There are no Nate Silvers and Sam Wangs in the local electoral setting. That makes the interpretation of polling aggregates the turf of every pretender, including the innumerates. Right now, one quick look at the aggregate of the recent 2016 presidential surveys will give you a sense of what they tell us about the state of the 2016 presidential elections and these are:
• The presidential contest is a three-way race and those competing are Digong Duterte, Grace Poe and Jojo Binay. Duterte is, however, the leader according to two recent polls, with a big lead where it maters most – Metro Manila.
• Mar Roxas and Miriam Santiago have unimpressive (depressing for Roxas) numbers in the mainline surveys though Mrs. Santiago claims to top the online polls and university-based polling.
• The polling numbers have been so soft that anything can happen between now and May 2016 and it is still too early to identify the most preferred presidential candidate.
• In short, even the seemingly hopeless – Mr. Roxas and Mrs. Santiago – have the window to rebound and bounce back, depending how they make most out of the remaining months.
Then this thing: A “Back Swan” moment can take place and change the dynamics of the presidential race.
These results are entirely expected.
Mr. Duterte, as I wrote earlier, has a very clear shot at the presidency. He gets his support from those yearning to eliminate any and all vestige of the Aquino presidency. His supporters just want a clean break from the tiring government of Mr. Aquino. His most ardent fans, however, are of a different breed: they want the word “kill” to be the (NNV) or New National Verb. And that is not a joke.
Mr. Binay has his core support intact, but now in the low 20s. In a five-way race, a bump of just seven or eight percent may propel him to the presidency. A minority vote president just like Mr. Ramos but still president of the realm. The numbers suggest the staying power of Mr. Binay. Painted by the mainstream – and pro-Aquino press – as the most crooked man in Philippine politics, it is a wonder that he is still standing.
Ms. Poe has assembled a vast, diverse coalition including the mainstream Left and she remains ultra-competitive despite her softening numbers, which placed her at par with Mr. Binay. Those writing and shooting her political ads have yet to invoke her main asset – his dead father, the late Fernando Poe Jr. Invoking FPJ will surely give her another polling bump.
No one is dominant, even with the surging numbers of Mr. Duterte. The level of preference enjoyed by the Top 3 remains pliable and soft.
In what way and what manner do the survey results align with the basics of political science ? Easy to explain.
The fact that we have no Donald Trump in the current contest – and that all the identified polling leaders are professional politicians – align with the basics of political science. As an article in the explanatory site Vox.com has written, the presidency is not an award given for excellence in another field. It is usually an award for political work (the longer, the better) and for serving as a leader of a public institution. You start from some elective post (or an appointed one like a Cabinet post) and from there you build the political and funding network that is massive enough to run for the presidency.
A Filipino tycoon, no matter how rich or how popular or how competent, is handicapped for a presidential run given the long tradition that politics is for politicians. That somebody from the business world can just come in and shake up Philippine politics from its politics-as-usual state is romantic but unrealistic and it hardly applies in real life. We often hear laments on the seeming reluctance of business leaders to run for the president, like what Vicente Fox did in Mexico decades ago. The simple reason is that the business leaders have their excellence in a field that is a world away from politics. And they don’t want to kiss babies and pander to sectoral interests.
That break from tradition, just like the current torture the Republican Party establishment is now suffering from the narcissistic and personality-based campaign of Donald Trump, is the exception, not the rule.
The fact that the survey results in our own presidential race suggest that there is no need for an outsider to save the republic and that professional politicians are dominating the contest is in complete alignment with the basic theories and practical applications of political science. And this is good for the country despite the conventional notions that politicians are bad, incompetent and corrupt.
I would rather have a politician to be my president– warts and all, than the most well-intentioned tycoon who would govern like a technocrat. Just look at the cold and heartless technocracy of Mr. Aquino and the brutal Social Darwinism of his government.
So far, the major failing of the mainstream polling firms is the exclusive focus on the horse race. If the elections were held today, what?
The policy reasons undergirding the choices (preferences are not based on a void) are not surveyed. We are then left with presidential candidates stating non-issues such as building more funerals parlors for the criminals that would be exterminated. Or, stating standard-issue, harmless promises such as expanding the welfare state.
The presidency is the toughest, most challenging and most important job in the country and the exclusive focus on the horse race fails to enhance the kind of modern, more nuanced and more sophisticated political discussions we need.
Ok, last question. Are the surveys accurate ? I don’t know. Gallup, the polling pioneer, has left the horse race polling after calling it for the Mittens and an Obama loss in 2012. Our own survey firms, have an outsized role in Philippine politics. Whether they get their numbers right or wrong, it does not matter for now. They will surely continue the polling work because of the power and the profits.