THIS is the fourth time that I am writing about public opinion polling, so I do not enter the subject cold. I have an idea why the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys differ so much from each other and why they reached contrasting conclusions about the public’s perception of the Duterte presidency.
In a column published last July (“SWS looks for satisfaction; the world asks about approval”, Manila Times. July 13), I commented that SWS in the Philippines looks for public satisfaction in its opinion research; while in contrast, pollsters in practically all other countries (the US and Europe included) ask about approval of the job performance of their presidents and prime ministers.
Satisfaction not the same as approval
I wrote at the time:
“Satisfaction is not the same as approval. ‘Satisfaction’ means the fulfillment of a desire. Or reparation for a wrong done. ‘Approval’ means agreement, sanction, favorable opinion, or commendation.
Why does SWS in its surveys ask about satisfaction, instead of approval of job performance, or support for presidential policies?
Why does this Filipino opinion researcher persist in using its satisfaction angle in measuring public opinion on presidential performance, instead of the near universal approval/disapproval method of inquiry which is used by almost all pollsters in advanced countries.
The Philippines is the only country, and Filipinos are the only people in the world who are asked whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with their president. With this survey angle, the president or any public official is treated like a meal, a dish or a fruit which we consume, or perhaps a person who is in our employ or an object of affection.
I have long wondered why against standard research practice, SWS insists on its idiosyncratic terminology and method.”
Contrasting survey reports
My interest at the time was not misplaced, because this week, SWS and its survey landed in the middle of a national controversy.
In survey research conducted in the same month (September) and reports released within weeks of each other, SWS and Pulse Asia presented the nation a contrasting picture of how the Filipino public views the job performance of President Duterte.
SWS reported that DU30 had suffered a precipitous decline in his satisfaction rating. For good measure, it also found a decline in DU30’s trust rating.
Pulse Asia, in sharp contrast, reported that in its survey, DU30 got an 80 percent approval rating, as 8 out of 10 Filipinos fully approved of what the president was doing in office.
Why did the two surveys differ so sharply? Were they taken from different samples of Filipinos?
SWS survey: the magic of net satisfaction
In its survey report released on October 8,SWS reported that “President Rodrigo Duterte’s satisfaction and trust ratings dropped in September.”
The President’s satisfaction rating dropped to 48 percent, 18 points down from his 66 percent rating last June while his trust rating declined to 61 percent from 75 percent in June.
The SWS non-commissioned survey from September 23-27 used face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults aged 18 years old and above nationwide.
Of those surveyed, 600 were from Balance Luzon, while 300 each were from Metro Manila, the Visayas and Mindanao.
In fact, SWS in its report skirted the verdict of its own research. The poll reported that Duterte got 67 percent satisfied in the satisfaction survey, and “73 percent” in the trust poll.
SWS diverted attention from these towards its so-called “net satisfaction rating,” which represents the difference between the number of those satisfied and those dissatisfied. Through this keyhole, SWS found a way to pronounce a decline in Duterte’s rating by contrasting the new poll with the numbers in past surveys. By legerdemain, in short, SWS was able to present a decline in Duterte’s popularity.
What credence should we give this kind of opinion research which runs away from its own findings?
Who commissioned this survey of Duterte’s decline?
Pulse Asia survey: Switch to job approval
In contrast, Pulse Asia’s report on its survey was straightforward. The pollster ran a survey on the public’s approval of Duterte’s job performance.
The survey result was as follows:
“President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval rating is down two percentage points in September from that of June 2017, but 80 percent of Filipinos still approve of his work and trust him,” according to the Pulse Asia survey released Friday, October 13.
According to Pulse Asia, Duterte enjoys an 80 percent approval rating, slightly lower than June’s 82 percent. Eighty percent of Filipinos have “big trust” in him, too, according to the survey.
Duterte’s approval rating was highest among the poorest Filipinos, with Class E rating at 86 percent, Class D at 79 percent, and Class ABC at 75 percent.
Although 80 percent of those surveyed trust Duterte, 14 percent are undecided. Six percent, meanwhile, said they distrust him.
Duterte got 85 percent trust rating among Class E; 80 percent among Class D; and 74 percent among Class ABC.
Approval ratings of top national officials have all dropped, albeit by varying degrees, according to the survey, which was conducted from September 24-30, 2017 through face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults.
End of an era
Reaction to the surveys was predictable.
The opposition, especially the Liberal Party and the yellow media, lapped up the tale of Duterte’s decline.
Rappler. the yellow website, had a field day analyzing the SWS report. It majestically opined:
“Cracks are beginning to show in President Duterte’s image as a ‘populist’ strongman.
“The latest SWS survey seems to signal the end of that era.”
The reply, after Pulse Asia released its survey, was not only ecstatic for the government; it was devastating for SWS and the yellow crowd.
The Daily Tribune in an editorial blasted SWS as having become part of the yellow campaign against President Duterte. It said:
“The campaign will go full throttle using the recent results of survey ratings showing a substantial drop in the ‘net’ ratings of Rody despite showing a clear majority of 73 percent with much trust and 67 percent being satisfied with his performance.
“It seems that pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) is part of the yellow offensive too as prior to the release of the survey showing a drop in Rody’s net rating it released a series of June reports showing results from a poll on the conduct of Rody’s war on drugs.
“Released on different days in the run-up to the satisfaction and performance poll on Rody were the reports on ‘3 of 5 Filipinos agree that only poor drug pushers are killed’; ‘nearly half of Filipinos mistakenly believe drug use is punishable by death’; and ‘90 percent say it is important that drug suspects be captured alive.’
“The reports were quoting from just one survey which was done June 23 to 26. Just two days for a nationwide face to face interviews with respondents survey and with leading questions to boot?
“The Liberal Party of course is up to its task of keeping the domestic pressure on Rody through its attack dogs in the Senate led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th.
“The yellow mob was merely waiting for just the SWS report, the manipulation obviously undertaken in how the report was packaged to highlight the negative despite the still high figures favoring Rody.”
Goodbye to satisfaction
Now that Pulse Asia has joined the rest of the world in conducting the straightforward and tested approval survey on job performance, it’s questionable whether SWS will still venture to conduct its satisfaction and net satisfaction surveys.
It will be an even bigger mystery whether the public and the media will ever buy again numbers manufactured by SWS.
Personally, I would like to see SWS conduct a survey in the aftermath of the deaths of Hapilon and Maute in Marawi, and the now certain end of the Marawi crisis. If SWS can produce a negative satisfaction rating for DU30, it will truly earn its commission.