Surveys and the 2022 Campaign

First, a Crash Course

Some thoughts

Philippine Daily Inquirer

In a column back in October, I observed,

Here is the danger: In a republic where the rule of the minority, and not the majority, prevails, the path for those discredited in 1986, to achieve not just rehabilitation, but restoration, by 2022, is wide open. 

The Long View: Why the many matter less than the few

In a commentary (see: Commentary: A soft-boiled start to 2022) I pointed out things had taken a strange turn because of the interjection of the will-he/will-she drama on Marcos and Duterte.

By November, I was saying,

The data science aspect speaks for itself in terms of recruiting social media accounts with followers, and innovating on YouTube and TikTok. The cargo cult aspect requires a brief explanation: It’s the fostering of belief in the imminence of a new age of blessings that will start with the arrival of a special cargo. In the case of the Marcoses, belief that thousands if not tens of thousands of pesos will be the voter’s share in the Marcos billions.

Back in 2016 I’d suggested that if modernity was the central challenge of Philippine society and institutions, then that election represented a crisis of modernity. The outcome, then, was that a winning plurality of Filipinos rejected the disruption of modernity for a backward-looking but comfortingly familiar tough love of an elected strongman. The core of this winning minority was the subsection (ranging from a fifth to even a quarter of Filipinos) that has always been pining for a dictatorship.

The problem now is that there is a more recent branding for the iron fist, and it’s marked Davao and no longer Sarrat. Interestingly, in the SWS surveys from 1987 to 2015, the percentage wanting martial law has never exceeded the 30 percent or so (except in 1987, when it reached 40 percent; since then, the highest has been 29 percent in 2004 and 2012) the Marcoses obtain in national elections, suggesting a crossover between the two. This is why, until now, there remains the distinct possibility, born of political logic, that the Marcos-Duterte houses will unite, rather than divide their votes, as Roxas-Poe did.

The Long View: The voodoo rebellion

By February, I suggested,

There was a time when the leading candidate of today, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., seemed a has-been. He had, after all, spent the entirety of President Duterte’s term steadily losing his election protest. Around this time last year, the political momentum and the expectations of the ruling coalition were purely focused on Sara Duterte who, as late as June 2021, had nearly twice his percentage in voter preference surveys for the presidency. It even seemed for a time that the big players were treating him with barely-disguised condescension because his ambitions were an annoying distraction. But the game came to become a will he or won’t she, won’t he, or will she, game of speculation, one made topsy-turvier by the President’s inability to properly promote his own preferred candidate, Bong Go, to be his successor.

Marcos’ refusal to slide down and Inday Sara eventually sliding down to number two coated him with a veneer of toughness and finally lent him the air of being a winner; it also gave both him and her (Marcos Jr. and Inday Sara, respectively) something they’d lacked thus far: the sense of being backed by a significant because durable coalition featuring former president and speaker Arroyo (plus the Romualdezes). It was this drama, and the coalescing of the veteran politicians, that boosted Marcos’ presidential numbers, and made Sara the person to beat for the presidency. It sucked all the air out of the room, politically speaking, stalling the moderate momentum of Leni Robredo who’d kept the remnants of the opposition guessing, and absolutely depriving the other candidates, Moreno, Pacquiao, and Lacson, of what their candidacies needed, too: drama. The keep ’em guessing plus substitution gambit of 2016 succeeded in its 2021 rerun.

Only after that happened did all the previous investments in time, people, and machinery, particularly online and in media, come to be worth it as far as the Marcoses were concerned. I suppose the only question left is whether it was all inevitable. Was there a genuine reluctance on the part of the big players to immediately concede the role of standard-bearer for the ruling coalition to Marcos? Was there a genuine confusion, or at least reluctance, on the part of Inday Sara to run for the presidency or settle for the vice presidency? Was the President actually convinced he could anoint a successor, or did he get cold feet, leading his prospective anointed, Go, to step back, only to step forward, putting him on a collision course with an Inday convinced that she had a twofold mission, to take out Go, and unite with Marcos?

It seems to be it took a while to broker a Marcos-Duterte ticket not least because the President’s true inclinations were hostile to the idea. But as with the ouster of Pantaleon Alvarez from the speakership, the President had to be saved from himself by a combination of his daughter and the political adults in the room. This has had the added benefit that, for the pre-campaign period, all other candidates found themselves deprived of a means to create, much less benefit from, the kind of drama that promotes bandwagon thinking.

