Friday, September 18, 2009

Early days or bandwagon?

The week began with startling political news. Noynoy Aquino, who announced his intentions to run for the highest post in the land September 9, has zoomed up spectacularly in the first measurement of popularity done in the month of September.

The surveys, in fact were done in haste (not that haste makes its results suspect). When it was clear in the last days of August that the Liberal Party seemed to be hedging its bets on Mar Roxas, some businessmen wanted to test the so-called public clamor for Noynoy. And the earliest SWS could do a test was the first week-end of September. The territorial scope would also be delimited to what political tacticians call the Mega-Manila area, or more aptly, the Lingayen to Lucena corridor. This vote-rich, urbanized community, whose population is reached almost completely by audio and visual broadcast media, and has access to print media, mostly tabloids, constitutes roughly 40% of the entire voting base of the country. Mindanao and the Visayas put together is about 41-42%. The Bicol Region is about 6 to 7%, the Ilocano-speaking regions 1, 2 and CAR is about 11%, and the Mimaropa island provinces about 2-3%.

Now let me share something about the sampling practices in the country. When a polling outfit tests voter preferences, the limited sample size (1,200 or 1,800 respondents randomly selected) also limits territorial specificity. So, when the research says Visayas is for Villar at one time, and Mar another time, it matters which provinces they polled. For some strange reason, Villar leads over Mar in Iloilo, even if Capiz is just an aswang flight away (joke, joke, joke) and Chiz is a favourite in Waray-speaking provinces. But if Cebu or Bohol are polled, expect Noli to be high, because in these areas, there is high residual popularity for GMA.

But in the instantly-commissioned SWS survey, what was being tested was voter preferences on September 5 and 6, among 1,200 sample respondents, broken down as follows: NCR, 300; Pangasinan, 100, Region 3, 400, and Region 4-A, 400. Given a two-day field research, it is reasonable to assume that not all provinces in Regions 3 and 4-A were sampled. But the fact that results in NCR, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog came out statistically similar, it is also reasonable to assume that the September 5-6 survey was just a snapshot of that period, and cannot be used to project either a trend, least of all a bandwagon.

Now what was happening during that week-end of September 5-6? Mar Roxas withdrew on the evening of September 1, asking Noynoy to champion the standards of the Liberal Party to which they both belong. The media lapped up the “selflessness” the “sacrifice”, and so on and so forth, particularly ABS-CBN, whose owners have a peculiar proximity to Mar and an almost familial affinity with Noynoy. And since it has been established that television is the most important medium for political and other messages, Noynoy’s acceptance, while foregone a conclusion, was milked of all it’s suspenseful theatrics.

Remember too that the death of Tita Cory, and the hundreds of thousands, millions even when you count the nationwide outpouring of grief and affection, created an outpouring of sympathy for her political heirs, Noynoy and Kris. Since Kris is not qualified at 38, the unico hijo, Noynoy, became the cynosure of political affections, most especially in the Mega-Manila area, almost every household in which has television access.

Note also that the survey leaders, also statistically tied in June, by SWS prognostications likewise, are still statistically tied --- Villar, Erap and Chiz. The trio had late June numbers of 21, 19, and 18. Then Tita Cory died August 1, and was buried August 5, an hour-to-hour television fare that enthralled an entire nation in deep sympathy. Then this September 5-6 snapshot, which naturally captured the emotional tug of Tita Cory’s death and all its pathos, upon which was juxtaposed, so fresh into the consciousness of the voter, the events beginning August 21, when Noynoy made “pahiwatig”, the Liberals and quondam support groups making a clamor, climaxed by the evening of September 1, at the Club Filipino, when Mar Roxas showed far more class than anyone in his grand old party. The anticipation over Noynoy’s announcement, already a done deal, was top of mind and deep in the heart of the voting population.

It is reasonable to see that when the field researchers went to work, no real voter discernment had yet taken place, and even those who were undecided, instantly expressed a preference for Ninoy and Cory’s son and political heir.

Thus, the results of the Mega-Manila survey showed Villar at 14, Estrada at 13, and Escudero at 12, all in a statistical tie, or should we say, bind, versus the humongous 50% of Noynoy. NCR gave Noynoy 50%, Central Luzon 49%, Pangasinan 48%, AND Southern Tagalog 51%.

Can it sustain is the question of the day. It will not. The fifty percent will taper down, and even in the next regular SWS round, the field work for which will be this week, or the Pulse Asia testing, the field work for which will be in mid-October, the corrections between instant surge of emotion and a certain level of voter discernment, should be markedly visible.

But in terms of being a quantum boost for the Noynoy campaign, the results of the instant SWS survey will be remarkable. Campaign financing should now flow in. I would be surprised if Noynoy’s war chest hasn’t yet received a couple of hundred million bucks within this week alone.

This should not faze Villar, who has deep pockets, the provenance of which will be a major campaign issue. It may faze Escudero, whose father, while being the agriculture minister of Marcos and then again FVR’s second-half agriculture secretary, did not feather his nest. The young candidate has to rely on contributions from many --- small or big, to fuel his thus far cost-efficient campaign (No ads and little pre-campaign activity, yet tying up with Villar and the omni-present Erap is a feat indeed). If the young man has the grit, he just has to weather Typhoon Noynoy, and pursue his dreams nonetheless.

Another remarkable finding in the instant SWS survey is the present “pull” of a Noynoy presidency vis-à-vis his matched vice-president. Noynoy-Mar scores 51% instant approval, as does a Noynoy-Chiz, at 49%, even a Noynoy-Kiko, considerably diminished at 43%. Clearly, Noynoy pulls, and is impervious to any push, or drag, from whoever his vice-president may be. But, in the rather unlikely scenario that Noynoy is paired with Jinggoy Estrada, the emotional tug is broken by some level of discernment. It slides down to 33% for a Noynoy-Jinggoy tandem, and an Escudero-Legarda goes up several notches to 20, from Escudero’s 12%.

This betrays precisely my thesis and many others, that this may be just a snapshot of voter emotions, and does not indicate how the voter on May 10, 2010, let alone when the Comelec deadline fires on November 30, or the campaign’s starting gun fires on February 8, 2010.

It’s early days. Nobody needs to blink. Not Villar with all his money. Not Escudero with all his derring-do. Not even Gibo, the newly-proclaimed standard bearer of the PaLaKa, who has eight months yet to improve a 0.2% per Pulse Asia’s reading of August, to 30% come May 10 next year, the minimum that I suspect will be required to make itr as the next president of the Philippines.

Come November 30, it will be Gibo for PaLaKa; Villar for the business-as-usual NP’s, both candidates representing the same trapo mold. And for the hopefully new wave of change, depending on how their message is crafted and is resonated, Noynoy and Chiz. Take your pick from among these four.

If there are any others, they are what we may call, “saling-ket”.