply little time left to narrow the lead of Noynoy. When formal campaigning starts and this lead is still the same, there is an almost insurmountable problem for the Villar camp to solve – requiring dramatic and almost-a-miracle move(s) from all Noynoy’s opponents.
A fundamental assumption here is that Aquino is the only candidate the administration either loathes or fears to make failure -meaning the succesful election of Aquino- an option that cannot be tolerated.
If the enemy of your enemy is your friend, then it’s reasonable to conclude that the President’s main political objective is to prevent the election of Aquino by whatever means. All her options narrow or are extinguished if Aquino wins. At the same time, the President and her people have never relied on only one plan to achieve their objectives; they like multiple, parallel, scenarios on the principle that the more things are unfolding simultaneously, the greater the possible permutations leading to a desirable outcome.
There are election-related scenarios worth pondering which could exacerbate the political instabilities that have prevented us from attending to our more basic problems as a people. I will take up four such scenarios here starting from the riskiest to the most benign.
Scenario # 1: Failure of Elections
Instead of a last minute decision to shift to manual election, the automated elections proceed as scheduled. But on election day itself, the system breaks down in many areas, preventing the holding of elections. Comelec fails to put manual voting in place to meet such contingency. Long lines of voters feel frustrated and, sensing sabotage, they vent their fury on election authorities. Spontaneous protests break out everywhere, threatening to turn violent. The military and the police step in to quell lawlessness. Martial law is declared by the President, who holds on to power beyond June 30, and proclaims the formation of a Transition Council to restore order and prepare the country for a fresh round of elections.
Scenario 2: No Proclamation of National Winners
The automated elections proceed as scheduled. But the PCOS machines break down in many precincts in some regions of the country. The results are however sufficient to immediately declare the winners in local races – councilors, mayors, congressmen and governors. But the winners for national positions like senator, vice-president, and president could not be proclaimed because the slim margins could be offset by awaited results from the other regions. The House of Representatives is able to convene, but not the Senate. The Speaker is chosen by the newly-elected House, but not the Senate President. The results for the national level remain inconclusive even after June 30. In the meantime since a Speaker has been chosen by the new House of Representatives, that person can validly assert a claim to serve as acting President. That person could well be GMA.
Scenario 3: Wholesale automated cheating
The automated elections proceed as scheduled. Votes are counted, and the winners are proclaimed. But the results appear to contradict popular expectations. Charges of systematic rigging of the results through control of the source code gain credence as evidence of a pattern of automated adding and subtracting of votes piles up. With no parallel manual precinct count to validate the automated results, voters become agitated. Protests and demonstrations erupt in many parts of the country. The troops are called in to suppress violence and disorder. The President declares Martial Law to save the Republic. GMA holds on to the presidency until June 30, and then gives way to a multi-sectoral Transition Council to be led by her.
Scenario 4: A new government is in place
The automated election is successfully held. The results are accepted. A new government is elected. GMA gains a seat in Congress, and is elected Speaker. Or, at the very least, she controls a large enough block to be able to determine the agenda of the House. A law convening a Constitutional Convention is passed, and the election of delegates to the Convention is held simultaneously with the barangay elections scheduled for October 2010. A new Constitution changing the form of government from presidential to parliamentary is ratified in 2011. Speaker GMA becomes the first Prime Minister under the new Constitution, while the Presidency is transformed into a largely ceremonial role. Before all this can happen, of course, GMA will have to face many cases for corruption committed during her presidency. It will not be very easy to pin her down given the way she has handpicked the members of the high court and the Office of the Ombudsman. The ensuing battle will be protracted and will be fought on various fronts. Once again, political conflict will burden the judicial system. We cannot discount the intervention of the military at any point, especially if civilian authority is deadlocked and is unable to govern and respond effectively to emergencies triggered by natural calamities.
This brings me to recent, troubling, statements coming from various officials, including the President herself who seems engaged in a charm offensive with the very media she’s been so scornful of in the past. Se Raissa Robles’ entry, At a surprise Palace dinner President Arroyo told the foreign press: “I’m worried” over poll automation. Here’s the transcript of the President floating a trial balloon last Friday (January 22) in an impromptu dinner with the Foreign Correspondent’s Assocation of the Philippines:
FOCAP MEMBER: THERE ARE CONCERNS ABOUT THE AUTOMATION PROCESS.
GMA: Ya, thats why I called a national security council meeting. Because we needed to ask Comelec.
