The Pros and Cons of Election Polling

Opposition to election polling comes from their tendency to inadvertently shape public opinion

With almost clockwork precision, the two major polling outfits – SWS and Pulse Asia – published their survey results on the ranking of senatorial candidates just before the start of the election campaign period this January. In both polls, the opposition bets are trailing behind, with only two (Mar Roxas and Bam Aquino) hanging by the skin of their teeth, so to speak. As expected, the top slots are occupied by re-electionists or easy-recall candidates, most of whom are associated with the Administration.

The results of these surveys again raised the issue of the value of opinion polling. Those favoring it note that from a campaign-manager’s standpoint, asking people from different socio-demographic groups what their preferences are is useful as they provide critical information on how the specific candidate’s campaign can be finetuned. More importantly, given chronic cheating in Philippine elections and the less-than-stellar performance of Comelec in tallying and canvassing votes, the survey results provide an important objective source of what the public pulse is. The polling outfits (SWS and Pulse Asia) have performed generally well in past elections in predicting winners and losers, including their rankings.

Opposition to election polling comes from their tendency to inadvertently shape public opinion, with the top-rating candidates getting an unwarranted early boost and the bottom-rating ones getting stigmatized as likely losers. For this reason, campaign managers, especially of those candidates in the lower rung, are against the publication of these polls. In a process that is plagued by sheer name-recall, opinion polls can indeed unduly penalize less-known but new and highly qualified candidates. 

But how much do voters get influenced by the results of opinion polls? As a voter, I don’t care much about them, but then I am probably not typical. And then, of course, there have been election upsets. On balance, I would still favor publication of poll results. Indeed, I would like that more polling agencies do this job. The more polls, the merrier. Let campaign managers do their jobs better.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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