WE have made this call in the past – prior to the 2013 elections, most recently – and the chaos being created by voter opinion surveys being publicized now makes it plain that it is a message that needs to be repeated in the strongest possible terms: Pre-election voter surveys serve no public welfare and democratic purpose but to detract from legitimate issues, and condition the public mind to confuse popularity with qualifications.
We do not forget that the Supreme Court, in 2001, declared unconstitutional the banning of the publication of election survey results, even for a limited time, for being an infringement on the freedom of speech, expression and of the press. This editorial is a call for the lawyers and the justices to redefine the High Court’s decision in the light of the reality that these surveys and the published results are based on a manipulated process of polling participants’ opinions and presenting the cooked results as if they were scientific and honestly conducted polls.
The publication of pre-election poll results should be banned, with harsh penalties – even including disqualification of offending candidates from the race – imposed on violators.
This is not at all a radical point of view, either; a 2012 study by the University of Hong Kong found that at least 38 countries imposed some sort of restriction on the publication of pre-election polls, ranging from complete bans to bans during ‘blackout periods’ of days or weeks prior to the election. In our part of the world, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, and Myanmar all impose some sort of ban, ranging from the day before the voting up to three weeks prior to Election Day, according to the UHK study.
To be clear, we are not suggesting that no polling of any sort be conducted, because that would be tantamount to condemning the entire survey business. Opinion polls are very useful to those who are managing political campaigns, and there is nothing wrong with the use of surveys as tools for planning and strategy. By the same token, there is nothing right or rational about using survey results to attempt to sway public opinion; for one thing, the credibility of results is always uncertain unless the firm conducting the poll fully discloses who commissioned it and under what circumstances. Very few if any survey firms would agree to do this, and for a perfectly good reason: If survey participants knew who paid for the survey, their opinions, and as a result the survey outcome, may be affected.
Banning the publication of surveys during the campaign period, not to put too fine a point on it, would oblige all of us who play a part in this curious state of affairs we call a democracy to approach our civic duty and privilege with a great deal more maturity. And that is as it should be: Devoting so much attention to assessments of popularity allows us to avoid thinking about what really matters, the qualifications, track records, and vision and plans of each candidate for office. We think the evidence that this is a better way to participate in the political process is quite obvious, first from the nearby examples of mature, stable democracies like Singapore and South Korea, and second from the widespread frustration of our own voters in facing the prospect of another excessively contentious, uninspiring election in which the candidates vie, not to see who can emerge as a leader, but who can do the most damage to their opponents with rhetoric and dirty tricks.
The actual voting – done cleanly and with the proper safeguards as required by law – is the only survey the people of the Philippines and their would-be leaders need. Let’s do away with all the others.
May God guide the Supremes in seeing the wisdom of this position and its value to making ours a truly honest electoral democracy.