Oh please, surveys are just guides!

When surveys are released, immediately media kicks in with an array of interpretations, even declaring whoever is ahead as already the winner. When much has to do with the research design (qualified voters, likely voters or registered voters) and question framing and then you will have the field work and the data crunching that eats almost three to four weeks causing a result that is dated when released. And that is where the problem lie–we react on dated results.

When surveys are released, immediately media kicks in with an array of interpretations, even declaring whoever is ahead as already the winner. When much has to do with the research design (qualified voters, likely voters or registered voters) and question framing and then you will have the field work and the data crunching that eats almost three to four weeks causing a result that is dated when released. And that is where the problem lie–we react on dated results.

When surveys are released, it dovetails into a conditioning pattern that anyone interested in interpreting can make and sway. The news arc is such that it extends and is milked until the next release, thereby ensuring a storyline to promote. And this is what is known as reflexive prediction or “certain predictions are such that their accuracy can be affected by their dissemination, by their being believed and acted upon.” At the end, it is about horse races, not issues or policies, programs and activities that matter to all voters. Get ahead in a survey and get the biggest media organization to promote the results, you just kill democracy, making campaigns and elections immaterial. Juan dela Cruz will go with the popular and suddenly, they are no longer bobotantes since they support media’s darling.

Survey results are so delayed that candidates are already on another cycle but they need to stop to attend to a 3-4 week old survey results. Thus, almost everyone tries to explain the results based on prevailing conditions when field work took place. When the results are released piece meal, then a candidate can have at least two or three good weeks on the news cycle and there lies the mind conditioning. But since not all parts are released in one swoop, candidates will have to be creative in spinning results that does not serve the public any good.

Most often, after leading in surveys, candidates tend to move within the margin of error and that is where and when campaigners often have to deal with reality, where is the beef? That the election agenda is the beef is something lost among media practitioners. Imagine to say that candidate X is already “a sure winner” having “surged ahead,” without any declaration yet? Again, there is such a thing that a candidate cannot hit the 40 percent on pre-campaign because of the principle of heating up too soon, peaking too fast or plateauing. There is another principle in campaign science that states that candidates behave differently pre-campaign and campaign proper. But then again, who cares, right? The bandwagon is declared early and everyone wants to be with the winner, right? Truly mind conditioning.

A popular candidate despite the lack of wherewithal, and we are not talking about resources but what it takes to be President or leader of our country at this time, is set aside. As a political consultant, you would want your candidate to be the leader of the pack. You would want to have a candidate that is popular because that is half of the game. But there are the other percentages that matter and define one’s candidacy, and these are the issues and what programs a candidate is offering. That is why continuity can’t be the sole determinant, for if it is, whoever the candidate BSA3 will support has a greater advantage. And we know that is not the case because change continues to define things in any political jurisdiction, at whatever level.

In political management, there are phases to follow: pre-campaign, campaign, E-day. Pre-campaign begins 18 months before May 2016. Campaign is just 90 days for national and 45 days for local. While Election Day takes into account organizational strength of the candidate. You see in campaigns, a candidate would need three types of organizations: one for voters, another for logistics and one for vote protection.

So when surveys are said to “make or break a candidate’s bid for office,” we end up in dire shape cause voter’s decisions are supplanted with surveys and media. That is why candidates want to do more ads and spend more in pre-campaign so they increase in surveys. Ads become a game of frequencies and bombardments and electoral agenda are the least covered and discussed. That then makes the campaign period all the more hard to manage since voters, by the time and with the bombardment, tune out.

The worst survey is the “pick three best leaders to succeed.” They justify it as being fair because there are no candidates yet for the position of President or Vice President. So essentially, the question is top of mind. Since it is pick 3, they don’t even rank how many times a name is picked first, second and third. Why? The question is framed as, “Sino- sino sa palagay nyo and mga magagaling na lider na dapat pumalit…? (up to three answers only). Top of mind does not mean “magaling.” Why pick three? And worst, media correlates preference in one survey and being top 3 as having causality?

Should we not be talking about price of electricity, agriculture and food security, budget reform and bureaucratic adjustments? How about Asean integration, West Philippine Sea, Sabah, etc. how best to assist our OFWs? How about universal health care, free college education, tourism and infrastructure? What about airports, trains, MRTs, or even just basics of licenses and plates? What about the rehabilitation of Yolanda, an unfinished business? Whatever happened to the Lacson report? The Mamasapano recommendations from so many agency reports made? There are so much more to discuss and agree upon and yet the national conversation is pegged on surveys, particularly, horse races!

It has been said, “The media transforms the great silence of things into its opposite. Formerly constituting a secret, the real now talks constantly. News reports, information, statistics, and surveys are everywhere,” and when pervasive, the real conversation gets derailed. And so, what is the difference between actor-politicians and an academically prepared and having the necessary experience to lead this nation? If surveys measure popularity, let’s not have an expensive charade. Let the survey firms SWS and Pulse Asia pick the President, Vice President and senators. We save the Republic from a huge election outlay.

 

Published in Manila Times on June 22, 2015:  http://www.manilatimes.net/oh-please-surveys-are-just-guides/194151

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheLOBBYiST.
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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