How SWS and Pulse Asia have been fooling us, and undermining democracy

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First of two parts

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Pollsters Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia have been fooling us with their pseudo-scientific opinion surveys.

Their polls distort the real state of public opinion on urgent issues and people’s current preferences for candidates in an electoral contest. This is because they conceal the fact that there is a huge percentage of respondents who do not really have opinions on topics they are asked about, or in the case of their presidential voter preference polls, have not decided yet on which candidate to vote for many months before Election Day.

A quintessential banner-headline, horse-race treatment by a newspaper on false polls. (Candidates’ names and photos blocked to foil the real aim of such polls.)

A quintessential banner-headline, horse-race treatment
by a newspaper on false polls. (Candidates’ names and photos
blocked to foil the real aim of such polls.)

Consider how SWS and PulseAsia have fooled us with their voter-preference polls in the 2010 presidential elections and for the coming 2016 balloting:
horse-race220151019

Focus on the “undecided” figure: the three different surveys report that only 2 to 3 percent of Filipinos about six months before Election Day had not decided who to vote for.

That’s really preposterous: 97 to 98 out of 100 Filipinos had already decided who they will vote for, many months before the election? This even goes against your common sense and experience: Ask your staff, boss, or friends if they have made their choices for the top posts, and I’ll bet you dinner four out of five will tell you they haven’t decided. Have you, dear reader, decided and won’t change your mind?

One pollster kindly responded to my queries on this flaw of opinion polling when he disclosed that his firm, per request of their clients and on a confidential basis, had asked the question whether the respondents would still change their minds on their voting preferences. The result was that 35 to 40 percent said they might still change their preferences.

That question is really a proxy for the more proper question respondents should have answered first: Have you already decided on which candidates to vote for on Election Day?

This basic flaw of voter-preference polls have long been known in the US and elsewhere, so that in many countries such polls are totally banned (as in Singapore) or banned for a certain period of time before elections (France and Italy). Few broadsheets in the West, in fact, report such polls on their front pages, much less – as is the prevalent practice here – make them the banner headline for the day.

The founder of modern opinion polling, George Gallup, himself pointed out this flaw in 1947, early on in the development of that business. He proposed that this flaw be corrected by requiring as a first step (in what he dramatically called a “quintamensional plan”) any poll, for the respondent to be asked if he has heard of the issue, or has an opinion on it, before he is asked to respond to a question on it. If the respondent says no, he is automatically excluded from the pollsters’ sample.

Gallup Poll itself undertook in 2007 a variation of this procedure when, in conjunction with the usual poll, it had a special one in which it asked first if the respondent had decided or was still unsure of which candidate to vote for as US President. The results of the special poll changed drastically the portrayal in the usual poll that Giuliani and Romney were way ahead:

From: Moore, David, “The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth behind the Polls,” Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.

From: Moore, David, “The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth behind the Polls,” Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.

This is what has been called by political scientists as the problem of “nonattitudes” in all opinion polling. Even an American textbook on polling (Asher, Herbert, “Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know,” 2012) pointed out: “The presence of nonattitudes is one of the simplest, yet most perplexing problems in public opinion polling … People respond to questions about which they have no genuine attitudes or opinions.”

“No distinction is made between people with real views on an issue and those whose responses are simply artifacts of being asked a question in the first place,” the book explained. “Few people in such circumstances want to admit they are uninformed, particularly on a popular or timely issue.”

Neither SWS nor PulseAsia asks that crucial question in voter-preference polls – whether the respondent has decided or not – which in effect forces them to choose, even if they haven’t really yet made a choice.

Both SWS and PulseAsia’s voter-preference questionnaires ask: “Of the people on this list, whom would you vote for as President (or Vice President) if the 2016 elections were held today.” (Emphasis mine).

