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Somebody should tell inside story of surveys

EARLY CHECK: Voters who have not checked their precincts are advised to do a fast verification TODAY by logging on to www.comelec.gov.ph/precinctfinder/precinctfinder.aspx. Many readers have located their precincts, but a few discovered some problems. One reader found out that the Commission on Elections has invalidated his and his wife’s registration for no apparent reason. Having checked early, he now has the chance to solve the problem. The most common reason why some readers failed to access the Comelec site was their misspelling some words in the address.

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PCOS FAILURE: Equipment failure in Hong Kong that marred over the weekend the start of 30 days of voting by overseas Filipinos does not inspire confidence in the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine at the center of the semi-automated elections on May 10.

What if such malfunctioning of voting equipment occurs in many of the 80,000 polling clusters in the country where some 35 million Filipinos will wrestle with extra-long ballots in 11 hours amid heat, dust, humidity and erratic power?

Election Day is haunted by Murphy’s Law that if anything can go wrong, it will. And the first red-hot evidence was Hong Kong, where two of the 26 counting machines deployed there spat out the ballots after refusing to read them.

The Commission on Elections, which is spending some P10 billion for the elections, has explanations (the PCOS was wet daw ). But what this impatient nation wants is a credible count, not excuses.

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SNAFU: As expected, the Hong Kong incident prompted the usual Arroyo critics to warn again about an alleged plot to stage-manage a failure of election and justify President Arroyo’s holding over as government caretaker.

Explaining the embarrassing snafu, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said: “The machine got wet during a rain the night before because those assigned in one of the polling precincts forgot to close the windows.”

He said the PCOS eventually worked after drying. But one of the six backup machines also broke down and had to be shipped back to Manila for repair. The problem must have been so serious that the technician on site could not troubleshoot it.

The poll personnel in Singapore must have been luckier or more careful about leaving windows open, because the absentee voting in that island-nation proceeded smoothly.

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ALIVE AGAIN: The Nacionalista Party stood up yesterday and insisted that it was still alive and kicking – in fact, it said, well on the road to recovery and eventual victory in the elections.

The camp of NP standard bearer Manny Villar pointed to the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations showing him lifting to 29 percent his 28 percent score in the last survey middle of March.

To Villar’s 29 percent, Liberal Party presidential bet Noynoy Aquino had 37. But the NP was heartened by Aquino’s failure to arrest his slide from his December rating of 46 percent while Villar went up by one point (28 to 29 percent) in the latest survey.

To drown out the LP’s roar presaging an impending victory, the NP chorused that their candidate is on the rise again after overcoming the vilest black propaganda hurled at him in the campaign.

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TRENDING: Instead of clinging to survey reports as threads of political life, maybe we should conduct an authoritative survey by two reputable foreign polling outfits to find out to what extent the population believes the home-grown political surveys.

We get great exercise tossing around survey data, even those of the table variety, but the public should be warned that surveys could be dangerous to their mental health, that many of them are actually designed for trending and mind-conditioning.

Local surveys do not always reflect the true preferences of the electorate nationwide.

Erap Estrada was lagging in the survey in 1998, but he won in a landslide. Ramon Mitra was consistently leading the field when he ran for president in 1992, but lost miserably. Many senatorial candidates who were languishing in the surveys below 15th place, had landed within the top seven when the votes were counted.

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SELF-FULFILLING: Election survey reports, like fortune-telling, are often self-fulfilling.

Survey data mislead people who have the mindset of gamblers. They do not want it said that their bets lost, so such voters end up electing the “llamado” — those who the surveys say are leading.

The candidates’ program of government, their track record and their fitness for office become irrelevant when the survey merchants package favored clients as winners.

Hardly anybody stops to ask how a sample of 2,000 interviewees can be foisted on the public as speaking for or representing the universe of more than 50 million voters.

It never occurs to people that surveys can never reflect the significant distortions in voting patterns inflicted by command votes and big partisan blocks voting as pressure groups.

Nobody bothers to explain survey details. Writer-thinker Kit Tatad, who is running again for senator, has written the survey firms to share their methodology, questionnaires, and other data, but they ignore his attempt to examine their operations.

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UP ALUMNI: Calling 2010 UP Jubilarians, graduates of 1950 (Diamond), 1960 (Golden), 1970 (Ruby) and 1985 (Silver) — attend the meeting/rehearsal on Friday, April 16, 2 p.m., at Ang Bahay ng Alumni, UP Diliman campus, Quezon City. Submit pictures and yearbook advertisements on or before April 30. Submission deadline for 2010 UPAA Awards is Thursday, April 15, For details, call UPAA at 9206868 and 9206871.

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