Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson , according to the papers, wants to run for higher office but the challenge of overcoming his low numbers in the presidential surveys is a hurdle as towering and daunting as Hemingway’s Kilimanjaro. The lowly depths to where his polling numbers have sunk are, indeed, discouraging. With better numbers, Lacson might consider a fallback position – seek a Senate post anew with his win guaranteed – and take a crack at the presidency.
How many are in this position, we do not know. Sen. Miriam Santiago, perhaps? Erap? Low standing in the surveys have buried many a presidential dreams, though Lacson was the first to admit that he is discouraged by his standing in the surveys. Unlike the likes of Fiorina, Santorum, Jindal and Trump and many other hopeless presidential hopefuls within the US Republican party, our politicians with dreams of becoming president are, at least, realistic.
Of course, Lacson’s woes are benign once compared to the hole where Mar Roxas is in. He is the president’s choice to banner the Liberal Party in the 2016 presidential race. He is favored by the political establishment. A section of the financial elite wants him to be president. He will have no trouble finding financial backers from groups and individuals with real financial muscle. Despite his pre-eminence, however, he has one problem that no establishment backing him can solve – low standing in the surveys.
Roxas has been allowed by the Aquino administration to lead government in many frontline initiatives with the hope that this would translate into massive public approval. Of the entire Cabinet, only Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is busier. None of these bore results. Right now, a political arriviste, Rodrigo Duterte, is even polling at par with Roxas. And Duterte has nothing to run on except his promise to wage World War III on criminals.
Moreover, Sen. Grace Poe, a first-term Senator who remains coy about her presidential plans and is eyed as a running mate to Roxas under the Liberal Party, topped the recent mainstream survey. And she is miles ahead of Roxas.
It is the irony of ironies in Philippine politics: a newbie Senator who is not even sure on whether she has a presidential plan or not now tops the surveys.
Those about to offer words of comfort to the likes of Mr. Roxas et al should offer real words of comfort and I think I found one. A commentary by Cliff Zukin, a past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, which posits this view: Polling is under siege. Polls and pollsters are becoming less reliable.
Zukin, a professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers University, concluded his commentary with these words “ We [those involved in opinion polling in the US]may not even know when we are off base. What this means for 2016 is anybody’s guess.”
Zukin, a respected member of the opinion research community in the US, said that the shift of interviews, from landlines to cellphones, have made it harder and costlier for organizations to interview and ask people. He cites that in the United States, pollsters need to call 20,000 random numbers for a 1,000-person survey. “This budget buster leads to compromises in sampling and interviewing,” he said.
The second and very tough problem is the “ rapidly declining response rate.” He cited his own work in the 1970s, when the “acceptable response rate” was 80 percent. By 2014 in the US, the response rate has fallen to 8 percent.
On what the mainstream pollsters missed, Zukin offered these glaring misses:
• The failure of the pollsters to gauge the true strength of Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections, which gave the Republicans the control of the Senate.
• The failure of pollsters to gauge the true strength of Benjamin Netanyahu and his party in the recent Israeli elections.
• The pollsters predicted a close elections in Britain. The result: The Conservatives won easily over the Labor Party.
• The failed polling in these First World economies have been called by Zukin as “spectacular disasters.”
So what do we have in the Philippine context? Skewed polls or truthful surveys? The answers here are predictable.
Those with lofty standing in the polls will naturally stand by the accuracy of the surveys and claim that they are “humbled” by so much trust vested in them by the people. That, indeed, was the response of Poe to the new survey that placed her on top of the former frontrunner, Vice President Jejomar Binay. Binay predictably said that he will take the new polls as a change and do better next time.
Those literally humbled by the polls, from Roxas down to Lacson, can seek refuge in the commentary of Zukin, who probably knows more polling than all the Filipino pollsters combined.
And repeat these words: What the current polling numbers mean for 2016 [the battle for the Philippine presidency]is anybody’s guess.