But the elections are not being held on that day when they may have not yet made up their mind. Crucially, the respondents are not given this choice: “You may answer that you haven’t decided yet.” Respondents would, therefore, give off-the-top-of-their-head names, which might not necessarily be their considered choices and could change their minds about at the flip of a coin.

In such a forced-choice survey, and especially since the question is one of the 150 or so questions SWS and PulseAsia typically ask a respondent, the respondent is likely to choose a candidate he had recently seen on TV or heard over the radio.

That is why the newspaper Manila Standard recently reported that Grace Poe-Llamanzares and her running mate, Francis Escudero, were “miles ahead” in a poll it commissioned. The survey was done Sept. 21 to Oct. 1: Llamanzares and Escudero have been hogging the headlines since Sept. 16 when they launched their candidacies showbiz style. Similarly, Manuel Roxas 2nd spent P258 million on a TV ad blitz from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, which pushed up his rating in the poll undertaken by PulseAsia from Sept. 8 to 14.

SWS and PulseAsia have been fooling us by portraying in their reports that the percentage of people who have no opinion on a topic, or who haven’t decided yet (in voter preference polls), is in their “undecided” (in SWS reports) or “Don’t know/Refused/None” (for PulseAsia) items.

This is a lie. Responses placed in that category are those who are adamant in cooperating in any way with a pollster. It also simply represents human errors either in data gathering or in the tabulation of results, typical in any scientific inquiry gathering data and collating them.

This is the reason why in all their polls, whether they be about hunger, satisfaction with government, love, or voting preference, SWS and PulseAsia always report an insignificant percentage of respondents – typically from 2 to 4 percent — as being “undecided” or have “no response.” This is the percentage in the “undecided” or “don’t know” response in any kind of poll here or elsewhere.

Other than the 35 to 40 percent mentioned above as reported by a pollster as those who would change their minds, do we have an idea how many really haven’t decided in such voter-preference polls?

For the vote for Parliament scheduled next week in the United Kingdom, a poll found that 34 percent of voters haven’t yet decided. In Canada, which is holding its federal election on October 19, 50 percent of voters haven’t yet decided, according to a reputable poll. Despite the prime-time TV Republican and Democratic debates, only 27 percent of Americans in a poll say they are “paying attention” to the elections in November.

If we assume that 35 percent of Filipinos haven’t decided on whom to vote for, and assume that the percentages reported in the three polls above represent only those who have decided, the landscape of the 2010 contest and the 2016 poll should be:

 
horse-race420151019

 

 

The landscapes if one uses a more accurate 35 percent undecided, are so different from the table at the start of this column, which used an insignificant and inaccurate 2 percent undecided.

 
horse-race520151019

 

More importantly, the fact that 35 percent are undecided could more than eat up the survey’s 3 percentage points plus/minus margin of error. This makes the poll actually nearly useless, which would mean big trouble for someone like SWS President Mahar Mangahas, whose entire professional income has been based on the idea that polls really reflect public opinion.

SWS in 2010 undermined democracy by portraying that a huge number of Filipinos — 42 percent — at that early date (December 2010 ) already had chosen Benigno Aquino 3rd, when the reality was, if those undecided were properly reported, it would turn out only 27 percent did, which was within Villar’s striking distance.
horse-race620151019

 

Moore (2012), who was a former vice president of Gallup Poll, lamented in his book that bogus pre-election polls, which do not accurately reflect the extent of the undecided, falsely create the front-runners. These consequently attract more volunteers to their campaign, stimulate contributions to their kitty, and increase their media coverage – which, in turn, raise their name-recall.

The effects of such false polls are magnified in the Philippine setting, as campaign finances are mostly donations from big businessmen, who allocate their contributions depending on candidates’ ranks in the polls. They were fooled by Aquino’s fake lead in December, which SWS and PulseAsia maintained at the 40 percent levels in the succeeding months. Being opportunists the businessmen were, they threw their money behind Aquino, making the initial bogus poll findings of 40 percent preference a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A tool for democracy, to crystallize public opinion? Hardly. And I understand now why the late Marcos, through the Development Academy of the Philippines, had Mangahas and Felipe Miranda (who founded PulseAsia) develop the method starting in 1982.

