Do surveys matter?

One conducts surveys to uncover answers, evoke discussion, base decisions on objective information, compare results and rely on actionable information to put together strategies whether in business or in politics.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on September 1, 2020.

Surveys matter because these tell you the direction of things, the pulse of the people, how the ground beats and, sometimes, how stupid people are in believing so-called social media influencers without studying methodology, the date the surveys were done, the type of the sampling, how the questions were asked and many more factors. One conducts surveys to uncover answers, evoke discussion, base decisions on objective information, compare results and rely on actionable information to put together strategies whether in business or in politics. Surveys are a snapshot of a point in time. But put together in a time-series graph, one can predict with accuracy how things will shape. Even a simple trajectory could mean victory or defeat.

Unfortunately, more and more people do not understand surveys; most especially when the numbers are not in their favor; or, worse, when they feel there is a muzzled attempt to hit some tribes back because of the timing of release. When not in their favor, they hit the firm or the individual with incredulous framing; you name it, from destroying the reputation of the firm to insinuating things against the owner of the firm. When released right after the so-called national address of the vice president that “Pahayag SONA was made to negate the rise of the vice president.” Clearly, the stretch is too much. Who would know that a vice president will do a national address? That has not been done before. Pahayag SONA was from August 1 to 11 to measure post-SONA on the following variables: “state of the economy and economic prospects; government response to Covid-19; national political issues, SONA; national leaders and institutions; love, concern, and care of leaders (LCS index and decisiveness); media habits online; 2022 electoral predisposition; among others.”

Surveys today can no longer be face-to-face because of the pandemic. Enumerators will have a hard time traveling and administering the questionnaire by knocking on doors. Respondents will not open the door to a masked stranger. Hazard fees need to be included in a random sampling, which could further increase costs. Hence, today there are various surveys that are done by panel (purposive sampling), online, on mobiles and via landline. There are inherent problems in the country on all options: online because rural Philippines, which is a big portion of the geography, is part of the Last Mile; mobile in 2019 per Statista was around 57.6 percent of the population used a smartphone, making reliability an issue because numbers are not unique to a person, majority of which are pre-paid and, again, the rural Philippines is on a 2G platform and fixed-line penetration is problematic. The country has never used phone banks; therefore, much is being done to ensure that surveys pass the rigor of methodology.

After establishing capability, the next step is to know who are the people behind the surveys. Attacks have been made against Publicus because it is a political consulting firm. What people do not get is that it has been doing commissioned surveys for its clients since 2007 or 13 years. These clients are international, national and local. It has decided to do noncommissioned reports via the brand Pahayag in 2017 as a way of doing survey much better on two fronts: speed and actionable information. Speed because dated results are not useful to anyone subscribing to a survey ‒ a result made known three months after is history. Actionable information is “meaningful data that is useful to making a decision or solving a problem. The term is used to distinguish between information that can improve things and information that serves as interesting trivia.” Actionable information is timely, accurate and precise, credible and relevant. Actionable information is not merely data. It is data plus analysis, interpretation all inputted in a communication framing.

Approval and trust ratings are vital in measuring leadership. Approval is time-bound while trust is long-term. Approval is the here and now but trust is one’s currency for the future. Low trust would mean inability to convert when preference is measured. But to measure preference (gustong iboto) while no one is a candidate yet is wrong. That is trending. That is why Publicus has introduced the metric known as predisposition (napupusuang iboto) in its survey. Presidential approval is also a stronger indicator of voter choice than satisfaction with the country. Publicus does not agree with net approval or net dissatisfaction. Clearly, it is approved or disapproved, satisfied or not.

It has also introduced emotional quotient (EQ) in measuring political leadership via the love, care and solidarity index and decisiveness. Why? Because 21st century voters tend to look more at EQ than IQ. In fact, “IQ and EQ are not enough. A new type of leadership capability, political intelligence, PQ, is required. PQ is ‘the leadership capacity to interact strategically in a world where government business and wider society share power to shape the future in a global economy.’” Daniel Goleman said: “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.…My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world; an incisive, analytical mind; and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” And that is why the current president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, relates well with Filipinos despite the inability to conform to what we have been used to in a leader.

With the current administration in its last two years, Duterte stands at 65-percent approval and 55-percent trust as of August 2020. These ratings are highest when compared with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s approval (26 percent) and trust (25 percent) and former president Benigno Aquino 3rd’s approval (59 percent) and trust (56 percent). Based on the last face-to-face survey done by Pulse Asia in 2019, the approval of Duterte stood at 87 percent. It should be noted that Duterte’s approval has slid but it remains the highest among presidents in their last two years and with Covid-19 at that.

Duterte’s disapproval is at 20.9 percent. If we break that down by supra regions, Duterte logs: National Capital Region (35.5 percent), Northern Central Luzon (35.4 percent), Southern Luzon (30.4 percent), Visayas (41.5 percent) and Mindanao (61.7 percent). He therefore remains strongest in Mindanao, with Visayas-Mindanao as a considerate base. Will he be able to bring it back to a high 80s, or will it contract as it nears the end of his term? One thing is sure, Mindanao will remain a base going to 2022, and the Visayas is a stronghold.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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