Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s surge to top the most recent voter surveys last month may have surprised even seasoned political pundits. But it shouldn’t, for there are clear factors driving the shift of support to the VP, after a year of losing ground.
After falling to a low of 21 percent last November, from 37 percent a year before, Binay’s rating rebounded to 26 percent in December and 31 percent early this month in Social Weather Stations’ voter preference surveys.
Leading rival Senator Grace Poe saw her 42 percent grade last June drop to 24 percent seven months later. The ratings of former Secretary Mar Roxas and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte showed little change over the same period, at about one-fifth of voters.
With such survey swings, the big question for election watchers is: Will Binay stay ahead till May? Leads had been overcome before in the four months till elections, as Gloria Arroyo did over Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004, and Binay himself over Roxas in the 2010 VP race.
What may make Binay’s lead durable, however, is that the factors apparently behind it could hold unless something dramatic happens. Consider these campaign drivers:
Poe’s disqualification cases
In the first half of last year, Poe seemed to gain the votes Binay lost due to administration efforts to raise corruption issues against him. In Pulse Asia’s poll last June, Poe overtook erstwhile topnotcher Binay, surging to 30 percent from single-digit ratings just six months before.
But with her disqualification cases prospering in the Commission on Elections in recent months, many of her backers seem to have gone to Binay and Duterte.
In December’s Pulse poll, Poe ranked third, with 21 percent of respondents choosing her, well behind Binay’s 33 percent and statistically tied with Duterte’s 23 percent. SWS surveys this month and last affirmed the trend, as reported above.
All this could change, of course, if the Supreme Court reverses the Comelec’s ruling late last year invalidating Poe’s certificate of candidacy for failing to satisfy citizenship and residency qualifications. The senator’s supporters underscored the impact of DQ decisions in recent broadcast ads asserting that the High Court would let her run as it did her adoptive father FPJ in 2004.
That prospect, however, faces a tough challenge: three senior justices have ruled in a Senate Electoral Tribunal case against Poe that she is not a natural-born Filipino, as required for both the presidency and the Senate.
The three were outvoted by five of the six senators in the SET, which allowed Poe to keep her Senate seat. But High Court magistrates may be swayed by their most senior colleagues’ constitutional views rather than political considerations.
Binay’s loyalist and LGU support
Another factor in Binay’s rise likely to continue is the solid base of public support, which has kept his ratings above 20 percent even through the worst attacks of administration politicians and media. A similar Arroyo loyalist core kept the faith in years of vilification.
Binay supporters have rebuffed corruption accusations, helping limit the impact on their family, friends and associates. And after the attacks subsided in recent months, these faithful won even more voters to their ranks.
Along with a solid core of supporters on the ground, Binay also cultivated friends and allies among leaders of local government units over the decades since then President Corazon Aquino named him Makati mayor in 1987.
These LGU allies and their grassroots operatives have also helped counter attacks against the VP. Their number will likely swell with his return to top poll position, plus the Senate’s decision on Tuesday to end its Binay hearings with no final report made public.
The senators’ action points to a further apparent development: administration stalwarts are quietly shifting to Binay or at least staying neutral to avoid antagonizing a future president. They may include those in the Samar faction of Aquino’s ruling clique, who supported his 2010 unofficial “Noy-Bi” tandem with Binay.
Limited gains for Roxas and Duterte
While Binay gained from Poe’s drop, Roxas didn’t. No surprise. The senator’s backers don’t care much for the administration; that’s why they want her. So when she dropped, her erstwhile supporters went for Binay and Duterte.
The limited administration appeal is no surprise either. While pro-Aquino media have kept his own ratings up, stubbornly high poverty rates, the horrendous Metro Manila traffic and commuter trains, dismal disaster response and recovery efforts, and Aquino’s dogged support for corruption-tainted allies have tarnished Daang Matuwid. Yet Roxas keeps using it in his ads.
As for Duterte, his gains upon filing his certificate of candidacy after months of apparent hesitation, have plateaued. Many like his tough talk against crime, drugs and corruption. But repeated remarks on using violence against crooks, and on the mayor’s personal life may have alarmed or appalled religious and traditional voters.
Moreover, the Davao mayor’s media spending, if not his campaign kitty, is nowhere near those of Binay, Poe and Roxas so far. Ditto Duterte’s nationwide links with LGU leaders and legislators, though that could quickly change if he hits the top of the charts with an insurmountable lead. Even then, four months may not be enough time to catch up on the funding and network fronts.
Lastly, Duterte’s policy pronouncements have yet to broaden much beyond crime and graft issues, limiting his appeal among sectors with other major concerns like the economy, national security, education, and poverty. He will expound on these matters eventually, but that would only be playing catch-up.
So bottom line: Poe still faces disqualification, Roxas and Duterte have yet to really surge, and Binay backers are up. If these trends continue and no surprise development derails the VP in the next 13 weeks, he may well be on the path to Malacañang Palace.