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
www.rigobertotiglao.com (for archives)

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39 Comments

  1. Ang problema yung mga malalaking media ang mismong nakikipagsabwatan sa mga foolster!
    Kung pagkakaisahan ng lahat ng media na itiggil na ang pag-aanunsyon ng ganitong balita,malamang wala sanang gagamit ng ganito lalo na sa mga tusong politiko!
    Mabuti na lamang may mga nagbubunyag nang ganitong raket atleast nababawasan ang nauutong tao!

  2. This article speaks the truth, very logical indeed. This makes my belief strong that politicians are abominable mediocre and full of deceits. So let’s put the right team on top on 2016.

  3. This is absolutely true. The problem is, how come survey results coming from these not so credible polling firms are still being treated as credible when being delivered on the news (as if it was true)? Also, why are these results in the news afterall? Whether the media likes it or not, these false information will not spread without their participation. If we want change, we should all work together. Put our desire for a better country over money & recognition.

  4. These “proud” pollsters (SWS, Pulse Asia and Laylo) should be transparent and explain to the Filipino people how their surveys are conducted, how respondents are selected and how enumerators are hired. They have almost the same results because they share the same survey methodology, same set of respondents and same set of enumerators. Not known to the public and I am very sure these pollsters will not admit that these poll surveys are conducted by government personnel, that is, provincial officers and enumerators of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), formerly the National Statistics Office (NSO). By law, only the PSA/NSO can collect household information and these must be kept confidential. They can only release summarized information, that is, not including the name, address and other pertinent information of an individual, in these cases, their respondents. So how come these pollsters are able to get these confidential information? As workaround, they are paying PSA/NSO to conduct the surveys for them as riders or “special” surveys. These poll surveys are codenamed “CRYSTAL” within PSA/NSO. Only the PSA/NSO have the logistics and manpower to conduct these surveys up to the barangay level. It will be very costly for these survey firms to maintain their own list of master sample (containing relevant information for all their respondents), hire their own enumerators and conduct their own field surveys. So, aside from misleading the Filipino people, these survey firms are also using government resources to their advantage. BTW, exit polls in the past national elections were also conducted by NSO with the “results” released by these pollsters.

  5. Its basic. Fake survey result is a prerequisite of poll cheating. They need to conditioned the minds of Filipino voters to justify result of the rigged election.

  6. Alma Fe Javelosa on

    It saddens me that the author portrays big businessmen who are contributors to political parties as ignoramus – as if they do not know statistical surveys. If he only goes the rounds of meetings of big businessmen, he will find out that these people select “manoks” based on specific criteria and NOT on surveys.

  7. This 2 survey firms shall be held liable for wrong reporting. I already asked you Mr. Tiglao why this kind of survey are not been sanction by the Press Organization. D ba ang report ay walang kinikilingan at pawang katotohanan lamang. Eh bakit itong SWS at Pulse Asia dapat ng sanction ng ating batas. Ano ginagawa ng ating mga Husgado bakit d nila kasuhan itong SWS at Pulse Asia.Tinanong ko na kayo Mr. Tiglao tungkol sa bagay na ito bakit walang ginagawang acsiyon kung sinoman ang dapat umaksiyon. Iyan National Pres Club at itong samahan ng Journalizm bakit wala silang ginagawang aksiyon. Maging ating mga Husgado dapat gawan nila ng acksiyon. Anong klase batas mayroon bakit hindi gawan ng acksiyon itong maling pagbabalita ginagawa ng SWS at Pulse Asia.