The Long View: Now for the hard part

Andrew Marasigan in a recent column gives agood example of how people interpret polls:

Comparing the SWS surveys concluded on Dec. 16 and Jan. 31, you will find that Marcos and Pacquiao trended downwards, each losing voter traction over the period. Pacquiao ended January with an 11 percent voter share while Marcos ended with 50 percent, a drop from his all-time high.

The gainers were Robredo who surged five points to end at 19 percent and Domagoso who also gained 5 points to end at 11 percent. Lacson gained one point to secure a 6 percent voter share.

Marcos enjoys a wide lead in the polls despite the baggage he carries and the controversies that face him. To what can we attribute his popularity?

First, we must understand that Bongbong Marcos is not the superstar here. Another reputable survey (not SWS) shows that Bongbong’s authentic base of voters is at 20 percent, plus or minus. Thirty percent of his votes are attributed to President Duterte. The President still enjoys a 75 percent approval rating.  Data show that 55.83 percent of the voting public view Bongbong as “Duterte Lite” or the continuity of the regime. Whether this is true or not is another story. Marcos has become the sole beneficiary of Sara Duterte’s decision to slide down to vice and Bong Go’s decision to bow out of the race.

Understanding the SWS survey and the early Marcos lead

In the same column, he also shows how the data of a survey can be studied to reach some conclusions about the public:

Marcos enjoys a wide lead in the polls despite the baggage he carries and the controversies that face him. To what can we attribute his popularity?

First, we must understand that Bongbong Marcos is not the superstar here. Another reputable survey (not SWS) shows that Bongbong’s authentic base of voters is at 20 percent, plus or minus. Thirty percent of his votes are attributed to President Duterte. The President still enjoys a 75 percent approval rating.  Data show that 55.83 percent of the voting public view Bongbong as “Duterte Lite” or the continuity of the regime. Whether this is true or not is another story. Marcos has become the sole beneficiary of Sara Duterte’s decision to slide down to vice and Bong Go’s decision to bow out of the race.

Let us now look at the profile of the voting public. Forty nine percent are between 18 to 44 years old. Those in their 40s today were born in the late 70s, too young to be aware of the atrocities and economic devastation caused by Ferdinand and Imelda. The younger voters were not even born yet.

Seventy-five percent of the voting public belong to the economic class whose household income is between P10,481 to P20,962 a month while 14 percent live below the poverty line. Put together, 89 percent of voters live from hand to mouth and represent the sector betrayed by the system.

In terms of educational attainment, 21 percent of the voting public have had either no formal education or finished only elementary level. The bulk, or 57 percent, finished high school or some vocational course.

As for internet access, 92.1 million Filipinos are now active on social media. Internet connectivity was at 67 million back in 2018 but the pandemic accelerated digital adoption. Filipinos spend an average of 10.27 hours on social media daily, the second longest in the world. Facebook dominates all platforms, followed by YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok. Other than free TV, social media is the primary source of information for the greater majority.

So here we have the perfect conditions for disinformation – a voting public too young to know the truth about the Marcos era; a population whose vast majority is educationally-challenged, thus easily swayed by parallel truths and disinformation; a population fraught with discontent due to the hardships of life and who blame the oligarchs for it; and a population armed with a mobile phone that enables them to be force-fed disinformation.

Understanding

There are other ways of looking at things. An interesting take is

What the surveys have been saying

I always like to point out, even if the surveys weren’t published, every political group conducting a modern campaign would use them. And here, it’s track record that matters. Polls serve as a useful measurement of the success or failure of a campaign, thus far: up to the instant caught in the snapshot of time, that each survey represents.

Social Weather Stations is the oldest polling firm in the country II am, by the way, an SWS Fellow).

Pulse Asia Research began as a breakaway group from SWS. Note that it’s January, 2022 survey has a larger than usual sample size (2,400 respondents) and thus a smaller than usual margin of error (2%).

Laylo Research Strategies is headed by Pedro Laylo, Jr. who started out with SWS. Because of this his methods are considered credible; what sets him apart from SWS and Pulse is is use of larger sample sizes.

