Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Issue #69

The question of surveys continues to puzzle people, primarily because of the suggestion that aside from opinion polling, there may be other ways to gauge the standing of candidates. The most recent polls, by Pulse Asia and Octa Research, both have Marcos maintaining a commanding lead.

On the other hand, the widely-noticed (and commented upon) lack of enthusiasm and verging on anemic attendance at the Marcos rallies, the delirious enthusiasm and respectable, even impressive, attendance at the Roredo rallies, not to mention recent endorsement by local government figures, makes the Marcos lead in the polls, somewhat counter-intuitive.

My column addresses this; this week’s #ProyektoPilipino on the other hand, discusses surveys from a civics perspective.


This week’s The Long View

Seeing red | Inquirer

Yesterday what can only be described (charitably) as the lunatic fringe, gathered at the Edsa People Power Monument. Led by an ex-general, the small motley crew thundered and shrilled about the Comelec choices, plus the communists, putting him on the same wavelength as online boosters of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who’ve been shrieking with increasing shrillness about the communists, and furthermore insisting an operation is in the works to steal the election. Last March 9, in her Facebook, Loyalist doyenne Clarita Carlos had ominously warned, “EVIL plan to cook survey numbers to justify cheating on May 9 … dire consequences … sama sa lasa!”

Yet the surveys all along, and until now, including the most recent ones of OCTA (55 percent Marcos, 15 percent Robredo) and Pulse Asia (60 percent Marcos, 15 percent Robredo) both undertaken in February, show the darling of the lunatic fringe and the loyalist crowd to be leading. So where is this mysterious conspiracy theory coming from?

The Marcos sorties — when the candidate has decided not to show up because he had to attend a wedding or other reasons — have been remarkable for what can only be described as surprisingly small turnouts and shockingly low energy attendees. Add to this that in contrast to, say, the Robredo volunteer-driven, bottom-up campaign, the Marcos one is as traditional as it gets (except for harnessing Sino-Russian online techniques) with its reliance on machinery, where the news hasn’t been so good of late.

Three governors, Defensor of Iloilo, Fernando of Bulacan, Ongchuan of Samar, affiliated with the National Unity Party, have endorsed Robredo, as did Evardone of Eastern Samar, who belongs to the President’s party, with both Evardone and Ongchuan pointing to the President as their reason for doing so. The President himself, in one of his recent ravings, said something to the effect that the next president ought to be a lawyer and kindhearted, with, furthermore, Cusi of the woebegone PDP-Laban taking up this supposed presidential cue, leading to confusion as to whether the President might do the unthinkable, which is endorse the Veep.

What if they are using the President as camouflage to disguise their taking their cues from their own constituents? But then what’s the President’s game?

I think, based on reading Earl Parreño’s biography of the President, that he ultimately hated Ferdinand Marcos because he blames the Great Dictator for a humiliating final defeat quickly followed by his dad’s death. But the President was pragmatic in using both his father’s old patron turned enemy, Alejandro Almendras, in his own rise to power and the Marcoses in his campaign for the presidency. His axe to grind is his preference for his daughter’s running for the presidency having been thwarted. This is the existential fear of the Marcoses.

Their mistrusting the surveys is for different reasons than the Robredo campaign, which is experiencing a breathtaking second wind, because of the remarkable turnout for her rallies: 15K in Naga, 45K in Bulacan, 47K in Cavite, 86K in Bacolod, 20K in Isabela (with roughly 90K, 2.7M, 2.3M, 1.9M, 1M voters respectively: divide the turnout with registered voters to get a better sense of scale: the turnout in Isabela was just .02 percent of registered voters; in Bacolod, which includes the region because attendees came from far and wide, just .04 percent of registered voters).

There’s a saying in (Filipino) politics that no candidate ever admits to losing an election. Take it further and one can argue no candidate ever thinks they’re losing, because at every campaign stop, all they experience is enthusiastic admiration. Common sense says: It’s still very much uphill for Robredo.

But there’s a tantalizing possibility: that the established survey firms have lost their touch, and that somehow their methods have become corrupted or corrupt. Not least because there is an alternative way of interpreting things. In recent weeks, Wilson Chua has gained a great deal of media mileage because of his raising the possibility that Google Trends is a better, real-time indicator of voter support and, thus, turnout. Now one can say that he has a self-promotion angle since his outfit doesn’t have the academic credentials or institutional staying power (or track record) of the established survey firms. What his suggestion has going for it, is that everyone can see Google Trends, while it’s a harder ask to understand opinion polling. Still: even Chua says that eventually, surveys would have similar findings to his, except it would take the surveys longer.

If you’re a betting man, the safe bet is still on the surveys. Which isn’t to say that March could reveal, in April, what everyone’s puzzling over today: a reenergized Robredo and droopy Marcos campaign.

Additional Readings

First, a slide shared on Twitter by Wilson Chua, illustrating his over-all point that the surveys are a delayed snapshot of a dynamic trend that FaceBook and Google more quickly and accurately capture.

