The presidential election is a contest between Marcos and Robredo


With just about two weeks before May 9, the contest for president has become a duel between Vice President Leni Robredo and former senator Bongbong Marcos.

In our political system, the presidency is won by the candidate who gets the highest number of votes. In the final analysis, it is a contest between the frontrunner and the second strongest choice.

With nine candidates officially in this election, it is an eye-opener that the two leading candidates already account for around 80 percent among those surveyed.

Marcos headstart. In the latest Pulse Asia Survey conducted in March, which was publicly reported on April 6, Bongbong Marcos was reported to be the choice of 56 percent of those surveyed, with Leni Robredo getting 24 percent, thus accounting for 80 percent of the surveyed voters.

The regional distribution of this preference for Marcos is strongest in Luzon (his political bailiwick), in Mindanao (running-mate Sara Duterte’s region), as well as in the Visayas. Moreover, this voting preference is also strongly indicated among voters classified in the C (middle-), D (low-), and E (poor) income classes who account for 85 percent of the voting population.

A number of pre-election surveys by different groups and institutions are being undertaken. These have been reported in different channels and publications. Some of these have been undertaken for different reasons. Similar surveys were done by different groups – by MBC-DZRH, Octa Research, Publicus Asia, and Manila Bulletin. In general, the results of these surveys validate the fact that Marcos is the frontrunner and Robredo is second in command.

The rise of Robredo’s survey numbers. The presidential surveys held by Pulse Asia were a month apart, one for February and the other late March.

In the space of one month between the two surveys, Robredo’s survey numbers experienced a strong surge by nine percentage point from 15 percent preference among survey respondents to 24 percent.

At the same time, the 60 percent preference for Marcos fell to 56 percent, suggesting a drop of four percentage points. Also, the preference for both candidates Isko Moreno and Manny Paquiao fell by a combined four percentage points.

These changes suggest that Marcos’s numbers are declining, but are they declining fast enough to make a difference in the election outcome? The task of the Robredo campaign is to overtake the frontrunner or the effort is lost.

One way to interpret these numbers is that there is a robust and positive change in Robredo’s candidacy. She made major gains against both Marcos and the other major candidates.

There is a surge in favor of Robredo as the campaign period rolled on by a gain of nine percentage points. She has cut the lead of Marcos by four percentage points from 60 to 56 percent from the previous February survey.

She also took a total of four percentage points from the votes of Moreno and Pacquiao, also from the previous February survey.

She has not, however, highly diminished the performance of Marcos’s electoral strength because her 24 percent is still very far from Marcos’s 56 percent, a difference of 32 percentage points of those surveyed who prefer Marcos appears like an insurmountable disadvantage for her.

A hopeful sign of the increasing attention to Robredo is the sudden rise of crowd sizes in the localities where she has campaigned lately. They have grown in size and enthusiasm, a sign that perhaps a tightening electoral contest is happening between frontrunner and second-candidate.

A further indicator is the strength of google searches for Robredo in the internet. This has been more intense than those being made for other presidential candidates, including Marcos. Her camp sees this as a good sign.

All these could suggest the beginning of a big momentum change. That, indeed, is the question of fact that could partly be answered when the next Pulse Asia survey is released.

That survey has already taken place and results will be released any time soon – perhaps within this week. Part of the answer about the magnitude of the momentum change will, therefore, be available soon.

Of course, the real answer will only be revealed by election day, which is within two weeks.

The Marcos vs. Robredo contest. The question, therefore, is whether the surge in preference for Robredo’s candidacy will continue to gather steam or will it peak in the remaining month of the election campaign. It is possible to argue both cases.

Political realism, however, implies that the issue of overtaking the Marcos lead is a tall order. The fact is that the loss of four percentage points showed resilience in the defenses of the Marcos campaign rather than weakness.

What could change the picture as far as the opposition to Marcos goes is for all the major candidates to unite under the strongest candidate. That would consolidate the opposition base against the Marcos candidacy.

This did not happen from the start. And it is not happening any time soon, for another law of politics is involved: losers do not quit before they actually lose.

Barring unexpected and dramatic developments that affect the major candidates, it is likely that the surge for Robredo cannot be sustained for two main reasons:

(1) There is not enough time to consolidate the surge because the defenses in the Marcos campaign are strong, having been prepared over a long period of time. The political alliances with local leaders – governors and city mayors – were built and nourished long before. They strengthen all the more when the chances of winning are high.

(2) The Marcos-Duterte ticket powerfully captures the popular support for the Duterte administration among the electorate. The drug war launched by President Duterte might have heightened the concern for human rights. However, for common citizens, this has improved their sense of personal security against criminality. The Build Build Build program, which has shown many examples of infrastructure projects being built and finished, has also reminded people of the accomplishments of the senior Marcos in an earlier period.



For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/



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