FOCAP MEMBER: ARE WE STILL ON SCHEDULE?
GMA:Ya, that’s what the Comelec said.
FOCAP MEMBER: WHAT ASPECT ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT, OF AUTOMATION?
GMA: Well, it’s not been tested. So we expressed the concern that everybody –
FOCAP MEMBER (ME): MAAM, ARE YOU PERSONALLY WORRIED?
GMA: Um – I’m worried. I’m worried, but I – I have to go by what the Comelec said.
FOCAP MEMBER: WHAT IF IT FAILS?
GMA: They said it might fail in some – some areas. But it cannot, but not nationally.
FOCAP MEMBER: WHAT ABOUT THE AUTOMATION ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT?THE COUNTING,THE –
GMA: I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s just that –
FOCAP MEMBER [Raissa Robles]: YOU’RE UNEASY
GMA: I don’t know. Like all of you. Like all of you. It’s more –
FOCAP MEMBER: WHAT STEPS ARE YOU DOING TO AVOID A FAILURE OF ELECTIONS?
GMA: We have to support the Comelec in everything they want to do. It’s their primary responsiblity but we’re suporting them. That’s why we called a National Security Council meeting. To ask them what they would need. We’ve made the budget tthat they need available.
FOCAP MEMBER: LET’S KEEP OUR FINGERS CROSSED.
GMA: They said they’re not entertaining a failure of elections
FOCAP MEMBER: NANDON BA ANG (IS THERE A )BACKUP PLAN IF EVER?
GMA: You know I can’t be their spokesman. You have to ask them. But then they made a presentation. What about failure of elections. They said there may be some but only in isolated areas, but not nationwide.
FOCAP MEMBER: SO WHAT DID THEY SAY IN SOME ISOLATED AREAS
GMA: Same as now. It happens. So they have their mechanism. But it doesnt affect the national anymore.
FOCAP MEMBER: THEY ASSURED YOU IT WON’T BE MASSIVE FAILURE
GMA: That’s what they said. They’re not entertaining national failure of elections, maybe in some isolated areas but not nationwide.
FOCAP MEMBER: DID THEY MENTION TO YOU ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PARALLEL MANUAL COUNT?
GMA: They did not say.
FOCAP MEMBER (DANA BATNAG OF JIJI PRESS: – YOU SAID COMELEC IS NOT ENTERTAINING THE POSSIBILITY. DOES THAT MEAN THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT IS NOT PREPARING FOR THE POSSIBLITY OF A FAILURE OF ELECTIONS? OR ARE THERE PREPARATIONS?
GMA: As far as we are concerend, we would rather prepare to help Comelec succeed.
FOCAP MEMBER: IN CASE IT HAPPENS
GMA: You know, they said it’s not going to happen. So we take their word for it.
Actually, the statements are mounting in frequency now, but highly-placed administration officials have been putting forward theories that at first, seemed to exist in puzzling isolation, but more recent statements now allows us to connect the dots, so to speak.
September 15, 2009
It begins with the assertions made by Prospero Pichay back in September 2009 (see my entry Thirty-three percent, September 15, 2009):
Pichay says with enough money and an effective message, anything is possible, including a rapid and sustained rise in Teodoro’s numbers once he is anointed administration standard-bearer tomorrow. This is a way of telegraphing the built-in advantages of the ruling coalition: funds. Sources range from the formal to the informal, take your pick. the message might, indeed, be a comforting one for the coalition – ‘more of the same, but better’.
Pichay also emphasized the administration’s advantage in command votes. He was unwilling to concede that overall, the administration experienced a debacle, nationally, in 2007; though he does concede too much of their time and resources was wasted by inter-faction squabbling on the local level during that campaign. He does seem confident they have ironed out those kinks and can present a united front going into 2010.
What I found most interesting was his assertion that the administration has a solid 33% constituency, nationwide. The problem was, he said, was that constituency was sliced and diced in the senatorial polls, but that it will hold and deliver for a candidate for the presidency. With less than 1% in the surveys, this means Pichay expects Teodoro to rise 333% in the coming months, which will be a phenomenal achievement.
The President announces she will seek a seat in the House of Representatives.
The surveys take a snapshot of public opinion and the relative standing of the candidates nationally and regionally.
The President imposes martial law in Maguindanao and lifts it before Congress and the Supreme Court can exercise meaningful oversight.
