"Actual possession of these traits is different from the perception of having them."
A June 2021 survey conducted by Pulse Asia revealed the most important traits or characteristics that Filipinos are looking for in their national candidates.
The top choices that emerged nationwide, from a list of traits provided the respondents, were “has concern for the poor, pro-poor” (48 percent), “not corrupt” (47 percent), and “trustworthy and honest”(37 percent).
Other top traits were “has a good platform and can give solutions to the problems of the country” (32 percent), “fights anomalies in government” (25 percent), “untarnished name and reputation” (22 percent), “has good leadership skills” (22 percent) and “fulfills promises” (21 percent).
Meanwhile, unaided answers include “godly”, “has a good educational background”, “has word of honor”, and “does not curse.”
These answers alone will tell candidates where they have an edge and where they need help. They need to dig up, for instance, their track record and highlight the ways they are pro-poor, or not corrupt, and are trustworthy and honest.
Unfortunately, elections in this part of the world are not as much about what the candidates have done and can offer, but how they package themselves most attractively to the bulk of voters.
Hence, campaign teams can work simply on the perception that the candidates exhibit these qualities — even though nothing in their past actually supports the claim. Spin doctors can easily think of clever words to show that Candidate A is a champion of the poor, or that Candidate B has unassailable integrity, or that Candidate C has impressive educational credentials even when the facts say otherwise.
And because we live in a world driven by social media likes, shares, and coordinated inauthentic behavior, it could be easy to shape the narrative in the favor of a certain candidate even without basis in truth — so long as there are funds to oil the machinery.
Voters, then, must be discerning enough that not everybody who claims to be tough on corruption actually is. Not everybody who can afford to hand out wads of cash actually has the best long-term interests of the poor in mind.
It is heartening to note that the numbers of new and reactivated registrants exceeded the Commission on Elections’ targets, even in the midst of the pandemic. Now let’s hope that those new numbers are composed of critically thinking voters who are able to tell facts from mere posturing.