In March 2010, Social Weather Station’s head Mahar Mangahas told critics of the SWS:
“Do your own polls.” (GMANetwork.com, 16 March 2010)
This, after the SWS was criticized for swaying public opinion via its surveys. For 2016, the more controversial SWS survey though has been its mobile survey, which it did with Smart Communications and TV5’s Bilang Pilipino election campaign. As Ninez Cacho-Olivarez had said in March about this survey: “<it is> 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, 30 Mar 2016)
And as we found on the SWS website itself (as of 22 Mar 2016), it gets worse as far as credibility is concerned: this is a fixed set of respondents for the three months (March 20 to the end of May 2016) that the survey will be done. Each respondent is presumed to be the one to answer the questions that will be sent via text message at 7 a.m. And of course the killer: “After participating in the project up to the end of May, the members of the panel may keep the mobile phones.”
Of course mainstream media continues to carry results of this mobile survey, no matter how questionable. But also it only carries results of surveys like SWS and Pulse Asia, which is to say these are the only survey results that get mileage, and yes, that affect public opinion.
The unfamiliar surveys
So let’s see what happens when we call Mangahas’s bluff, and start doing – and the rest of us start believing – other polls.
Say, the D’ Strafford Research & Strategies, Inc.’s April 20-released survey (via SunstarManila), which found Mar Roxas in a statistical tie with Grace Poe. A “non-commissioned pre-election presidential survey,” what was most interesting to me about the D’Strafford survey was how it not only spent its own money on a survey in the age of mostly-commissioned surveys, but also that JM Balancar, project director, declared that the results surprised them because it was different from recent surveys. The question they asked of their respondents though was the same as every other survey: if the elections were today, who would you vote for?
Of course the biggest question D’Strafford couldn’t answer was who and what it was. With no years to fall back on, and no real responses to questions, the figurative take down was quick and easy on social media.
That can’t be said for the surveys that Philcoman Research Institute, Inc. (PCMRII) has done, two as far as research shows: one with results released March 28 (The Manila Times), and another on April 18 (Business Mirror). As platform-based surveys, the PCMRII evades the pitfalls of personality and popularity surveys, and instead asks respondents about which candidates they believe have the best programs for specific issues: social (poverty and criminality), political (parliamentary or presidential), economics (nationalist economics, export-oriented, regulated, etc.), and national security (Bangsamoro Basic Law, Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, and other threats). (Cecilio Arillo, Business Mirror, 18 April)
In both surveys, Vice-President Jojo Binay was top choice, hitting as high as 31 percent in the second survey (April-release), from 27 percent in the first one (March-release).
Probably because social media and mainstream media have also so far evaded discussions about platforms and programs, this survey goes pretty much ignored, by mainstream media and social media both.
The unreleased, commissioned surveys
What has been most exciting to me though are those commissioned surveys that remain unreleased, but which, with less than two weeks to the elections, are being leaked out anyway.
The fact that these surveys are commissioned (i.e., paid for by an interested party), and yet remain unreleased, is what interests me the most: what, the results were not quite what the ones who paid for these expected?
In her Philippine Star column last Sunday, Mary Ann LL. Reyes mentioned an unreleased survey purportedly commissioned by the Liberal Party on April 5. Taking from the Poll Watchers Advocates, Reyes says that, “LP was expecting its standard-bearer to top the survey.” (24 March)
Alas, leaked to the media, the survey revealed that Binay was on top at 29 percent, followed by Duterte at 25 percent, and Poe at 24 percent. Roxas was still at his 19 percent rank. (24 March)
Earlier today on his radio show though (April 26), Noli de Castro mentioned an SWS survey, privately commissioned but unreleased, that reveals numbers very different from what surveys have revealed recently, and probably very different too from the “official” surveys we will be seeing from Pulse Asia and SWS this week.
Sources say this survey would reveal that Duterte’s numbers are down five points to 27 percent, Poe up two points to 26 percent, Binay up nine points at 23 percent, and Roxas down one point at 18 percent.
Calling the bluff
So yes, we call Mangahas’s bluff. And what do we find? That it’s still anyone’s game at this point – especially given incredible Comelec voting machines, and questionable cross-checking processes between the Comelec and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), i.e., DOST not being able to actually do its job of double-checking those memory cards and those machines, I hear.
My tendency though is to look at each survey not based on who did it, but toward what end. Not in terms of who it was done for, but on how it was done. And ultimately how these surveys, taken together, provide a bigger picture of public opinion. And then how these surveys could be proven wrong on election day.
Because when nothing is credible, everything is credible. Welcome to election season in the Philippines.
Can’t wait for this to be over.