Knowing the Filipino voters
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2015 - 10:00am

The next presidential election is still 10 months away, but this early, the political fever is on. Soon, we will be flooded with messages meant to get our support. There will be imaging propositions to replace 2010’s most memorable political lines: President Noynoy Aquino’s Tuwid na Daan and Kung Walang CorruptWalang Mahirap; Manny Villar’s Sipag at Tiyaga; Joseph Estrada’s Tapat sa Mahirap; Gibo Teodoro’s Galing at Talino; Dick Gordon’s Laging Gising Para Sa Bayan; and Bro. Eddie Villanueva’s Tungo sa Bagong Pilipinas.

Projecting a palatable public persona — just like communicating the merits of a new product — has always been important in political contests; and in the context of present-day election campaigning it has always recognized the value of a clear image and unassailable reputation. We live in an era where image takes on an additional and critical importance. It covers how a person looks and how he or she is seen and is being sold.

To understand the Filipino voter better, I sat as a reactor in the presentation of the Political Mindscape 2, a national psychographics survey done by the Philippines’ first and only registered lobbying and political management firm, Publicus Asia.

The non-commissioned survey was conducted by Vox Opinion Research, Publicus’ technical arm, from Feb. 22 to 4 March, which covered political interests, attitudes, opinions and beliefs of young voters between the ages 17 and 45 (millennials and the tail end of Gen Xers). It also included interviews with a nationally representative sample of young Filipinos.

Here are key takeaways culled from the presentations done by Dr. Clarissa David of UP College of Mass Communication, and Ma. Lourdes Tiquia, founder of Publicus:

• Candidates should realize that elections are not about them, but more about the voters. They can connect more effectively if they understand what makes them stand out in terms of shared interests, attitudes and opinions. With psychographics, for example, it will no longer be about a mass bombardment of TV ads where frequency — the number of times an ad is aired — rules over reach or the coverage of the airing of the ad.

There are two kinds of votes: market and command. The former is accurately describes a freely transacting mass of voters responding, much like the modern consumer, to media stimulus in making their electoral decisions. How one makes sense of and pays attention to market votes is a function of psychographic variables. Command votes are block votes, which to many are easier to deal with because those are the candidate’s hard support.

• Segmentation, targeting and positioning of the voters can only be made if the candidate knows his voters. Our electorate can be classified as High Anxiety, Low Information and Moderate Expectations. Political campaigns typically do a good job of connecting with the first two categories and a relatively poor job with the “moderates.” The Filipino voters can be categorized into five segments: the “Sparks” form 16 percent of total Philippines, are found in urban areas, and with higher representation of non-working groups. They are interested to be updated with political issues in the local government and believe voting is an expression of citizenship and politics. The “Detached Conservatives” — 12 percent of total — are found in rural areas, with higher Muslim representations.  They most likely will not vote, either because they consider the election system in their area too complicated or they are affected by personal commitments. They doubt that politics improves society. 

The “Ambivalents”— about 26 percent — are mostly Visayan-speaking residents with the lowest incidence of Internet usage and smart phone ownership.  They see politics as irrelevant to society’s progress. Those “in control” form 23 percent of total country, mostly Ilonggo speaking residents. Voting matters to them, and they believe it is instrumental in improving society.  They have the patience to examine and scrutinize political candidates. The “Catalysts” are mostly from the rural areas, politically engaged, and make an effort to know much more about politics and elections. They perceive voting positively.

• Voters care most about character. Each election candidate brings to the table a unique set of characteristics and propositions. Journalists, voter advocates, writers, and interest groups frequently opine that Filipinos should think about platforms rather than personality when considering the people running for office. Results of this survey show that young voters still put candidate character above experience, positions, and education when considering their votes for president and senator.

It is simplistic to say, however, that people vote on personality. Among a long list of a person’s features, voters most frequently chose these traits as most important in considering their choice for president: Maka-Diyos (God-centered), may malasakit  (compassionate), mabilis magdesisyon at kumilos (decisive), matalino (Intelligent), and mapagkakatiwalaan (trustworthy).

Probing further on how best to show compassion for the people or pag-mamalasakit sa kapwa, adults expect a compassionate presidential candidate to prioritize his countrymen’s welfare by providing livelihood, medical/health benefits, assistance during calamities/tragedies, scholarships and housing projects instead of taking personal advantage of the country’s wealth. It is also apparent that a presidential candidate’s previous political experience plays an important role in the voters’ considerations; only a fourth are willing to consider a presidential candidate with no or limited political experience.

• Issues the next president should be able to address. Livelihood or jobs education, economy, health care, and curving corruption are the top local issues that the next elected president should be able to address. Corruption is often identified as one of the biggest problems in Philippine politics. The voters though, believe that the issue of corruption is fixable if the leader that is chosen is against it.

• Many young voters agree that elections do not bring about change. This is a cynical view of elections that does not necessarily mean they will not participate in the process, since almost all of them say they intend to vote in 2016.

• The cellphone is preferred over landline as a platform of communication to reach voters. This is happening because of the availability of cheaper handsets and prepaid denominations, and various unlimited call and text offers. Cellphone ownership and usage is almost universal — nine in 10 own a cellphone and four in 10 are actually smartphone owners.  Internet access at home is limited to about a tenth of the adult population;  others access the Internet through cafes, at school or office, and through data connection. Communicating remotely to the voters can be explored through SMS and web/social media. However, receiving SMS related to a political candidate, especially a presidential contender, is seen to be unappealing for the majority of voters.

• TV is still the most popular medium for advocating ads for political personalities, Radio and posters come far behind. Almost half of the respondents claim that they had a better opinion about certain political personalities after seeing their political ads on TV, specifically those from South Luzon and Mindanao.

• Readership of news via the Internet is at the same level as the newspapers’ reach. That’s about a fifth of the adult population. Adults from NCR, urban areas, class ABC homes and 17 to 24-year-olds read news online at least four times a week. Those from rural areas, class E and older age group, 35 to 45, are least likely to access news on the Internet.

• Only about half of the adult population express confidence in the reliability of the results of polling surveys. That’s slightly lower compared to the awareness scores of polling surveys since more than six in 10 are aware of opinion surveys. Interestingly, only about a third of those who acknowledge the trustworthiness of survey results admit that they will not change their voting preference based on the output of polls.

• Recommendation of family has the biggest  influence on who to vote. Majority consider the recommendations of their family to have the biggest impact on their choice of candidates they will put on their ballot. The information or communication they see on TV comes in second, with the recommendations from public officials and friends, and word-of-mouth within their neighborhood completing this list.

• Most Filipinos do not think about whom to vote for until a month before the election or less. Voters’ preference may differ or change on election day. Their final choice depends on the political TV ads that they will be exposed to, more notably among the voters in Visayas and Mindanao.  Around four in 10, on the other hand, may change their decision based on the sample ballots, political jingles and posters that will be propagated on election day. Endorsement of the incumbent president is also ranked one of the highest, particularly in Mindanao.

In the next few months, we will be witnessing a battle of political brands. As records will show, most of them are expected to spend big bucks to get known, recalled, and preferred. We will see a lot of image marketing at work. As we encounter these seemingly  flash presentations, we must go beyond the façade and decipher a candidate’s inner and deeper qualities with more vigor.

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