  8. A president is bestowed with too much power such that voters think deep as blue ocean who to vote and decides at the last moment on the way to election booth. A voter may even change mind while in queue chatting with strangers. The same is true for VP but the voter has no idea that a VP is only a spare tire with out duties, responsibilities or power except to wish everyday for the president to die instantly. Name recall “Neutral P-O-E” is convenient pick of the undecided or did not think at all (90 % is undecided). Proof > candidates keeps on campaigning hard till the last legal moment before election. Voters with ideological conviction can decide early because ideology can not be changed by campaign blah..blah…blah… Those who are in opposition ideology has Binay only (Miriam is dying creature). Therefore Binay’s voter is already with him years before election. If the 90% undecided will be evenly divided to all presidential candidates, Binay wins! But hope the rating surveys will not use to justify PCOS magic result.
    Mar is “Daang Tuwad”, a horrible ideology hated to the max. Poe is just Poe’wet.

  9. These “proud” pollsters (SWS, Pulse Asia and Laylo) should be transparent and explain to the Filipino people how their surveys are conducted, how respondents are selected and how enumerators are hired. They have almost the same results because they share the same survey methodology, same set of respondents and same set of enumerators.

    Not known to the public and I am very sure these pollsters will not admit that these poll surveys are conducted by government personnel, that is, provincial officers and enumerators of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), formerly the National Statistics Office (NSO). By law, only the PSA/NSO can collect household information and these must be kept confidential. They can only release summarized information, that is, not including the name, address and other pertinent information of an individual, in these cases, their respondents. So how come these pollsters are able to get these confidential information? As workaround, they are paying PSA/NSO to conduct the surveys for them as riders or “special” surveys. These poll surveys are codenamed “CRYSTAL” within PSA/NSO. Only the PSA/NSO have the logistics and manpower to conduct these surveys up to the barangay level. It will be very costly for these survey firms to maintain their own list of master sample (containing relevant information for all their respondents), hire their own enumerators and conduct their own field surveys.

    BTW, exit polls in the past national elections were also conducted by NSO with the “results” released by these pollsters.

    So, aside from misleading the Filipino people, these survey firms are also using government resources too much to their advantage.

  10. Yes, the survey does not typical reflect correctly the choices because Filipinos may be more secretive of their voting preference…and correctly, few are adamantly decided… I expect that with this article SWS and Pulse Asia or other survey firm should reconsider their methodology of reporting their result… I believe big businessmen may as well be able to calibrate their resource in supporting a candidate….

  11. I agree Mr Tiglao. My neighbors in the province only knew Binay as candidate although they hear about Grace and recently Mar..a week prior to election would be the ideal time of any survey. Too early display of who is leading is considered part of a party’s campaign. The survey outfit never refuse customer who needs to know where they stand. And they could tailor fit the result accordingly.

  12. Ever since i learned about this SWS & PULSE ASIA survey, im somewhat skeptical how they conduct there survey & the credibility of people who do the survey, what they do is mind conditioning, deceptive, manipulative , there survey depends on who give the highest “kotong” from corrupt businesman & politicians. After all, who will patronize there survey company if what they report is true. Its Big Lie Business. And we know who there target- the masa. The reason why the rich get richer,& the poor gets poorer.

  13. maawa naman kayo…nagkandahirap na ang ating kalagayan…yan parin puro pamulitka kayo…mr. tiglao pwede ka bang tumigil?… anaway…ang walang hiya di naman talaga yan tatablan…tulungan niyo nga! bayan natin…

  14. Huwag lang dayain ng PCOS, SWS at False Asia…siguradong landslide votes mula Batanes hanggang Jolo ang Miriam–Bongbong Tandem sa 2016 Eleksiyon

