Monday, March 29, 2010

“Word of Mouth” is More Influential Than Surveys

Various studies have shown that “word of mouth” campaigning is more effective in influencing voters than opinion surveys. This is especially true in Iloilo City - where everyone seems to know everyone – and if you ask anybody why they “like” a certain candidate, chances are he will tell you that he was approached and convinced by a friend, a relative, a neighbour, a professional colleague, a classmate or maybe just by someone in his locality whom he respects (like the barangay captain, for example). Or maybe the candidate himself may have talked to him. As the saying goes, “all politics is local and local politics is indubitably personal.” As such, “face-to-face, one-on-one, word-of-mouth” campaigning is still the best and most effective form of campaigning at the local level. Voters, most especially Ilonggo voters, hardly ever vote for a certain candidate just because they saw his poster and just because the surveys say he will win. In local politics, the candidate who has the largest and most efficient grassroots machinery wins. Most politicians know this and this is probably the reason why Trenas and Mabilog, although they are supposedly “leading” in the surveys, are not complacent and are currently doing the kapihan rounds, rigorously going house-to-house. Even though various surveys show them supposedly leading by 30% plus points over the Gonzalezes, the two are still not confident of winning. Thus, Trenas and Mabilog themselves are giving lie to surveys because if I was a candidate enjoying a 30% lead over my rival, I would not even bother to go out of my house to campaign.

The real value of surveys, as candidates themselves will admit, is that they can use it to generate campaign donations. A presidential or senatorial candidate for example can easily convince businessmen to shell out big bucks to his campaign if he is rating high in the surveys. But the situation in the local level is very different from the national. In Iloilo City for instance, most local businessmen already have their political loyalties set. Prominent Ilonggo businessmen for the most part have already chosen their side and seldom do they give to several or all candidates. Thus, because of this peculiar dynamics, surveys are not as effective as in the national level in terms of generating financial support from campaign donors.

For the last three elections (2001, 2004 and 2007), the local survey outfit Random Access Consultants, Inc. (RACI) has consistently predicted the demise of the Gonzalezes in Iloilo City politics. Time and again, they have been proven wrong. During the last 2007 elections for example, RACI survey findings consistently showed Congressman Raul Gonzalez Jr. lagging behind his opponents Mansueto Malabor, Benjie Gengos and even Dan Cartagena. But after the votes were tallied, results showed Raul Junior winning overwhelmingly with a 45,000 vote majority over his closest rival! And I think no one can claim that the last elections were fraudulent – the 2007 elections was in fact one of the most peaceful and orderly elections in Iloilo history. My question then is: how could RACI have missed so badly? As it turned out, it was not even a close fight and if their survey methodology was correct, RACI’s findings should have shown that Raul Junior was way ahead his rivals. And yet despite its horrible track record in predicting elections, radio commentators, print columnists and other local media people continue to discuss and carry news stories about RACI’s latest survey findings as if it was the gospel truth. Not a single media entity has pointed out the fact that RACI has been calling it wrong for several elections now.

This only reinforces my suspicion that surveys nowadays are conducted not really to measure but actually to influence public opinion. Today, RACI is at it again conditioning the minds of Ilonggos that the “men to beat” in Iloilo City are Jed Patrick Mabilog for mayor and Jerry Trenas for congressman. I have yet to see RACI’s latest survey but I am sure that it will be showing more of the same findings. But I believe the people of Iloilo City are already wary of RACI and other “survey-surveys,” given their deplorable track record, and that a big majority of Ilonggos are not influenced by their mind-conditioning attempts anymore.

I am not privy to how RACI formulates its survey methodology and questionnaires because they usually do not show and explain them to the public. But I wouldn’t be surprised if RACI is still using the old “one-on-one, face-to-face interview” method wherein surveyors (usually pretty college undergrads) go to your home to ask you a set of questions from a predetermined questionnaire. For the information of the public, this method is no longer being used in America and other First World countries because it has been proven to be flawed. There is a now infamous incident in America wherein the big newspapers, trusting the prediction of the Roper Polls, all carried the headline “Dewey Wins” only to be proven wrong afterwards because, as it turned out, it was actually Harry S. Truman who won the election. After that election came the usual Congressional investigation and the lawmakers concluded that the methodology used by the polling firm was flawed. After that debacle, Roper and other American polling outfits reformed their methodologies but to this day, Roper has never quite regained its credibility as a polling firm.

The “one-on-one, face-to-face interview” method is flawed because the interviewer could very well influence the subject thru “visual cues” and subtle body languages. Also, survey firms usually give all barangays equal “weight” so therefore, the candidate who carries the most number of barangays is theoretically the winner. But obviously, Barangay Barrio Obrero which has 4,000 voters should have more “weight” than Barangay Roxas Village which has only around 300 voters. And what if, for example, Gonzalez Senior wins in the 80 biggest barangays and Mabilog carries the 100 smallest barangays? Gonzalez Senior will still win because the sum total of the top 80 biggest barangays is more than the sum total of the 100 smallest barangays in Iloilo City. Even if Trenas carries Arevalo, Molo, City Proper and Mandurriao, and Raul Junior wins only in Jaro and Lapaz, the latter will still win because the total voting population of Jaro and Lapaz is greater than the voting population of all the four districts combined. I sincerely would like to know if RACI was able to formulate an algorithm which takes into consideration this peculiar facet of Iloilo City’s political topography.

Surveys are only a “snapshot,” a partial and incomplete picture of political reality. And surveys are a faulty, imperfect method of predicting elections since it does not simulate the realities and nuances of electoral politics in the Philippines. Come election day, no one from Comelec will go to your house, give you your ballot, take your vote and bring your ballot to the precinct so that it can be counted. On election day you have to wake up early, shower and dress up, walk or motor to the public school where your precinct is located, and once you've found your precinct, line up under the intense heat of the summer sun in order to cast your vote. Thinking and doing are two vastly different things. Thinking or even saying that you will vote for someone is very different from actually voting for that someone. In the Philippines, as elsewhere, the candidate who has the larger machinery that could convince people thru "word of mouth" to vote for him usually emerges as the winner.

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