Roxas 2nd spends P257 million on TV ads to boost ratings

Presidential candidate Manuel A. Roxas 2nd spent P257 million on television ads from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 to push up his ratings in the presidential preference polls undertaken by PulseAsia from Sept. 8 to 14, and by the Social Weather Stations from Sept. 2 to 5 as well.

Given the basic flaw of such polls as practiced in this country, the massive spending for ads in a month’s time – P9 million a day – raised Roxas 2nd’s ratings to 20 percent from the poll body’s survey in June, when only 10 percent of the respondents said they would vote for him in 2016.

The Roxas camp, I was told, has also put up billboards worth P100 million mostly outside Metro Manila to increase his name-recall. (Never mind, of course, that this practice is illegal before the official campaign period starts. “Just don’t say in the ad, ‘Vote for me’,” an election lawyer I asked explained.)

The TV networks supplied Roxas’ advertising costs, although instead of the actual billings, they used the advertising firm Nielsen’s rate cards, which contained the networks’ advertising rates, and for each time slot.

Roxas’ camp initially wanted the PulseAsia polls to be undertaken in August, right after President Aquino announced on July 31 that his DILG Secretary would be their party’s candidate for President in the 2016 elections.

The survey, however, was delayed for technical reasons. The polling firm in its report, though, still referred to Aquino’s “official endorsement” as one of the “key developments that took place in the weeks immediately prior to and during the conduct of the interviews for the survey.”

Roxas 2nd’s strategy was to conceal the impact of the massive TV ads. Instead, it portrayed the doubling of his ratings – from 10 percent in June to 20 percent in September – as a result of Aquino’s “endorsement” power.

Roxas 2nd’s campaign billboard: Good that can’t happen with TV ads.
Roxas 2nd’s campaign billboard: Good that can’t happen with TV ads.

Aquino’s cousin, Rafael Lopa, had been president of PulseAsia – that was just a few years back, during which he studied the intricacies and nuances of polling in the Philippines, including how to use it for propaganda. While neither Lopa nor any of Aquino’s relatives still remained with PulseAsia at the time of the September poll, it is believed that the Liberal Party or some financial supporter has been commissioning most of the firm’s surveys.

TV ads crucial
The reason why TV ads are crucial in presidential surveys is the fact that TV news now has become the main source of information for 50 to 70 percent of respondents, according to surveys I have seen.

Only 30 percent of respondents report that their main source of information is “family and friends.” Radio news accounts for 28 percent, while newspapers (mostly tabloids, and only one of them) 10 percent. Other surveys even report that only 5 percent of respondents say that they get their information on national issues and politics from newspapers. Despite all the hype on social media, it reaches barely 4 percent of voters, which is not surprising since most Filipinos are poor and don’t own PCs.

“Talo ka na kaagad, if you don’t have TV ads,” Richard Gordon, who ran in the 2010 presidential elections said. “We had no choice but to have TV ads, but then we didn’t have the money to sustain that,” he explained.

It is indisputable even among pollsters in the US that a survey’s timing is crucial in the kind of response interviewers receive from their sample. The Aquino camp, in collaboration with PulseAsia, has been adept in using this technique.

For example, in its bid to trigger a coup in 2007, PulseAsia all of a sudden came up with a survey that posed the question: “Who do you think has been the country’s most corrupt President?” President Arroyo came out as the most corrupt in that survey, with President Joseph Estrada, who was convicted of plunder, coming in third, after Marcos.

Of course she would, given that weeks and days before the survey, newspapers’ front-pages had banner headlines on allegations of corruption against Arroyo and her family – although not a single one of those allegations had been proven after seven years, so that today some other names than hers come to the fore when questions about corruption are raised. What respondent at that time would bother to jog his memory to remember Estrada’s graft money from jueteng and the tobacco excise tax?

Who asked and paid for the survey? “I did,” said Senator Sergio Osmeña 3rd at that time, one of the most vocal allies of Aquino. “Any problem with that?” the haughty senator said with an ear-to-ear grin.

Roxas’ face appeared in the ads for a month, and for a few minutes on primetime TV. That would somehow stick in viewers’ minds.

After that, a PulseAsia interviewer approaches a respondent and asks “Quick, quick, who would you vote for if elections were held today, and you’ve got to choose or you’d appear stupid?” Naturally, the respondents will choose the name of the first image that comes to their mind.

Note that PulseAsia and SWS have never asked a critical question that would change poll results very radically, as numerous critiques of opinion polling all over the world have pointed out. This is the question: Have you decided which candidate to vote for as President in the May 2016 election? Responsible and professional pollsters abroad would not force respondents to choose a candidate if he replied first that he hadn’t made his choice. More on that in my future columns.

It’s “quick, quick” because PulseAsia and its rival SWS often ask a respondent (would you believe?) 150 to 200 questions – “rider questions” they call these – for each of their survey “runs.”

These often include such market-research questions as the kind of toothpaste or deodorant a respondent uses, since a particular survey may involve dozens of “riders,” each with his own set of questions, for which they paid the pollster P50,000 to P1 million, for a sample of 1,200 respondents. (Why can’t PulseAsia and SWS, which claim to be champions of democracy, be transparent and tell us how many questions they ask, and what are these for every survey they undertake, and how much income they get for these?)

I wonder if PulseAsia and SWS ask before the who-will-you-vote-for question: Do you believe the allegations of corruption against Binay being investigated in the Senate?

We wouldn’t know whether such questions were asked unless these pollsters make public their actual survey questionnaire, but they have never done so.

This, dear reader, is what our purportedly noble exercise in democracy has come to. Toward May next year, the amount of TV ads a candidate can pay for could determine who would be in charge of the fate of 100 million Filipinos for the next six years.

And that’s why Aquino and Roxas, who have spent the past five years making sure that by hook or by crook they have the campaign funds, are confident they’ll still win, despite the utter mess they’ve done to the country.

Why Duterte begged off
I wouldn’t be surprised if ex-would-be presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte had heard of Roxas 2nd’s P257 million splurging on a TV ad campaign for just a month, and decided it’s useless for him to run.

Ignoring the reports that he was ill, Duterte likely refused to run because – despite all the prodding from his fans, who even held a demonstration in Manila to show him their support – the rich businessmen egging him on to run hadn’t really put their money where their mouths were. Other than the Dominguez and Alcantara clans of Davao, there hasn’t been a report of a tycoon taking action to support his bid. And both the Dominguezes and Alcantaras aren’t exactly the type to put up front “real” contributions in the scale of say P100 or P200 million.

Yes, that’s the kind of money our elite give to the candidates they bet on, with probably half of that going to the likely runner-up, and maybe even a third to a basement dweller. That’s why if you look back: those who ran for the presidency and vice presidency and lost, didn’t brood in melancholy, but often transferred to a more posh village or bought a Manhattan apartment.

I was told that yes, some businessmen were donating to Duterte’s campaign chest, but gave only ‘loose change,’ that is, in the scheme of things, a million pesos here, maybe 2 million there. Duterte was waiting till the last minute to get pledges of the real kind. But nothing came.

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