There are also those [texting me]saying that the best way for us to continue on the straight path, is for me to continue leading. I cannot dismiss these suggestions from people with open minds and sincerely wishing to do good for others.
— President Benigno Aquino 3rd, September 12, 2014
In the past administration, Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations were quick to poll the public on controversies, including those negative toward the government. During the ZTE scandal, in which then-President Gloria Arroyo was accused, Pulse Asia asked respondents who they thought was the most corrupt president. And when the adminstration pushed for charter change in 2005, both pollsters conducted repeated surveys on Cha-cha.
By contrast, the two outfits have avoided controversies in which President Benigno Aquino 3rd may look bad, although they continued their quarterly polls on poverty, hunger, jobs, and government performance.
When there was discussion about Aquino’s work habits, there was no survey asking who was the most hard-working president. During his widely debated push to postpone the 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Pulse Asia and SWS did not even bother asking ARMM voters what they thought.
Nor did they survey such issues as the distribution of the Cojuangco family’s Hacienda Luisita, allegations of pork barrel bribery during the Corona impeachment, the adequacy and speed of disaster relief during Yolanda, or, after Aquino publicly disputed the unanimous Supreme Court ruling against his Disbursement Acceleration Program, which of the two was right on DAP.
But before we write off Pulse Asia and SWS as totally scared of controversies sensitive for Aquino, let’s give them one more chance. How about an honest-to-goodness survey on whether the President should, as he keeps intimating, run for re-election in 2016. Then it may help him decide once and for all whether his avowed “bosses” really want the Constitution amended to remove his single-term limit or extend his rule.
The question’s the thing
As any survey expert and aficionado knows, how the question is framed makes all the difference, as a review of Cha-cha surveys done shortly before and in the years after Arroyo called for constitutional amendments in her State of the Nation Address in 2005.
That year and in 2006, Pulse Asia asked respondents whether it was right to amend the Constitution “now.” Those answering yes rose from 29 percent in March 2005, to 36 percent in the following October, and 43 percent in March 2006.
The yes ratio dipped to 40 percent in July 2006 and 39 percent in November of that year. Another 20 percent, more or less, also favored Cha-cha, though not right then. Thus, three out of every five Filipinos supported amendment either now or later.
There were very different questions and results in the SWS surveys. In December 2005, the pollster asked whether respondents would support an amendment that would end Arroyo’s term before 2010. Result: 54 percent answered yes. Some wondered, however, whether that was a survey of presidential popularity, not constitutional change.
In its March 2006 poll, SWS asked whether respondents would vote for “a proposed new constitution if a plebiscite were held now.” Not whether it was time to amend the charter, but whether one would vote for a constitution whose provisions were unknown to the respondent, since there was no such charter drafted, although possible amendments had been debated for years.
Fully 56 percent of SWS respondents said no. Zero surprises there. How many would vote for a new charter yet to be defined? Actually, that’s the surprise: 42 percent said they would, probably assuming that the “new constitution” in the question would contain certain well-publicized provisions they favored.
Three months later in June 2006, SWS repeated its poll with a crucial change in the survey question: “If a plebiscite were held today, would you vote Yes or No to a new Constitution that PGMA [Arroyo] wants?” Given her unpopularity, the No responses leapt to 67 percent. And SWS compared the March and July 2006 results, even though their questions were substantially different.
Survey experts and Cha-cha advocates questioned the validity of mixing the issues of constitutional change and presidential popularity in one question. But SWS head Mahar Mangahas defended the wording and kept using it in future surveys. Media and amendment opponents cited SWS results almost exclusively, ignoring Pulse Asia polls.
If pollsters won’t, prelates should
SWS and Pulse Asia may again skirt the burning issue of Aquino re-election for fear of offending him. Hence, those keen to get a straight answer from the President about 2016 should commission a survey on his remarks that the people want him to run again. These groups may include the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and independent, impartial media, but not political groups, to avoid tainting the poll.
Any survey on presidential re-election could consider several questions: Should Aquino continue as president after June 2016? Should the Constitution be amended to allow him to run again? Should we have Cha-cha to extend his current term? And others.
The introduction preceding the question when it is read to respondents is also crucial. Assuming they are asked about Cha-cha to allow re-election, the following possible prefaces would likely produce different results:
Preface A: President Aquino is considering re-election in 2016 to preserve his reforms.
Preface B: The Constitution bars a second term for the President, to prevent the rise of another dictator.
Preface C: After the Supreme Court ruled against DAP, President Aquino spoke about Cha-cha to let him run again and curb judicial powers.
All three introductions are factually correct (though Aquino critics may argue that he has instituted no significant reforms). But they would tend to skew answers in different ways. Hence, both questions and introductions are crucial to making the poll fair and focused.
The next round of quarterly SWS and Pulse Asia surveys will be in two weeks, toward the end of September. There is still time to draft and include questions on Aquino re-election or term extension in those polls.
Let’s do it, and show the President what his “bosses” really want.