  15. Pollsters will always point out the statistical equations used in determining their survey results. But what people have been missing is that the results of these equations are only as good as the field data being fed into these thru the “random samples”. The big question therefore is: How random and unbiased are these field data?
    It is not about the sample size which can be statistically explained. Instead, who are the people determining/selecting the respondents and what are the backgrounds, inclinations, and biases of these pollsters conducting the field surveys. What are the prevailing conditions when the surveys are being conducted (e.g. place, time, level of privacy)? I myself was once a respondent in a similar survey and I easily detected the leading questions; hence, the clear bias. There was even pre-qualification as respondent.
    I also know that results of these “scientific statistical equations” can only be closest to accuracy when testing inanimate objects in scientifically controlled environments – such being the origin of this Science when it was created to help determine whether to accept or reject large quantities of products in factory/production settings (e.g. determining defective bullets using random samples). However, for its Social Science applications, the credibility of the Pollsters should be the focus of scrutiny and not the statistical equations.
    I am also of the opinion that election surveys should be banned within a reasonable period immediately preceding the election. It is my impression that these surveys are being used to capture financial support, for voters’ mind manipulation, and to create bandwagons by exploiting the naivete of a large segment of our population. On deeper thought, I worry about leaders of our country being determined in Corporate Board Rooms in collusion with Pollsters rather than by the voters at large.
    Bobbi, these comments are just intended for you and I prefer that these not be published. BTW, our wives are friends. Thanks.

  16. The remaining 35% undecided is for MDS and BBM ???. Inform False Asia and SWS survey…Sino ang nagfifinance sa mga companyang ito??? ang dilawang oligarch na businessman.. i dont believe this fucking organization whose mission is to (brain washed the ordinary people) MIND SETTING of the public in favor of their candidates..GISING PILIPINAS…. ZERO TO ALL LIBERAL PARTY AND ALLIES OF THIS LUNATIC GOVERNMENT OF AQUINO.
    MDS-BBM is the only candidates who will save the Philippines into DISASTER made by this Aquino government and his Liberal Party, the MOTHER OF ALL thief of this nation..

  17. Manila Times should physically conduct and publish its own unbiassed 2016 Presidential Survey.

  18. Right. 2 percent undecided this time is fictitious and unfounded. Today in our office, 90% said they still need to know more about the candidates. So where did this 2 percent came? SUPER UNBELEIVABLE!

  19. SWS and Pulse Asia can make wonders to anyone who paid them to do the survey. I bet Miriam Santiago will eat up most of the voters preferences of Mar Roxas and Grace Poe. The masses will remain intact with Binay. Just looking on surveys for VP in January 2010 you could see that Mar Roxas was miles ahead of Binay and the answer is simple. It was Mar who paid for for and the worst part was he believed on the results.

  20. All of you reading this might agree, I also do.
    Maybe because we are able to see things in the internet.
    Here’s the sad truth.
    I’ve been to my province recently and ask elders who’s their bet for 2016 election.
    And I shook my head hearing names of Binay and others (I wont mention all).
    We might have a clean election but it may not favor us at all.
    We should act and be responsible of our(country) future.

  21. Poll surveys have been around for ages. In the last national election poll survey indicated the early front runner for VP was roxas but survey conducted couple of month before the actual election showed Binay leading the survey. The result you already knew.

  22. Mind benders, conditioners, lies then. And the father of all lies is surely happy about this cabal.

  23. False Asia and SWS can survey all they want. It’s going to be MDS + BBM as the runaway winners in next year’s elections.

    Roxas, Binay, and Poe couldn’t even manage 5% each while MDS has nearly 80% preference.

  24. I do agree with Mr. Tiglao. Ironically, the most obvious example of how SWS and Pulse Asia manipulated voter opinion and rigged the elections was during the 2004 presidential elections, when Gloria Arroyo purportedly led in the surveys and, hence, was able to tweak the results in her favor. No offense. I am just being objective. It isn’t just the 2004 elections that I deplore. The saddest part is that the deception continues to this day!

