Survey firm responds to Chair Wrecker's questions
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-06-18

In your Chair Wrecker’s June 14 column (“Those ‘instant survey firms’ are resurrecting!”), the survey firm The Center was discussed in the context of those election polling firms that tend to sprout during presidential elections.

We specifically cited a result in the second quarter survey of The Center (where Mar Roxas suddenly became numero uno) that deviated in a major way from the surveys during the same period of tried and tested SWS and Pulse Asia.

In the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys of the same period, Roxas was never in the top two.
We also raised the question whether the Art Valenzuela of The Center is the same Art Valenzuela behind the 1998 polling firm that predicted a Speaker Jose de Venecia victory over 1998 presidential election winner Joseph “Erap” Estrada (which was easily the ‘mother’ of all inaccurate surveys).

Ed Malay, listed as The Center founder, e-mailed your Chair Wrecker a reply to the points we raised in that column. In the spirit of fair play, we are extending Ed the space to express his side.

Fitted to the available space, the highlights of Malay’s response are, as follows:

1. “The Issues and Advocacy Center or The Center is not a new polling firm. We as an informal group (means that The Center is new but they are not) have been conducting research and were providing valuable data to the then presidential candidate Fidel V. Ramos in 1992. Art Valenzuela was not part of this group then.” Malay proceeded to enumerate their experience as a group.

2. “And in 2004 we got organized more formally as we were tasked to conduct a tracking survey of both the presidential and senatorial elections in the 2004 national elections by the Opposition (KNP).” Malay recounted that both their group and SWS conducted Exit Polls in 2004.

“I’m sure you will recall that the SWS exit poll reported that PGMA (President Gloria M. Arroyo) was winning in the NCR. On the other hand, I held a press conference at the Manila Hotel at around 2 p.m. on Election Day (May 10, 2004) where I reported that the late FPJ won in the NCR. The SWS obviously erred in their exit poll and our exit poll report was regarded as accurately close to the actual result and or the voting tally in both the Comelec and Namfrel figures for the NCR since records will show that FPJ won in the NCR,” Malay added.

3. “The Center also predicted with fair accuracy the outcome of that 2004 Exit Poll nationwide when we reported that PGMA will win the presidency by a narrow margin of 700,000 votes more or less even if it was the Opposition-KNP that commissioned our tracking surveys. That poll was conducted with Proberz Consultancy and Data Advisors. As it turned out, PGMA won by more than 1 million votes.”

4. “Our latest survey results (May 18-25, 2009) do not vary from the results of the other two polling firms. Our Top Five are also their top five. There is no way in the science of stats that polling firms would have the same and exact results even when taken along the same timeline.”

5. “Furthermore, please take note that the five aspirants are separated by narrow margins that are well within the margin of error of 2.8%.”

6. “We at The Center are aware of Art Valenzuela’s participation in the 1998 survey in which Mr. Valenzuela was quoted as claiming that former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. would win the presidency over the then Vice President Erap Estrada in the 1998 presidential elections. As the final tally showed, Estrada bested De Venecia by the widest margin of victory in the history of Philippine presidential elections.”

Malay attempted to provide a rationale for their existence — as part of the democratic process, to provide as many sources of information to the people. He even cited the case of the 2008 US presidential elections where about 12 polling firms were being relied upon by media.

Malay also tried to provide points to erode confidence in the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys, even stating that their base of 1,200 is too small. Of course, all polls can commit mistakes. Reliability is all about track record, when the accuracy far exceeds the errors. A 1,200 respondent base is not an issue if the sampling is rightly done. A 4,400 respondent base is nothing if the sampling is erroneous.

He expressed ‘amusement’ (a PR euphemism) as to why your Chair Wrecker would write an entire column about The Center even though the reasons were very clearly stated in our June 14 column why they have to be scrutinized.  

Your Chair Wrecker respects the right of The Center to defend its reputation. We are far from convinced though that The Center is a polling firm that we can rely upon like the SWS and Pulse Asia whose track records have been established through many elections already.
In the end, the thing will speak for itself.

But until such time when a Johnny-come-lately survey firm has chalked up a reliable track record, we must remain vigilant and question all these election seers that resurrect during presidential campaigns.

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