“Underwater” is the descriptive term that American poll analysts use to describe a president’s job approval rating when it plunges into negative territory – that is, the number of those who disapprove of the president’s performance exceed the number of those who approve of his performance, and his job approval falls well below 50%.
Based on the first quarter surveys of both Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS), Aquino’s job approval is now definitely underwater, and sinking deeper by the day. But the poll firms do not use such colorful language to report their findings; they disguise them because of the hefty business that Malacanang and Aquino business cronies give them.
Instead, and for reasons that foreign observers, diplomats and expat executives cannot fathom, our two leading pollsters sex up their surveys with fancy terminology and stratagems. They do not simply survey and report approval ratings like nearly all reputable survey firms in the developed world. Pulse Asia and SWS also pretend to measure public trust and satisfaction with our leaders and institutions—qualities that Filipinos do not normally associate or apply to their leaders.
Pulse Asia and SWS disclose the plunging numbers of Aquino with great reluctance. They bury public sentiments and attitudes in irrelevant details. They use numbers from the countryside and remote areas to elbow opinion coming from the national capital and major urban centers. Through the stratagem of averaging, they are able to come up with deceptive numbers that mask the extent and depth of public disapproval for the President and his administration.
But all the elaborate tinkering is frustrated in the end. The real state of public opinion shines through, throwing light on the falsehood of propaganda.
In the 2015 surveys, it is in the National Capital Region, where disapproval and distrust of President Aquino run deepest. Because NCR encompasses over 10 million of the national population, the implications for national politics and governance are profound.
Aquino and his top advisers must know how to swim in order not to drown.
Key survey findings
The key findings of the two polling firms are:
I.Pulse Asia survey
National Capital Region
Aquino’s performance rating
Approve 40 percent
Disapprove 43 percent
Net rating minus 3 percent
Aquino’s trust rating
Big trust 24 percent
No trust 43 percent
Net rating minus 19 percent
Social Weather Station Survey
SWS idiosyncratically measures satisfaction, not approval, in its polling.
National Capital region
Satisfied 45 percent
Dissatisfied 38 percent
Net rating plus 7 percent
Satisfied 47 percent
Dissatisfied 36 percent
Net rating plus 11 percent
Both survey firms employ tricks to downplay Aquino’s plunging performance and trust ratings.
SWS uses the tactic of measuring the level of public satisfaction with the President’s handling of his job.
To induce the public to believe in its figures, SWS dramatized by press release the decline of Aquino’s ratings from December 2014 to March 2015. It also recalled how Aquino’s satisfaction rating has gone down from 60 percent in September 2010, to 11 percent this March 2015.
To make sure Malacañang will treat its work with favor, SWS goes into numerous comparative statistics, and even goes to the extent of comparing Aquino’s rating to those of past presidents.
Why periodic polling matters
Comparing the two surveys, the Pulse Asia survey is to me the more credible and revealing. It tracks what in my gut I believe our people are thinking.
In baring starkly the alarming numbers in Metro Manila, Pulse Asia does the nation an important service. It foreshadows the battles to come in the politics of 2016.
The Pulse survey should be useful for the administration, if it still has energy left to right its course in the plus 400 days remaining of the presidential term.
The periodic reading of the public pulse has great importance, because it sizes up the level of public support that the president can command with the public when he pursues a particular policy, or when he is in a fight with political rivals or opponents.
The issue of public approval has now risen to the top of President Aquino’s concern because he is in a critical struggle over the Mamasapano fallout, and he is fighting for his envisioned legacy of an enduring peace in Mindanao.
False names, false allies, false Asia
This week deserves to be remembered for the spotlight it threw on the issue of falsehood.
First and most disturbing, thanks to the efforts of former DILG secretary Rafael Alunan III and Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City, the prevalent use of fictitious names by negotiators and officers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has come to light. It took center stage in the recent hearings on Mamasapano by the House.
Mohagher Iqbal (MILF chief negotiator) Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim (MILF chairman) and Ghadzali Jaafar (MILF vice-chairman) are all fictitious names. They have all refused to disclose their true names.
Now, many are wondering whether the peace agreement and other covenants signed by them are valid or binding.
Second, and to make sure he is not forgotten, President Aquino last Tuesday warned the public and his allies not to be fooled by two-faced people who represent themselves as supporters of his administration. He issued the warning during the inauguration of a bridge in Isabela.
This is bizarre. Aquino is losing supporters and allies like former congressman Walden Bello. People who voted for him in 2010 are expressing voters’ remorse.
Finally, I should mention here that many people call Pulse Asia “False Asia,” because of its perceived conscription by the Aquino administration.
I said above that in this first quarter of the year Pulse Asia offered the more credible survey than SWS. It can atone for the past by doing forthright, fair and non-partisan opinion polling heading into the May 2016 elections.