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False polls: Uncle’s survey boosts Poe’s ratings

I’m not sure Senator Grace Poe had anything to do with it, principled as she seems to be.

But the recent “best-leaders” poll by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) headed by her uncle, Mahar Kelley Mangahas, who is the first cousin of her dad, the late Fernando Kelly Poe Jr., appears to me as another one of the many SWS episodes that depict a “trend” showing a political figure becoming a formidable candidate for the presidency.

SWS on April 15 released results of its latest survey done about a month ago, which asked respondents who they thought were “the best leaders (“magagaling”) to succeed President Aquino” after the end of his term in 2016.

Very cunningly, the SWS didn’t ask who they would vote for as president. Any social scientist would tell you that opinion polls are mostly accurate and useful in voter-preference surveying as the respondent is asked to report an intention, a future action, rather than a whim or a passing thought.

However, to pretend that its poll was one that asked its respondent about their voting preference for the president, SWS prefaced its question with the following statement: “According to the Constitution, the term of Pres. Noynoy Aquino is up to 2016 only, and there will be an election for a new President in May 2016.”

But the SWS poll is patently not a voter-preference survey in which a respondent chooses only one candidate. This emulates the actual election in which a voter choosing more than one candidate automatically invalidates his ballot.

In contrast, in the SWS “best-leaders” poll, a respondent is allowed to pick three “best leaders” to succeed Aquino. “Maari po kayong magbanggit ng hanggang tatlong sagot, [You may mention up to three names]” according to the survey questionnaire.

It’s a clever trick for exaggerating a candidate’s chances in a presidential contest: A poll for fools.

Polls or propaganda tools?: SWS “best-leaders” surveys, recent and past
Polls or propaganda tools?: SWS “best-leaders” surveys, recent and past

While it is not a voter-preference survey, as if on cue, the Philippine Daily Inquirer — and most media outlets — reported it as such a poll for the presidency, and had it as its banner story: “Poe cuts down Binay lead,” with its lead paragraph reading: “As she closed in on Vice President Jejomar Binay as the voter’s choice for the next President of the Philippines, Sen. Grace Poe said she was inspired by the people’s approval of their work.” Obviously, this was SWS’s intention for its “best-leaders” survey, to fool the media.

However, since the SWS poll wasn’t a voter-preference poll, which would require only one choice from the respondents, it can’t be used to compare the percentage of those who preferred Binay against those who preferred Poe, simply because a respondent was asked to give three choices as the “best leader to succeed Aquino.”

This is because a respondent in that kind of SWS poll could choose both Binay and Poe, and even a third choice as his choice as among the best successors of Aquino.

To illustrate this, if you ask tech-savvy respondents to name the three best computer operating systems, the percentages would probably be 40 percent Windows and 40 percent Mac OS X and 10 percent others. But if you ask them what operating system they will buy, the results (according to a Philippine poll) would be 92 percent Windows and only 4 percent OS X.

Mamasapano hearings
Cleverly in the case of the SWS “best-leaders” poll, the survey was undertaken at the height of the Mamasapano hearings, which Poe chaired to consequently boost her name-recall so more people remembered to put her in their list. So, Poe was named in the recent SWS poll by 31 percent of the respondents, up from 21 percent in December. Does that mean, she is, as two broadsheets reported the poll, “closing in on Binay?”

Certainly not. Because some of the 31 percent of respondents who put Poe among the “best-leaders” list had at the same time also picked Binay – or Mar Roxas, or Rodolfo Duterte or a third leader.

How many? We can’t say from the polls’ design. None or even all of Poe’s 31 percent theoretically also picked Binay. The only way to find out is to undertake an honest-to-goodness voter-preference survey, not the hogwash of a poll the SWS did, with the question: “Who will you vote for President, and you may, as the actual balloting will require, pick only one. “

I’d like to give Mr. Mangahas the benefit of the doubt that he is just doing his pollsters job. But I find it difficult to do so when a few days after he released the SWS’s garbage “best-successors” poll, Mangahas disclosed the results of an authentic voter-preference poll, but only for the vice-presidency.

