Last week, Pulse Asia released its most recent survey, which put Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Grace Poe at a statistical tie at the lead. The survey was conducted between March 8 and 13, around the time that the Supreme Court—putting into question the justices’ arithmetic skills—ruled against the Commission on Elections’ decision to disqualify Ms. Poe from the presidential race.
We need to look beyond what seems to be, at face value, fleeting factors that make the leading candidates win or lose support. If there’s anything that we have learned from our classes in statistics, is that it is difficult to establish causal relations between a plethora of factors without going in depth with methodologies and analyses. Yes, we can contextualize the survey results based on the time frame the respondents were interviewed, but what the fluctuations in the wins and losses only show is that there is an arguably significant number of voters that are still on the fence on voting for any of the candidates.
What needs to be established is if the surveys can already identify a solid number of people with unwavering support for a candidate. So far, only one candidate’s numbers has exhibited a competitive solid numbers no matter the political circumstance during the time of the survey—Vice President Jejomar Binay with his consistent 20-22 percent rating.
Let’s look at this in a historical perspective in terms of previous elections. Sure, Ms. Poe led the 2013 senatorial elections, but the voting is not exclusive, since voters can choose up to twelve senators. Mayor Duterte only has his Davao City record as proof. The numbers of these candidates wildly fluctuate, putting into question how solid their electoral foundations and machineries are. On the other hand, Binay won over Mar Roxas in the 2010 elections, with 41 percent of the total votes. The numbers for VP Binay also shows a steady 20-22 percent voter preference despite all the muckraking. No other presidential candidate can boast of these solid numbers and we can safely assume that this is already locked in for the VP.
Presidential surveys have always been criticized one way or another: among others, it has been accused of priming the both the loyal and the undecided to an inevitable election outcome, especially those who tend to vote for whoever they think will win and not who they believe should. Then there’s the political economy of the elections, analyzing the results based on who commissioned the survey; ABS-CBN was behind the most recent Pulse Asia survey, and much has already been said regarding the network’s connections—as are potential conspiracy theories to be taken with a grain of salt.
And there are other effects the surveys produce, intended or not. Presidential surveys can be seen as a gauge of loyalty. As mentioned earlier, the surveys have yet to confirm the emergence of loyal supporters—those that have made up their minds and stuck with it, those on their horses long before the bandwagons, those that some camps are in dire need of. And by supporters, I mean two groups of people: the voters and the players. The loyalty of the voters can be measured by the survey companies and their statistical calisthenics, but the loyalty of the political players can be measured by different numbers. Surely, by din of loyalty alone, majority of the 41 percent who voted VP Binay in 2010 would most likely stick with their man.
The presidential surveys tell stories beyond mere voter preference; they are but flashpoints in a narrative of political loyalty and will, in a battle for the undecided and the fickle where the most steadfast despite mudslinging wins.
And then there are details that the surveys have yet to tell. Pulse Asia offers to clarify and answer questions regarding its surveys, and there is much to ask. In their press releases, Pulse Asia surveys usually show their data collapsed according to location and class. For location, the groupings are for NCR, the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao; for class, the categories are for ABC, D, E. It would be interesting to see if the groupings per area and class are assigned proportionally to national averages; otherwise, the surveys could be presenting a skewed perspective of national sentiment. Also, it would be interesting to really see how the E class would really vote. I am sure that VP Binay, who already pressed the flesh with this ground around the country, would severely defeat his rivals in the survey if the E class is properly represented.