Second, an entry by Cebuano journalist Max Limpag on the technology of online sentiment as a predictor of electoral outcomes.

Third, an interesting entry putting the case forward for what Wilson Chua and others claim.

Fourth, a valuable observation by way of John Nery, on the apparent shared skepticism of Marcos and Robredo supporters when it comes to surveys.

Wilson Chua, Mar. 14, 2022

Google searches “accurate predictors” of presidential election results, researchers say — Leon Kilat: The Tech

Google Trends predicted the winners of the past two presidential elections in the Philippines. Except for former President Donald Trump’s loss in 2020, Google Trends predicted the winners of the previous four presidential elections…

The studies have one common theme, “that the volume of keywords searched on the internet or contained in chats on social networks such as Twitter are revealing the current and future thinking of a significant amount of the population.”…

But the researchers added an important caveat, “as long as these searches are related with positive news and the environment remains stable.” In analyzing the 2016 elections that Trump won over Hillary Clinton, they said that “conflicting communication techniques used by Trump led to a greater internet search, but generated a negative bias.”

Pink Storm

Analysis of Facebook data show that both Leni and Kiko are surging ahead in the presidential and vice presidential race respectively. What was once a catchup race with BBM and Sara has now flipped in the other direction.

Using Net sentiment scores from January 1 to March 6, 2022, seven different surveys during the same period served to confirm our model. Namely that both BBM and Sara were ahead in the rankings during the early part of the year. And that the gap was quickly closing.

Our models differed in terms of the magnitude of the leads. Our models show the contest is closer than what the surveys predicted. (See chart below). And in fact, by early March, Engagement scores show Leni and Kiko forging ahead of BBM and Sara Duterte. Note: the use of sentiments has been shown to be better at predicting poll wins.

To explain the difference, we look at two other charts; cumulative positive sentiment and cumulate negative sentiment. Leni has a higher positive, and BBM has a higher negative.

The simple explanation is just people who are exposed to Leni or Leni’s propaganda, LIKE her more than BBM. A sector of the public doesn’t like BBM, despite his saturated online presence and higher virality. This new situation may see the BBM Sara camp join the debates. They have nothing more to lose.

An interesting observation is, as BBM’s positive image drops, we see Isko picking up the followers, rather than Leni. This is not surprising since most pundits assumed more candidates are bad for Leni as the other candidates would cannibalize her voter base. Instead, we’re seeing her grow her base even more ..

With two months to go, Leni’s campaign is hitting its stride, while BBM’s superlative out of gate performance served the strategic purpose of convincing COMELEC not to disqualify him but he is now struggling to retake the lead.

[Newsstand] Dynamic race, static survey?

After so much movement in the presidential race, the latest poll seems to show that the race standings haven’t moved. What can this mean?…

Jason Haw, a PhD epidemiology student at Johns Hopkins I’ve followed since the pandemic began for his facility with numbers, suggests three “hypotheses” to explain the “paradox” of a surge in the ground for Robredo that is not reflected in the surveys. I have been wrestling with exactly the same ideas since the Cavite rally, but without Haw’s clarity of thought.

First, it is possible for millions of Filipinos to attend Robredo’s rallies, and yet for Robredo to still lose. If say 20% of all the 65.7 million registered voters cast their ballot for Robredo, that is 13 million votes.

Second, it is also possible that the surveys, this time, are wrong. Haw raises the possibility of “some kind of Hawthorne effect” that skews the findings, because the survey respondents “are observed by family and neighbors when these interviews are done.” I am reminded of that Japanese study, conducted in Metro Manila early last year, that concluded that as much as a third of President Duterte’s popularity rating may be due to “social desirability bias.”

Third, it is also possible that the surveys are, in fact, right. Marcos enjoys majority support, because (as I have argued before) he and his family have been seeding disinformation on digital and social media for years.

#ProyektoPilipino Ep, 7: Survey says

“Ang survey ay isang snapshot ng panahon na nakalipas na at hindi para hulaan kung ano ang magiging kalalabasan ng halalan.”

Surveys and polls are hot topics during the election season, especially since they give people an idea who is seemingly leading or garnering the most support. But sometimes, we forget that surveys are not predictions of the future, but merely a snapshot of the past of a small sample of the population.

In this new episode of Proyekto Pilipino, Fr. Tito Caluag and his friendly trio of distinguished thinkers — Dr. Leloy Claudio, Manolo Quezon, and Carlo Santiago — talk to ABS-CBN Data Analytics Head Edson Guido and Political Science Professor Arjan Aguirre from the Ateneo de Manila University — to understand the role of surveys in the elections. How should we view and understand surveys? Are all surveys equal? Can surveys influence the outcome of the elections? We will try to answer these questions and more.

Watch it also on Sky Cable Channel Ch 955 HD, Ch 155 SD: Fridays, 7 p.m. | Saturdays and Sundays, 3 p.m.; and Jeepney TV: Sundays, 6 p.m. | Mondays, 6:30 a.m.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.