Why do they bellyache about surveys?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-04-19
A lot of flurry is now descending on our two most prominent survey organizations, the SWS (Social Weather Stations) and Pulse Asia as their findings begin to hurt more and more candidates in the national and local elections.

Most noticeable bellyachers include John Osmeña, Gabby Claudio and even the daughter of Mike "Tol" Defensor. Osmena claimed that his refusal to subscribe to Pulse Asia was why the survey organization had ranked him 17th. Claudio called the SWS local poll as slanted and misleading.

Defensor’s daughter told an ABS-CBN TV Patrol reporter that she doubted the reliability of surveys which showed her father in rankings outside of the magic 12. She bolsters her condition of being in denial by citing the case of Mar Roxas who had once figured 33rd in surveys, not even bothering to take this bit of information in the right perspective and context. Her justification was non-sequitur because Mar Roxas placed 33rd in a survey conducted long before people even gave out their intentions to participate as candidates in the 2004 Senate elections.

Of course, the bellyachers share a common unfortunate circumstance: they are all tied to statistical laggards. For that reason alone, their commentaries on the integrity and reliability of the SWS and Pulse Asia research organizations are tainted and invalidated as nothing but sourgraping back talk.

I have had previous professional dealings with both Mahar Mangahas and Mercy Abad of SWS and Pulse Asia, respectively — for over 20 years with Mahar and over 30 with Mercy. Compared to those fussing politicians to whom I shall grudgingly give my overrated trust level of 0.01%, Mahar and Mercy enjoy my 99.9% trust level.

Mahar and Mercy are into the science of research as a profession. In contrast, these griping politician-sourgrapers who are supposed to be in public service are really into self-service.

When I was helping the Opposition to the Marcos regime in 1985, it was Mercy Abad who provided us the winning insight in the choice between Doy Laurel and Cory Aquino as the Official Opposition standard bearer. Ten years before that, Mercy used to do my consumer research when I was still running the advertising and public relations campaigns for Seiko and her studies helped us attain a 65% share of the Philippine wristwatch market.

In her October 1985 briefing, Mercy pointed out that while Doy Laurel enjoyed a 45% national awareness level over Cory Aquino’s 28% — the significant statistic to watch is the conversion ratio. True enough, Cory Aquino’s appeal translated to an excellent conversion ratio with people easily shifting to her side.

With Cory having shown herself as the more winsome candidate, we were confident that by the time the campaign dynamics went into full gear, Cory will have offered the best chances to oust Marcos. That conversion ratio indicated attraction and passion levels.

People may vote for Doy but would do so in such detached, mechanical abandon. But with Cory, people will not only vote for her but will fight to ensure that she was installed in Malacañang. The rest is history.

Mahar and his SWS team have built an impressive and reliable track record of accurate election forecasting since the post-Marcos period. In the 1987 Senate elections, Mahar correctly tracked the 24 winners and their rankings — including the down-the-wire fight between the late Bobbit Sanchez and Johnny Ponce-Enrile. The same accuracy was attained with the results of the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections and the senatorial elections between 1987 and 2004.

The only time the surveys were off-the-mark was in the 2004 presidential elections. Off-the-mark in that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) was listed as winning in the surveys when majority now think that she cheated.

An interesting conversation I had with a GMA former cabinet member — Paul Dominguez — ten days after the 2004 elections provides insights on how GMA could have led in the surveys. Paul’s son Miguel ran and won as Governor of Saranggani Province. Paul told me that his own surveys and exit polls for Miguel were off-the-mark. In Saranggani, Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) did much better than what the Dominguez commissioned surveys showed.

The GMA administration was using the carrot and stick approach: giving away health cards and other goodies while threatening to withhold these from Barangays that showed GMA as losing. So, it was likely that people were not telling the truth in surveys to ensure that they get the freebies.

We cannot expect professionally conducted surveys to be infallible predictors of election outcomes if the surveys are affected by deliberately false or untruthful responses from respondents wanting some selfish benefit. Cheating operations can also negate accurate survey findings.

Other than these, questions on the integrity of reputable survey companies can only come from that segment comprising those who have been unfavorably ranked or those who are incorrigibly in denial.

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