Beyond Winnability

2016 should be a search for a leader who must be willing and able to “define reality with great clarity; engender trust by demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the selected strategies to make things better and provide more opportunity.” A lot of this can get lost in the fog of winnability.

Winning elections is not just all about money for if it were then the previous presidential candidates with oodles of money should have been president.  It is also not about winnability, it is more than that.  In fact, if one is so much ahead from the pack, the candidate can peak early or he can be the contrasting proposition to make a case for the others in the running, hence be the ripe fruit good for picking.

The challenge to any election is to get the right person for the job and not because of a Machiavellian streak of who is winnable or worst, who is the lesser of the two evils.  When electoral choice is limited to that, then only the loaded wins because they define the kind of candidate we should vote for and to a certain extent we give it up in favor of the gatekeepers – the holder of the money bags and the proverbial mind conditioning surveys.

2016 should be a search for a leader who must be willing and able to “define reality with great clarity; engender trust by demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the selected strategies to make things better and provide more opportunity.” A lot of this can get lost in the fog of winnability.

Another danger of seeing political leadership only as winnability is that the party may begin to see the national interest and its own partisan interest as the same, with all the implications for bad governance.

And we know that winnability also has to do with a capacity to raise campaign money — an “absolute necessity but which can also have a corrupting influence. Who pays the piper calls the tune.”

One result of the exclusive winnability strategy is that the campaign will just be trading of insults and a lack of trust between the two camps.  When visions, issues and programs are replaced by horse races and personalities, we limit our choices.

Taking the broader view would mean a different kind of campaign; more focused on substance, that includes a national debate so that the country gets an independent opportunity to assess the claims made by the candidates.

We cannot have the 2010 striptease on the release of an unfinished survey by a TV giant without informing the public that the spots used to measure were all bailiwicks of the 2007 opposition.  We cannot have the results of a pushed survey directly used for headline stories.  We just cannot afford the gaming of surveys cause it will surely be to the detriment of the public.


Senate Preference

Commercial survey outlets should do this country a great service by stopping horse races among undeclared names as well as stopping the public dissemination of the same.  Surveys are there to guide candidates and not to push the envelopes to voters in a non-election year and among names with varying measured capacity.

At a cost of Php250,000 a quarter at 60 names, that’s a whopping Php15 Million per quarter for just a copy of tables and charts.  And yet when you look at the results, the re-electionists, balik Senado, ran and lost are all at the top and some decent names, just because they have no national base, are below.  Methodologically, why mix them? And there is the issue that all names are not declared candidates, save for the automatically seeded re-electionists.

These survey firms need to stop the practice of doing horse races among oranges and apples and making the same public because it does not serve anything.  They need to stop this because it tilts the board in favor of those who have a base, a national name, has been doing media interviews and the works. No way can a new blood with a good record figure in the Top 12 among names picked from media assets and included in the awareness and preference tests in a nationwide survey.  The business model works for them but it does not serve the public well.

Worst, it primes the voters that only those who place in the Top 15 matter, so if a decent name does not climb up the Top 20, s/he should not run and yet nobody plans to be No. 1 in a senate run.  One only looks at the potential of being No. 1 if a candidate breaks rank 5 and that happens only during campaign period.  One rarely plans to be No. 1 in a Senate run unless one's measured capacity is 40 percent and above at the beginner's gate.


Presidential and Vice Presidential

Surveys on horse races made public also work against the non-declared candidates because they are shown the door early on.  This should not be the case because there are so many factors that one should consider in running.  One may be winnable but may not have a vision, program, organization and money. 

Worst, if one does not rank, the money dries up and no amount of labeling the potential candidate as decent, a good manager, etc. could undo the damage a survey has done.

At this level, all sorts of manipulation are made by all camps to suit the results of the survey to their favor.  And these manipulations make our system pliable to early negative operations, destroying the person (not yet declared) and thereby removing him from the frame.

A declared candidate is even placed in a bad position because all his acts are gamed. The gaming part already weakens the brand that even while ahead, issues are tested and determined whether it is a potential bomb that once released could cause the declared candidate to buckle down. 

In this present instant, the Vice President has declared his intent and from the public release of a nationwide survey, it appears that the more candidates in the arena, the worst off for him right now.  A one-on-one, on the other hand, gives the VP a unique strength to clobber a potential opponent.

A candidate behaves differently during campaign and any dipstick would show that.  A potential candidate not leading may change once we reach the campaign period.  The 90-day matters more than any pre-campaign poll and serious candidates know that.  Again, go back to the concept of measured capacity.

Some people do not subscribe to the proposition that the presidency is destiny.  If it were, then lets just not prepare.  It is destiny is a conclusion naysayers would want to promote against candidates who they do not support or it is a statement that ends all debate, right? If it were, destiny should have smiled kindly to Monching Mitra (with a huge LDP machinery) or Danding Cojuangco (money factor and natural bases) or Miriam Defensor Santiago (she had the youth and was very popular), Joseph Estrada (a mayor who dreamt of being president but did not realize early enough he was president already) or Noli de Castro (popular, has a mass base, probably the backing of a strong media conglomerate but no fire on his belly).

Some people say that the Presidency is for the public to offer.  Now that statement is a lot of bull because if it were then the true public clamor wont see any of the names banded around as the true leader of the people.  One runs for the Presidency not because of public clamor but because you have a vision where to take this country.  You have a plan to win and you have a team to manage and govern.  A clamor is just icing on the cake, if and when it happens.

Continuity of good policies is critical but no one has defined one self to better the issues of the day.  Corruption and non-performance has been thrown to certain personalities seeking the Presidency.  Being the candidate of the incumbent is being framed and primed as if the voters matter to them.  But what are the voters saying? Clear and crisp, “wala na bang iba?”  And yet, those with moist eyes for the position have not defined themselves outside of the establishment.  Why? You think you will win as a brand extension of an Aquino?


The difference of voter and vote

To exercise power is to win but we have seen that to win does not mean one can effectively govern and manage the imperatives of the Presidency.  Beyond winnability is being more than just a pragmatist.  Beyond winnability is looking at the full continuum of leadership.  Beyond winnability is setting aside horse races of undeclared candidates.  Beyond winnability is demanding commercial survey houses to stop horse races among unequals -- polls that tend to promote "reflexive prediction" wherein people will vote according to what is predicted.

Here is an example to prove this point.  A research was done where half were asked if it was "important to vote" and the other half were asked if it was "important to be a voter." With this one difference, the people who read the word "voter" were nearly 14 percent more likely to actually vote on Election Day. The researchers suspected that using the word "voter" caused people to identify themselves with the word. Since these people considered themselves to be voters, they were more likely to get out and vote.

On the other hand, using the word "vote" implied that the survey was asking the people to perform a task. Even if they answered "yes" to the question, they felt no association with the word (i.e., they weren't voters, they were just being told to vote), so they were less likely to follow through. One was about a simple action, the other was about being a type of person.

Question frames do matter in a close race.  Results (within the margin of error) during campaign period, is a battle on the margins. Swing votes rule and that is not destiny as 2010 showed us.


Published in Manila Times, August 12, 2014 :

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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