  25. Sirs:
    I believe people who are believing in fake surveys being conducted by SWS and Pulse Asia inside their office are IDIOTS why? how could you believe to their surveys without showing evidence or proof that htey are conducting surveys,they should publish in a main stream media who is the persons conducting surveys, when? where? what time they conducted surveys? how many people they surveyed? what your purpose of conducting? is this part of propaganda paid by a candidates or part of “Trending” in favor of a certain candidates or an incoming politician.The Manila Times should not be a part in fake surveys ,they should not publish or headline the surveys conducted by these culprit propagandist survey companies who has been fooling the people since they started surveys.The Manila Times and other mass media should conduct their own surveys online fairly and not paid survey like has been doing by some newspapers.2 weeks before election the comelec should disallow these surveys be conducted any where, or no where they conducted survey,Surveys in our country are now branded as the science fiction.What out if Grace poe llamanzares will do if she loses the elction definitely as this early he should bow out because garce and chiz 100% will not win in 2016 national election.I hope we can hear again Grace and Susan Roces will angrily shout “ang mandaraya ay kakambal ng magnanalaw!” Pnoy is now the president and not Gloria anymore. Do it again losers!

  26. This fooling of the naive general public by these two pollsters have been going on since their inception as their bread and butter. That is why they resisted vehemently a bill that will require them to also publish the individuals or organization that commissioned their surveys because it will reveal their mercenary and carpetbagger ways….

  27. Good article as well as your observations, Mr. Tiglao. The Filipino maybe fool once but to be fooled for twice or thrice it could never be happened again. Please take note that the owner on the SWS surveys is somewhat related to Roxas? It’s been a headline. So don’t you think SWS surveys is credible enough?…

  28. German Palabyab on

    This is a very scholarly analysis. Very credible and needs an answer or rejoinder from both SWS and Purse Asia.

  29. Polls are a sort of mind conditioning, specially if the pollster wants a particular outcome.In the Phils where the majority can be swayed easily by what is trending, a person who is currently popular will win an election, ie, aldub will win election if he/she is a candidate. This is why we Pinoys are in this morass, we prefer famous actors,sportsmen/women, clowns and so on, instead of people with real talents. What made boy sisi win is the sympathy to cory, the same with grace, she wouldn’t be known if not for her adaptive father Fernando, but what really has Fernando gave the Filipino people? aside from the fact he made lots of money in his films, but that is not service to the people isn’t? ONLY in the PHilippines can this type of madness occur. We should have a civil war to cleanse our society!!!

  30. All this Survey Companies are just another way of manipulating and playing on peoples minds.

    Preserve Democracy , Don’t believe or be influenced by this agencies who spread lies and fear to the public!

  31. If it’s all fake then why do candidates spend so much time and effort in boosting up their ratings? I believe in surveys, especially when different agencies shows the same results.

    • Viewpoint Matters on

      Then you are fooling yourself. Those surveys do not represent a huge number of the population, thus they do not reflect or constitute for a ‘public’ opinion.

    • Read several comments by Mike, seems naive to say the least, wants to wait for everything in the mistaken belief that the government, courts, Justice Dept and the Ombudsman are not controlled by Aquino.

  32. I agree with Mr. Tiglao’s findings and observations. I think opinion polls should be banned in the Philippines. In general, Filipinos have no opinions or preferences or preconceived notions on matters beyond their immediate concerns. Thus,opinion polls before elections would not accurately measure peoples’ preferences. The undecided is a significant factor.
    Amdo F. Cabaero, Sr.

  33. Somebody should bring these pollsters to court; so they can justify the veracity of the results of their polls. Majority of the voters do not know whether these polls are correct or not, and they are prone to joining the ‘bandwagon’ or trend of the ‘false’ polls. These false pollsters are doing a great ‘disservice’ to the country and people just for greed.

    Also, costs of polls sponsored by a candidate should be included in the allowed maximum expense a candidate can spend.during the elections.

  34. Ever since, really don’t trust False Asia and SWS survey , why? because they’re selective and was paid. Mr. Adventajado said that before that he paid for 600K PHP just to drop Estrada’s figure.