Others

There are other firms, perhaps the best-known because of their bonafides, is Octa Research

An interesting effort can be found in Wikipedia, which simply aggregates all the different reported surveys, regardless of methodology or credibility of the outfits. See Opinion polling for the 2022 Philippine presidential election.

Graphical representation, polling for President, in Wikipedia

On surveys and society

The science of opinion polling encountered a crisis of public confidence as painstakingly pointed out by Randy David back in 2020.

Perception is our only access, as human beings, to the reality of the social and natural worlds. We have no direct knowledge of the reality of the world “as it really is” against which we might compare our perceptions. We can only compare perception with perception, because what we call reality is indeed just another perception.

Randy David’s The reality of surveys

A survey is a snapshot of public opinion. It tells us what people were thinking at a specific point in time, based on questions they were asked, usually with three possible replies: approve, disapprove, or no idea/no comment.

If you ask the same question on a regular basis, then each snapshot can be compared to those taken before, and after, that snapshot. Patterns or trends can be proposed, discussed, identified. And there’s more than one way to put forward the numbers.

And then there’s “we, the people,” broken down into the following classes: ABC, D, and E. In other countries, this is basically derived from categorizing according to income. This recent document from Nielsen Mediaresearch applies to the Czech Republic, puts it this way: Class A: “people with the highest socio-economic status,” Class B: “households with the second highest social-economic status”; Class C: “households with average estimated income per capita”; Class D “under average households”; Class E: “the poorest households”.

We do it differently in the Philippines. As a blogger put it back in 2010 (referring to his experiences fifteen years before that!):

I have no idea who created this rating of one’s assets/income, but essentially I gather it is usually used for marketing and business purposes. It is important to note that it is NOT only based on income, but rather includes assets such as homes, vehicles, possessions, etc. Thus, at the ‘upper’ levels say A and B, the individuals counted as part of that level are not only among the higher income generators, but they have assets as well. For those in the ‘lower’ bands E, it is more likely that they not only have very low income levels, but typically will have few assets as well.

Marketman

Marketman in turns refers us to the very clever blog, which put it more precisely:

Market/opinion researchers classify according through proxies of wealth/assets, rather than direct measure of income to segment the (consumer) market.” You will hear pollsters explain this in layman’s terms such as ABC own their own homes, and have vehicles, while D pay rent and commute, and E have nothing.

Alphanumeric

The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, citing Social Wealther Stations, describes the socio-economic classification of households in surveys as follows:

AB (Upper Class) – the most affluent group whose homes and lifestyle exude
an obvious disregard for or lack of economizing.
C (Upper/Middle Class) – those households whose homes and lifestyle reflect
comfortable living and the capacity to indulge in a few luxuries.
D (Lower Class) – those households who have some comfort and means but
basically thrive on a hand-to-mouth existence.
E (Extremely Lower Class) – those households who evidently face great
difficulties in meeting their basic survival needs

2008-2009 Survey of Food Demand for Commodities (SFD)

A chart put together by Asintunado some years back puts it all very neatly:

Note:

This combines material from several pieces I’ve written over the years: Survey Says (2006), Perception is king (2007), We, the People: How Candidates view The People as Electors (2009), and The polling numbers may surprise you (2016).

Additional References:

CNN Phils. Who are the Filipino middle class? (2020), BSP: Financial Inclusion Survey (FIS) (2019), Around 0.6% of Filipinos aged 18-53 are considered Class AB (2018), PIDS: Defining and profiling the middle class (2018), PIDS: Profile and Determinants of the Middle-Income Class in the Philippines (2018), 5 things to keep in mind about the uncertainty of Philippine survey numbers (2017), Socioeconomic classes (SEC) ABCDE explained (2012), Family Income Distribution in the Philippines, 1985-2009: Essentially the Same (2011), DA-BOAS: Survey of Food Demand for Agricultural Commodities (SFD) (2010), 3 ways of looking at the income distribution of the Philippines -2006 updates (2007)

Historical Background

Read: Epic miscalls and landslides unforeseen: The catalog of poll failure, by W. Joseph Campbell; The Winners ’61, November, 1961 and “Ayos na ang Buto-Buto,” November, 1963, both by Nick Joaquin. Randy David has three articles covering contemporary issues concerning surveys: The reality of surveys (2007), The sociology of opinion surveys (2020), Do the President’s high ratings reflect reality? (2020)

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

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