The key for 2022 is data analytics. A candidate with data rules, but a candidate who knows how to use data, wins.
Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on June 23, 2020.
Pre-coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), the election battlefields were ground and air war. By 2010, digital was incipient, but by 2016, it became the third arena that national candidates were able to use effectively. In 2019, metrices have been made to measure digital in terms of exposure, popularity and virality. Expenses then was 70 percent air and 30 percent ground. With the use of social media, it became 60 percent air, 20 percent ground and 20 percent digital.
Huge rallies were losing traction; 2001 was the start of political advertisements in electoral campaigns with the passage of Republic Act 9006 or the “Fair Elections Act of 2001.” TV was cornering a huge chunk of the campaign budgets, with placement predominantly cornered by the ABS-CBN network, and the changing frequencies of TV commercials vary every election cycle from per candidate to per station, etc. Radio remains relevant for echo and print is for radio commentators’ drill. The arena will change post-Covid-19 with physical distancing, wearing of masks and the ban on mass gatherings. How would a candidate reach out to voters?
Incumbents rule on 2022 because they, with Covid-19, should be able to know how voters feel, how every household got assistance, the nature of assistance that got traction, the mood of the voters and, most importantly, a database that is not just a list but a living and breathing list. The end of term, if properly handled, could endorse a candidate that can follow through with plans made for economic recovery. The year 2022 is not the time for challengers if the incumbents performed during Covid-19. If the incumbents failed, post-Covid-19 will be their only chance to recover and that is a short 19 months to design a trajectory to win by 2022.
We only have six months remaining in 2020 and 10 months in 2021 before the filing of the certificates of candidacy (COCs) in October 2021. The general registration has been suspended because of the pandemic. The Commission on Elections expected a total of 4 million new voters. The total registered voters (TRV) in 2019 was 61,843,771 and if the 4 million are registered, we will have a TRV of 65,843,771 by 2022. Campaigns will start in February 2022 and ABS-CBN Corp. has no franchise. The campaign theme has been defined; it is how the incumbents handled Covid-19 and how they made their constituents fearful, angry or hopeful of their situation with Covid-19. Public health is the defining theme for 2022.
The “new norm” means a lot of changes in politics and campaigns. For 2022, there will be less face-to-face rallies, recoridas, house-to-house, etc. Any activity requiring physical contacts will be a no-no. With Covid-19 as the central campaign theme, incumbents rule only if they did well in handling the pandemic. Fear, anger and hope will be the emotive factors in the arena. What becomes important are: 1) a clean database of voters, 2) demogs and psychogs, 3) knowing and understanding your base on every issue is vital, 4) use of tech to bridge the candidate with the voter, and 5) radio interviews and TV spots (without ABS-CBN, it’s a free-for-all with GMA7 lording it over Metro Manila).
Mobile will be the platform of engagement. One can do peer-to-peer and tele-town hall, among so many possible strategies. Still, awareness, trust and approval will be part of the equation. And with the sudden burst of survey firms using mobile (there are issues on this platform from sample selections, attrition, participation and confidentiality, timing and follow-ups and MOE), more and more data analytics will drive actionable information to guide campaign expenditures.
Face-to-face (F2F) random polls will be very hard to roll out. This would depend on the census scheduled in September this year if it can be implemented at all. F2F is risky, both for the enumerator and the respondent and the potential high non-response error. Several survey firms have cropped up of late, making polling no longer the monopoly of the two commercial survey firms of previous years. Survey by mobile or landline are problematic in the country. The principal problem is randomization, so others consider it as non-probabilistic, too, just like a panel survey. Focus group discussions will be the key to understanding the voters more prior to the filing of the COC.
There are advantages and disadvantages of mobile surveys. The main issue on the use of smartphones is privacy. “Cellphone surveys are easy to administer, best way to reach audiences who frequently use their smartphones, easier to filter out bots and ‘spyder’ programs with GPS (global positioning system), options versatile for answering questions and researchers can get real time or local input instead of waiting for respondents to log into computers.”
The disadvantages are: “Survey apps must be suitable for a variety of smartphones, some lengthy and complex questions may not be suitable (a maximum of 10 questions is the ideal), limited file size for app storage on respondent’s devices, wireless network availability could skew results and results are bias against demographics without smartphones or a data plan. In the country, 60 percent comprise the last mile and a huge number is still using 2G cellphones.”
Ground and air wars will be very creative to say the least. The challenges and opportunities are aplenty. The difference will all boil down to strategies never seen before. The key for 2022 is data analytics. A candidate with data rules, but a candidate who knows how to use data, wins.
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