The SWS says the two polls were both undertaken on March 20-23. Most likely, both were undertaken in the same “run,” that is, the two questions were asked by the same pollster in one interview of the same person.

So why didn’t SWS undertake a presidential voter-preference survey (“Who would you vote for as President in 2016,” but instead, only a vice-presidential one, and a best-leaders poll?

The answer is so obvious. Poe would get a high rating, such as 31 percent in the “best-leaders” poll, especially after the Mamasapano hearings, which would, anyway, be interpreted by the gullible media as a presidential poll. And with an authentic voter-preference poll for the vice-presidency released right after, media — and the people – will think that the “best-leaders” poll had the same reliable design as the vice-presidential poll.

In a real presidential-preference poll, in which a respondent would have to pick Poe to the exclusion of Binay, Mar and other candidates, she’d get much less than that.

One indication of this is that in the last (March 1-7) presidential-preference poll undertaken by Pulse Asia on who respondents would vote for as president, Binay got 29 percent while Poe received 14 percent. In a two- or three-cornered fight, I would bet – from past elections and polls – Poe would get much lower ratings.

So wrong
Except for the top-rated choice, SWS’ “best-leaders” polls have been so wrong in predicting the outcome of presidential elections. In the last SWS “best-leaders” poll before the May 2010 elections, Aquino obtained a 59 percent rating, 17 percentage points higher than the actual 42 percent he got in the elections. The runner-up, though, Joseph Estrada, who got 26 percent of the votes, was ranked only fourth in the “best-leaders” poll, with 18 percent.

So clever is Mangahas’ best-leaders poll, don’t you think? And so useful, as contributors use such polls to hedge their bets at this early stage. I suspect the SWS polls have opened the spigot of campaign financing a bit for Poe from the more gullible financiers.

Pollsters in other nations have been ethical not to employ such a “trending” device. I have yet to find a pollster anywhere in the world — and even here — who does what Mangahas has been doing with his “best-leaders” false polls.

In fact, if you’re one among probably millions of Filipinos now regretting why on earth they voted for Aquino in 2010, you can put part of the blame on the SWS “best-leaders” poll.

Hardly had the mourning period for Corazon Aquino, who died Aug 1, 2009, ended, when the SWS used its “best-leaders” tool to portray Aquino as the next president.

Its “best-leaders’ poll undertaken Sept 18-20 that year reported that 60 percent of Filipinos picked Aquino as Arroyo’s successor from nearly nothing (0.4 percent) before his mother died. It was a rating that suddenly deflated the front-runner Manuel Villar’s standing and likely created a bandwagon effect. That, of course, had donations suddenly flowing to Aquino, helping create a “trending” to elect somebody who would be the most incompetent Philippine president ever.

SWS’s earlier king- (and queen-) maker attempts, however, have not always been successful:

Loren Legarda got a high 44 percent in the SWS September 2007 “best-leaders” poll. Her ratings in that poll would fall to 3 percent by November 2009 and lower to 1 percent in the latest. Is Poe the new, improved Loren?

Noli de Castro got 35 percent in March 2008 (higher than Poe’s latest 31 percent). His ratings fell to 3 percent by November 2009.

Francis Escudero ratings had seemed to be on the way up, rising from 13 percent in 2007 to 23 percent by February 2009. It’s at 8 percent in the latest “best-leaders” poll.

This SWS kind of polls bolsters my view, which I have explained in past several columns, that in this country, opinion polls have been degraded into a political weapon and a propaganda tool. Only a few backward countries, in fact, report voter-preference polls on the front pages. Here it is routinely done and even brandished with screaming banner headlines.

The politicking season in our country is a time when pollsters make their millions, but we have to be critical of those since they could subvert democracy. What is a scientific tool in civilized countries has been debased in our country as a tool for propagating an irrational name-recall system for determining who would lead the nation next.