POLLS were predominantly used and became more public in the country in the 90s. Previous to that, only a handful would use surveys for politics since these were viewed as strategic moves, secrets that only a few should know and can afford. Today, polls are a dime a dozen. From national and local candidates, survey firms are sprouting like mushrooms on rainy days. Nothing’s wrong with that. For so long as there are clients, there will always be room for a new outfit. Then again, the new outfit will have to compare itself with the two dominant commercial players: Social Weather Stations (SWS), a non-government organization (allegedly non-profit), and Pulse Asia, a private corporation (for profit).
In the last mid-term elections, surveys again became an issue for some. Rumors circulated about variables embargoed, massages and non-presentation of results to the public, leaving media to focus only on horse races. This did not serve the public well since, for some, it created a “bandwagon effect.”
Why should there be more transparency and accountability of surveys? Because political campaigns are partisan by nature; results can be used for spin and propaganda. And when a candidate tapers off, donors abandon them and that is downhill for most.
Commercial survey firms should therefore be non-partisan. It should not allow candidates and handlers to do push polls. Push polls are unscientific and they should not be part of the news cycle. It should not allow subscribers to do a striptease in the release of results and when the results are spun, survey firms should come clean with the public. If the results of a survey become part of the news cycle, then the identification of the person who commissioned such should be made public.
Results when made public should also include a public briefing so that everyone is on the same page, ergo no room for interpretation. The analyses are the same but connecting the dots will be different depending on the use and objective of the poll. Connecting the dots become internal to the candidate. That is why there are internal polls and commercial polls.
The present business model of subscribing even when a candidate is already a confirmed one must be studied. Why pay P200,000 per survey when an official candidate is automatically included in the list? Survey firms should be paid if a candidate asks for a briefing of tables and charts, but paying to just include one’s name when s/he is already an official candidate should be reconsidered.
There should also be agreement on what variables should be made public, such as Awareness and Preference, and what are embargoed. In the recent mid-term elections, one survey firm embargoed awareness because its media partner said so. Why is awareness important? It is important because one can calculate conversion using Awareness and Preference. One can do a back flip analysis on the reliability and validity of results.
In a situation where the survey firm has a media partner, can a political party still commission them and use the partnership as a “neutral” ground to release the results?
When the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes, Jr. threatened to file criminal charges against SWS, Pulse Asia, and other survey firms unless they submit their list of subscribers to the Comelec, key stakeholders welcomed this because surveys have gone past just being a guide. It is now the sole determinant of ranking, funding and winning. Interestingly, a leading survey firm even had the audacity to claim they have been getting the end results right for several elections cycles. Of course, with hindsight one can claim that unless one is part of the machinery to condition the minds of voters. Now, would we have the same results with registered voters viz likely voters?
But then again Chairman Brillantes, the controlling term there is “public.” If the results were made public then, by all means, releasing the information on who paid for the survey becomes crucial.
The worst part is when a pollster is asked point blank by how much votes would a candidate win against the opponent? And with that absolute number, operators go to a soft province and tinker with the results according to the survey. In the vernacular, they call it “plantsado sa numero.” This happened and it was all down the hill. “Namasahe na” is another term bandied about and this is when someone from the field would approach candidates and handlers offering “massage” services for a fee. It used to be that information is sold on the date of fieldwork and the location. Today, the approach is more brazen, just like enterprising operators of another kind.
When surveys become propaganda tools then we have reached the stage where candidates must plunge tons of money to rank well in surveys pre-campaign and campaign proper and that is where the danger lies. A candidate can choose to just focus on surveys and air-war and win. A candidate can raise the ante pre-campaign to reach an artificial bounce and sustain the same via ads. Rank high, means more funds, more funds mean more ads. And there you have a sure win formula: no organization, limited voter contact, and a much cheaper way to win.
And we are not even talking of the technical details of surveys. But let me end by asking one more question, whatever happened to the MBC-DZRH Exit Poll? The results are far different from the winners and yet they had 30,000 respondents of actual voters from 398 barangays in 16 regions and 52 barangays in NCR that were randomly selected or a total of 450 barangays representing all provinces in the 17 regions. Indeed, there are polls and there are some.