This article was originally published with The Manila Times on June 13, 2019.
Imagine a communications man as one whose arsenal is a belt with two holsters: creativity — craft, art, wordsmithing genius — is what is drawn from one holster; science — sense, deduction, mathematics — from the other.
Like all advertising professionals, I swear by research, and swear to the integrity of research companies (the known, the established, the recognized, not those stirred from hibernation or manufactured during election seasons). But in every political campaign season, surveys are maligned and demonized, the companies accused of corruption and mind conditioning.
If you’re wondering whether the senatorial surveys were accurate, the results are clear: Except for one name in one survey in one election year, all candidates predicted to win in the past three senatorial elections won.
“Pulse Asia’s surveys showed a more striking picture. All 12 senatorial hopefuls who topped the final surveys conducted before each election day (2010, 2013, 2016) won the race” (Pauline Macaraeg; Esquire Philippines).
The last survey before the May 13 election predicted who would most likely make it, and Pulse Asia drew a line under the viable names. If you woke up the day after the elections and were surprised at the results, that means your disregard for the science of statistics is utter.
The surveys showed that while ‘awareness’ for Otso candidates grew, conversion to a willingness to ‘vote for’ them did not happen. The election results show that three or four candidates with no television advertising did as well or better than Otso candidates, and the latter did have advertising, complemented with daily and heavy media coverage — screaming headlines — from an inordinately supportive news industry. And then there’s social media, which, as we all know, is more representative of civil society, and skews to yellow.
Now there are many good political analysts in the country, and I am sure the LP heard them all; they heard the wisdom of people who wanted them to win. What went wrong with Otso? A refusal to listen to surveys.
I believe Willie Ong and Neri Colmenares can legitimately say funding would have helped them win. Their stories were crystal clear. You knew them and what they stood for. Otso, though, was just an angry bunch. They were livid and ‘only Anti-Duterte’.
“The harder you hit Duterte, the lower you go,” Erice, Mar Roxas’ campaign manager, said. They should have listened; they should have hired him.
You would think the educated would have respect for research. Anybody who needs to sell anything depends on the reliability of the dipstick. We rely on its precision for everything else in our lives, why not during elections?
I proffer three reasons for this cyclical demonization of surveys:
The first is the cordon sanitaire.
Candidates are normally surrounded by supporters, and a roomful of avid listeners, day after day, can distort one’s sense of reality. The crowd becomes a cordon sanitaire, keeping out truth and sobriety. Candidates would do well to hire what I call “Step-backers”, people who can keep an eye askant, who can “step back” every so often, watch the campaign with big picture clarity, and, his honesty hired, tell the candidate what the roomful of supporters won’t.
The second is obstinacy.
A senatorial candidate recently told me he did not believe in surveys. And so I could not be of help to him.
Some campaign people repudiate election research; spend heavily on the wrong medium, believing in outdated ways. Then they take on the pose: feign wisdom, and accuse the science of statistics as being mind-conditioning instruments.
There are advisers who don’t want to listen to “old fogies”, they wanted to do things too differently (this, I hear, was prevalent this year: Call it the malaise of the Smug
Young. There were many kids telling opposition candidates that you could run a campaign — that you could actually win a senate seat — via social media).
The third is the crowd.
“But the rallies were mammoth!” “Eddie Villanueva said he is confident, considering the millions who attended his Makati rally, that he will win the elections, adding that ‘this is why we do not believe in the surveys of the two companies that are usually commissioned by political parties here — because the more than three million human bodies can indicate the real results’,” wrote Sol Jose Vanzi.
Now a Bro. Eddie Villanueva political rally was an experience unlike any other. A throbbing yellow sea of supporters from all classes, singing, dancing, arms raised, eyes shut, with the fervor of prayer. It was the same everywhere it was staged. The question was oft repeated: Why were their rallies incredibly large? And why did he fare miserably at the polls?
Villanueva voters are especially enthusiastic, the sort politicians dream about. They will excitedly join every single radio poll. Instead of expecting campaign funds, they will bankroll neighborhood operations, print posters and handouts, buy T-shirts and buttons. They will gather kith and kin and trudge kilometers to attend rallies.
Hold a rally in an area of strength ‘and they will come’, a multitude strong in faith, disciplined and sturdy, lasting well into the night — a dramatic spectacle.
It is easy for a candidate to get inebriated by the love and adulation, and believe in his invincibility and impending political triumph. “The mostly-Christian Luneta rally crowd was arguably the biggest assembly in Philippine religious and political history,” to quote another pastor and friend and supporter of Bro. Eddie.
My good friend Mercy Abad, erstwhile head of TNS Trends, the large multinational that used to do the fieldwork for both SWS and Pulse Asia, offers a piece of advice to candidates: “No matter how large the rally, there are always more people who did not attend.”
“This is not the result we hoped for”, Hilbay was quoted as saying. That Hilbay would be last of the Otso lot would have been palpable on the ground. But, no, the ground gives you a different sense of things.
The value of the survey to candidates is immeasurable: they know when and where they are weak; there are hints on what to do. Its value to the country is immense: here is a check mechanism, something with which to compare election results.
I think the elections just put surveys back on the pedestal… on an even higher one.
The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.