POLLING work, from a couple of years ago till now, has yet to identify a clear leader in the presidential race with major shifts every now and then. Here is a brief chronology.
Vice President Jejomar Binay was the undisputed choice in the routine polling before the campaign proper. The lead of Binay in mainstream polling (pre-campaign) was such that political scientists, political junkies and even armchair theorists had conceded that it was all over but the election proper. Who would not be in awe with Mr. Binay’s impressive numbers in earlier times?
At some point before the campaign proper, Mr. Binay, armed with his soaring numbers, was welcomed like a visiting royalty in every nook and cranny that he went to. Regional and lesser political gods paid obeisance to Mr. Binay, the “inevitable president.” In my home province, I saw him once in a parade where he glowed like a Homecoming King.
Then came the months of his media nightmare. (It is ongoing but less shrill now.) Screaming headlines and equally siren-blaring 30-seconders on prime-time TV proclaimed him as “The Crook.” Senators opposed to a possible Binay presidency added to the nightmare of Mr. Binay by undertaking a Senate inquiry on his alleged corrupt ways that stretched on for eternity. For the record, the Senate inquiry on the corruption charges against Mr. Binay lasted longer than the inquiry on the JFK assassination.
At his low moments, Mr. Binay, the once “inevitable president” had a hard time finding a running mate and all those grand plans from the various political parties to coalesce around his UNA had been called off.
The media woes of Mr. Binay were the entry point for Senator Grace Poe’s appearance in the presidential race. She knew one thing, only she can compete with Mr. Binay mano y mano. She snatched the polling lead from Mr. Binay after two or three incremental increases, aided by a drip drip of negative stories on alleged rigged billion pesos worth of Makati contracts. Ms. Poe would enjoy several months as polling leader, until she faced a challenge that also generated screaming headlines on the true state of her citizenship. Is she a natural-born citizen or not?
Ms. Poe was spun as the central character, the tragic lead actress, In journalism that rivaled telenovelas, including stories that she was not a foundling but a kin of the Marcoses. They were enough to wipe out Ms. Poe’s lead in the polls Not even the most influential showbiz denizens, the type that produce the inane shows that generate 20 million plus tweets, were enough to prevent Ms. Poe’s formidable numbers from slipping to 2nd or 3rd.
The new leader, who was responsible for sinking both Mr. Binay and Ms. Poe was Digong Duterte, the mayor of Davao City, whose brash persona and tough words made many feel that his toughness was needed to give order to an unruly, undisciplined country. Mr. Duterte, unbound by the usual rules on political civility, attracted support from across all sectors. On the promise that there would be zero tolerance toward crooks and criminals alike under his presidency, Mr Duterte was crowned leader of the polls.
He was late in realizing that colorful political language has a tolerance threshold, and when he took on the priests and Pope Francis and expounded on his libertine views on morality, the national mood that made him a favorite turned sour.
His verbal spat with Mar Roxas, the candidate endorsed by the LP and Mr. Aquino, and a perennial polling doormat, abetted his slide as a polling leader.
In the aftermath of the tawdry Duterte-Roxas spat, Mr. Binay enjoyed his Christmas as the polling leader anew. The yearend polls showed him with top numbers, some 10 points ahead of the second placer. It was also perceived by the public as the season for a negative Supreme Court ruling on Poe’s citizenship issue. In a piece on that period, I wrote that the voters saw the merit of Mr. Binay’s political adulthood.
The SC ruling on Poe’s disqualification did not come. One or two justices were reported to be sympathetic toward foundlings. That was enough to make Poe the polling leader in the latest survey on presidential preference.
The volatility of the mood of the Filipino electorate appears to be the only constant in the 2016 presidential race. Or, maybe this: the doormat standing of Mr. Roxas, the best credentialed candidate in the presidential race.
By most conventional measures, the 2016 race was not supposed to consign Mr. Roxas to the role of a polling kulelat. He trained at Wharton, served in the HOR and in the Senate, and he served three presidents : Erap, Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Aquino. His pedigree is as compelling—the grandson of the first president of the 1946 republic and son of a senator.
He has been endorsed by Mr. Aquino and named torch bearer of his “Daang Matuwid” legacy (let us assume that there is indeed a legacy.)
Despite all these, Mr. Roxas’s story has been one of political inconsequence. The polling, unless he gains dramatic strides in polling next month, dooms him as a loser.
Political literature post-May will probably be about two main topics. One will be glowing stories about the winner in the 2016 race. The second will be about the inconsequence of Mr. Roxas’s presidential quest.