I interviewed a presidential candidate once, long before he declared he was running for the Vice Presidency. He said that all the things he does as part of the Senate, his sense of right and wrong, these were based on surveys. He is a creature of surveys, he said, he uses it to measure the public pulse, and makes his moves based on it.
And as if to prove how good he was at this, he claimed that he predicted the outcome of the vice-presidential race of 2010.
For a moment, I was impressed, not only because this senator was obviously trained to speak to the media in a specific way, but also because I had never thought of surveys as a way to measure public pulse. And here was a senator who was telling me it was the way he operated on everything.
I’ve always thought surveys as incredible, just because in this country no polling institution is absolutely transparent about where it gets its samples and how it chooses “randomly.” And I say this not just in relation to the elections, but also in terms of those surveys on self-rated poverty or approval of government officials.
In a country where the class divide is a wedge that’s growing bigger and bigger, which necessarily means the poor get less and less, in a country where access to services are the exemption to the rule for a majority who are poor, certainly the time element has a lot to do with how people will reply to any question at any given point in time.
If they just received their dole-outs via 4Ps, they will not only be thankful to the present government, but also their stomachs will be more filled, their wallets a little fatter, than usual. If they just received the little wage that they do, if the sakadas from the hacienda of the Roxases have just received their P50 pesos a day, if the contractual workers just got their measly pay from the big businessmen and investors who come to the Philippines for our cheap labor, certainly that will affect how people will measure themselves as poor or not. It goes without saying that it will affect the way they will rate their government officials as well.
Cultural production and social class
And on campaign season, the factors that affect the way people would respond to any survey is multiplied ten-fold. In the age of Internet trolls and biased media, in the age of media empires run by oligarchs, who invest just as much in their own candidates, polls can only be even more questionable.
Case in point: teleseryes on TV. Comelec turns a blind eye to this free promotion of the presidential candidate running on her father’s name, yet popular culture theory will tell you that a series like ABS-CBN’s Ang Probinsyano might be one of the most effective, most pervasive promotional tools for Fernando Poe, Jr.’s daughter. Ang Panday also premiered on TV5 at the end of February.
None of our media entities has so much as raised this as a question.
Yet it doesn’t take a genius to imagine that any respondent to these election polls who follows these teleseryes, or who is asked a question about voter preference after a particularly heroic part of its storyline, would vote positively in favor of Poe.
This, of course, points to a very specific market segment for these teleseryes, and one can’t help but wonder exactly how our survey institutions pick their respondents. Because outcomes would be different for each social class, depending on their exposure to the various media through which candidates appear. There’s a market segment exposed to TV but not to radio, or vice versa, which would mean different outcomes, but also especially when it is layered with exposure to the internet.
Elsewhere in the world, election surveys are held against the light, and assessed based on where it is done, whose bailiwick(s) it chooses to survey, and how the survey is conducted.
In the Philippines, it is the media enterprises like ABS-CBN and Rappler that commission or do their own surveys, justifying the practice instead of questioning it.
Which might be why what we’ve gotten from our survey bigwigs is a whole lot of arrogance, too, much like matuwid-na-daan. Criticized for the SWS surveys swaying public opinion in 2010, Mahar Mangahas dared tell critics: “Do your own polls,” after also asserting that polls do not condition the minds of the public. (GMANetwork.com, Mar. 16, 2010)
He would have a hard time proving that these surveys are not imbued with the biases of those who carry it out, biases that are in the kinds of questions they ask, the order of questions, the timing of the questions, the choice of where to get a “random” sample. And certainly the SWS itself creates the conditions for surveys to be questionable.
Ninez Cacho-Olivarez writes about how SWS’s mobile survey is manipulated, “hardly scientific, since cellphones with free SIMs and free Internet have been handed to a selected base of 1,200 respondents spread nationwide and used for an immediate vote of respondents in any issue of the day.” (The Daily Tribune, Mar. 30, 2016)
It gets worse. According to the SWS website (Mar, 22, 2016), these respondents are part of a project that started on March 20 and will last until the end of May. So it seems this is a fixed set of respondents for the duration of three months; it is presumed that each respondent is the one answering the survey questions sent to them as text messages. And for whatever reason, respondents are given a good five hours to answer questions (questions are sent at 7:00 am, answers are accepted until 12 nn).
Oh and the best part? “After participating in the project up to the end of May, the members of the panel may keep the mobile phones.”
It seems important to point out how both the SWS and the Pulse Asia surveys are related to the oligarchs and politicians who are running in this year’s elections. Pulse Asia’s stockholders include Antonio O. Cojuangco and Rafael Cojuangco, cousins of Noynoy Aquino (Sureta study, Dec. 16, 2009), which would make them nephews of Danding Cojuangco, a funder and supporter of Poe. SWS’s Mangahas is FPJ’s cousin, their mothers Ruby and Bessie Kelly are sisters. That makes Mangahas Poe’s uncle. Tony La Viña, Poe’s adviser and staunch supporter? An SWS board member.
And then they expect us to believe surveys.