January 10, 2010
More recently, Pichay put forward a more specific timeframe (see this Manila Times article):
Pichay said they expect Teodoro’s rating to surge to 25 percent to 30 percent in March. Teodoro, the presidential candidate of Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD), has had single-digit rating in most of surveys on presidential candidates.
Pichay predicted that the 25 percent to 30 percent rating of Teodoro would be boosted by the “huge administration machinery.” He pointed out that Lakas-Kampi CMD has around 95 percent party support all over the country.
“With the built-in support from his party machinery, Teodoro will surely capture the presidency,” he added. He cited the disunity among the opposition as an added advantage of the administration party.
“In 2007, they were united but now they are disunited. We have strengthened our party while they quarrel among themselves. In 50 percent of provinces, our local candidates have no opposition,” he said.
January 11, 2010
The Palace announces President intends to appoint the next Chief Justice. Whether she succeeds or not, an institution’s been divided along with public opinion and the credibility of the court down the line.
January 22, 2010
The President (see above) floats the possibility of a “partial” failure of elections. First of all, her floating the possibility sets aside the worst-case scenario of a total breakdown; but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a large grey area in terms of the results, which the public expects to know within hours.
Janary 26, 2010
Comelec says it doesn’t see the need to accredit Namfrel since the PPCRV is there. As in the past, fostering divisions is a hallmark of the current dispensation’s ability to maneuver.
January 28, 2010
Comelec Commissioner Armand Velasco tells legislators Manual count set for 30% of precincts if machines fail.
Also yesterday, in Comelec eyes delayed text, e-mail on Election Day, says NCC chief, the Inquirer reported that the National Computer Center Chief launched another trial balloon: why not an Internet and SMS blackout? As he put it,
“Every Facebook user would be discussing the results [of the elections] on Election Day and we don’t want the data tied down by traffic,” said Diaz de Rivera.
This is a trial balloon because the more serious (and reasonable proposal) is to have a dedicated pipeline for data transmission needs; however, floating the idea of a communications blackout, which would affect foreign and domestic media, citizens’ watchdog groups, the various political camps, and the public, helps gauge the public’s reaction (if the public shrugs it off, then it becomes a marvelously attractive contingency plan for government).
Meanwhile, attention from the real square-off between the two leading contenders is deflected by amplifying the Pichay message.
January 29, 2010
The Pichay message is amplified further. The December snapshot is challenged along the way.
The standing of Teodoro isn’t in the hands of the administration, of course; I’ve heard it said the Palace has given a deadline for Teodoro to improve his numbers by February-March otherwise they will pull the plug on his campaign, reducing it to a nominal one. Put another way, the administration’s options aren’t necessarily tied -based on what it touts as its own strengths in terms of machinery, etc.- to the fate of its official candidates (there are indications of the implied confluence of interests, e.g. administration senators have aligned themselves with the Nacionalistas in the current fracas over Villar; Gordon if you recall, was a contender in the administration coalition “primaries” for a standard bearer; and at the DLSU forum backed Teodoro in deflecting the question of whether he’d pursue cases against the President).
Plausibility is important: if it’s important to put forward the plausability of a Teodoro surge, all the administration eggs won’t be in that basket. The surge required is phenomenal by any measure. Whether or not its official candidates surge or not, the machinery remains and could still be directed towards helping other candidates.
Meanwhile, a benefit of the Pichay line is to artificially inflate the standing of the administration candidate, which distracts attention from where things are, at present: an Aquino-Villar race. In other words, setting up a straw man in the hope the leading contender focuses on knocking it down, giving breathing space for the embattled leading challenger.
Even if the machinery ends up fictitious, having been trumpeted, the plausibility of it kicking in on election day has already been firmly established. That being the case, it’s noteworthy to consider the parameters simultaneously being laid down. The administration claims it can mobilize 33% of the voters; the Comelec suggests it’s preparing for the possibility of 30% of the precincts having a failure of automation; the President in turn muses aloud that no total failure will take place but implies she thinks the Comelec will face a partial debacle.
Therefore the stage has been set for the public to expect automation pretty much everywhere but automation to fail in enough places to render a swift verdict on the results of the poll impossible. (See findings from testing the machines in the Cordillera and in Taguig see this commentary by Manuel Alcuaz, Jr.)
Returning to Raissa Robles, consider the numbers involved:
Do you know how big 30% is?
The registered voters now number 48,275,594 and 30% of that is 14.482 million.
That would definitely affect the outcome of the presidential polls.
Connect the dots. Remember, the troubling statements are being made, not by the candidates, but the government.