Can surveys foretell victory in elections?
The quick and safe, if evasive, answer to that trick question is “Maybe, but then….” And we say it’s a trick because it could be a sly way of drawing out one’s political biases.
Voters exulting in the mammoth turnouts in the rallies of their favored candidates are often put down by reminders that elections are not won on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or TikTok in cyberspace but on the ground and ultimately at the polling precincts.
But then, neither are national elections won in preferential surveys where a small sample of 2,400 faceless respondents is made to speak for some 65,000,000 adult Filipinos expected to vote on May 9 in over 105,000 precincts scattered throughout the archipelago.
Pulse Asia posted this week the results of its Jan. 19-24 presidential preference survey showing ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as the top favorite with 60 percent, followed by Vice President Leni Robredo (16 percent), Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso (8 percent each), and Sen. Ping Lacson (4 percent). Our apologies for not naming the other candidates way down the list.
Such surveys are usually conducted as part of continuing research, or commissioned by a paying client. Parties that buy or order a survey sometimes want to gather data systematically to help them plan or monitor a program, such as an election campaign.
A commissioned survey is normally for the exclusive use of the client or customer. If its findings are disclosed to a much wider third-party crowd, they could influence public opinion, intentionally or not.
During an election campaign, survey results favorable to the client could have bandwagon effects if/when publicized, making the snapshot scores not only self-serving but also potentially self-fulfilling.
We’re not saying that Pulse Asia released the survey results to create such an influencing effect on the public, particularly voters, or to condition them to accept any suspicious election outcomes later.
The survey results show an impressive Marcos start. If he maintains his reported early lead and wins, he would stand out as a post-1986 president elected not by the usual plurality but by a clear majority vote.
In the earlier survey also conducted by Pulse Asia last Dec. 1-6, Marcos was already No. 1 with 53 percent, followed by Robredo with 20 percent. In January, he improved on his numbers.
Can Marcos maintain or build on his survey score? Can any of his rivals overtake him? Anything can happen, including his possibly sliding down, in the next 82 days before Election Day. We just have to review the recent past to see this possibility.
In the preference survey in December 2015, then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was No. 4 at 20 percent. Senator Grace Poe and then-Vice President Jojo Binay shared the top spot with 26 percent each. But when the votes were cast and counted, Duterte emerged as the winner. He beat the early frontrunners.
Then in the 2016 elections, Marcos was No. 1 in the survey among the candidates for vice president, with Robredo as No. 2. But Marcos eventually lost to Robredo, and his protest was unanimously thrown out after five years by the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
The favorable results of the last preferential survey can help Marcos stay ahead because people normally want to identify with the potential winner. Seldom will one insist on betting on a loser.
To some extent, the self-fulfilling effect of publishing the favorable results hint at an answer to the question: Can surveys foretell (or even spell) a victory in the elections?
Analysts delve into survey details
How was Marcos able to eke out a 60 percent top share in the last Pulse Asia survey? Some political analysts shared their views in an ABS-CBN News wrap-up.
Tony La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government said, “Marcos’ popularity can be traced to what his campaign has succeeded in projecting relative to the other candidates.
“This is not about even Marcos (historical) revisionism winning. It’s the failure of the other campaigns to articulate a better future under them. It’s about the people perceiving Marcos to offer a better future.
“He has gained the reputation of being a man who can change the Philippines, just like Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III in 2010, Joseph Estrada in 1998, and actor Fernando Poe Jr. when he nearly beat President Gloria M. Arroyo in 2004.”
Steve Michael Medina Moore Jr., marketing expert and admissions external relations head at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde: “Marcos’ vlogs have played a part in endearing him to Filipinos as a ‘regular guy’ who enjoys the same things they do.
“Kung titignan mo ’yung vlogs niya, may times wala siyang pinag-uusapan. Hindi niya dini-discuss ’yung platforms niya. Sometimes, he’s talking about the usual things na isang normal na tao na ginagawa, ’yung mga nakikita natin sa vlogs.
“It’s very normal, it’s very light, and somehow we can relate to that. Na someone like him, a Bongbong Marcos, kilala sa pulitika, kilala sa buong Pilipinas, normal din pala at ganoon ang mga ginagawa.”
Jayeel Cornelio, director of Ateneo De Manila University’s Development Studies Program, said Marcos has packaged himself as a man who can bring great change to the country: “He is a messiah, because the original messiah was murdered, was crucified. And now you’ve got a new messiah who’s coming back to life and he’s going to complete everything that the first messiah failed to do.”
He said this fits into a Christian narrative familiar to Filipinos: “In a nutshell, he is going to bring us back to the good old days that his father once led the Philippines in, the Golden Age.”