The survey says…

ariel nepomuceno_1FOUR days to go and we will give all the candidates the mandate they are seeking. Our vote is so precious that each one of those vying for key positions in government are closely following, monitoring and analyzing the results of every single election survey there is. Why all this overwhelming concern about what these surveys produce? What gives?

One unifying thread exists with respect to the importance of surveys in the electoral exercise. They are undoubtedly a crucial part of the campaign process. Its strong visibility, constant reportage in TV news, headlines, social media and other communication channels easily and quickly capture the attention of the voters who are always thirsty for more information about their candidates—who is leading, what sections of society are supporting who and the reactions of people with respect to the results.

Depending on the questions asked, surveys also assist in unravelling what particular characteristics or qualities of candidates that respondents find acceptable or attractive and the kind of issues that matter to them. Noteworthy is the fact that more campaign contributions, endorsements from individuals, wealthy families, social organizations and big, moneyed corporations flow to the war chest of candidates who lead in the surveys. As the results change, so would be the funding behavior of the donors or benefactors.

Mind game

Surveys shape opinions of people about the candidates. The results somehow guide the voters into doing some strategic thinking about the negative effects of voting for someone who is “likely to lose” despite their belief in the political platform or what the candidate stands for.

Sometimes, voters would analyze the futility of voting for someone who they really want but will not win and, thus, are led into going for their “second best” so their vote will not go to waste. However, there are those who are swayed by the power of the crowd and would prefer to be in the winning circle. This is what the political analysts and statisticians call the bandwagon or contagion effect, where positive outcomes in favor of one candidate set forth a massive ripple of support from others, be they decided or not, because if the majority or more believe in a specific policy decision or in the capacity of a candidate to make said policy a reality, then that must be the correct view because it reflects the decision of the community.

Social acceptance has been considered a driver for people to flock to a candidate or embrace a policy that garners the highest points in these surveys.

What else surveys can do

The power of surveys and its perceived effects on the choices of voters have made politicians and other election stakeholders extremely involved in the public discussions about its accuracy and credibility. Questions about the respondent sampling and its “representative status,” the way questions were formulated, the reputation of the outfit running the survey, fees paid and, most important, those who commissioned the survey, have been raised in order to establish whether the survey results should be hailed, rejected, criticized, utilized or leveraged upon. Commonplace are vociferous attacks made by those who are doing terribly in the surveys. Charges of bias, skewing and unfairness proliferate, and one candidate even went to the extent of proposing a ban on surveys.

Despite all the polemics and debates about the pluses and minuses of election surveys, one thing is clear. Surveys and the socio-legal framework that allows it to continuously exist and flourish are concrete manifestations that democracy is well and alive in the country. It is a mechanism and a platform for the citizens to have robust and transformative conversations about the future of our country’s leadership and the possible pitfalls of making the wrong decisions.

My hope is that it drives the Filipino to participate in the electoral exercise. And to vote wisely.

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