FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2020 - 12:00am

There is no point shooting the messenger. It is more fruitful understanding the context and consequences of the message.

Last week, Pulse Asia reported a 91 percent job approval rating for President Duterte. The report was based on the usual methodology the public opinion outfit has been using for years. It is subject to the usual qualifications such as margins of error applying to all statistical studies.

The job approval rating is, no doubt, surprising. It represents the highest approval rating any public official ever received since scientific public opinion polls were taken in this country.

The approval rating earned by the President should not be surprising, however. It dovetails the previous approval ratings consistently in the high eighties. A 91 percent approval rating is really a small improvement over the previous numbers.

To be sure, the Pulse Asia report is devastating to the political groups who managed to convince themselves President Duterte is being rejected by his own people. This report is a rude reality check on the delusions they nursed.

Our voters roundly rejected many of these political groups in the midterm elections. But the voting numbers apparently failed to restrain their propensity for self-righteousness and for misrepresenting themselves as the “true” voice of the Filipino people.

It is in the interest of these marginalized political groups to downplay the results of the Pulse Asia survey. But doing so will mean ignoring the sentiments at the grassroots. They simply put themselves in peril of once again misreading the public mind.

The cruelest claim of those wishing to downplay the results of the last survey is to simply dismiss Pulse Asia as a political hack that allowed some unnamed patrons to procure the numbers they desired.

Those who make this claim forget that Pulse Asia was set up by personalities Duterte supporters might now call “dilawan.” The survey firm is a business, for sure. But its survival as a business rests entirely on its ability to produce accurate and credible numbers.

Indeed, who would want to pay good money to a survey firm that merely plucks numbers out of thin air, numbers that no one believes in? If Pulse Asia loses credibility, that is the end of its business.

This cruel claim against Pulse Asia is baseless and false. Over the years, the firm has been attacked wickedly by whoever disagrees with the reports it puts out. That is part of the hazard of the trade. Fortunately, those who know better have kept this firm alive.

The other line of attack against the latest survey is basically an attack against statistical science itself. We have heard this line before: how could 1,250 respondents possible represent the millions of constituents out there?

This other line of attack is simply bankrupt. It tries to drown out the proven validity of random sampling as the basis for projecting large percentages.

There are other more insidious interpretations of the survey spewed out by those in denial of what the numbers tell us.

One spokesman for the opposition tries to explain away the President’s high approval numbers by saying the respondents were just grateful for the “ayuda” received from government during the most difficult months of the pandemic. That claim is simply ridiculous. It insults the intelligence of our people. It underscores the sort of snobbery that alienated the opposition from the people in the first place.

The same group that offers this limp explanation had been, for years, claiming that Duterte was swept to power by the unlettered and the uninformed. This is the group whose trolls refer to the President’s supporters as “Dutertards.”

There is no way this elitist group will establish rapport with the masses.

Another insidious pseudo-explanation is to say the respondents were simply “fearful” of the President. That might work well with their preferred (albeit inaccurate) characterization of the present dispensation as one that maintains itself by means of terrorizing the populace.

Over the past few years, they have been trying to peddle the caricature that the Philippine government has been indulging in mass murder or gross intimidation. They have tried to influence foreign politicians that human rights are being trampled upon in this country and that poor communities are being massacred in the name of fighting dangerous drugs.

But that is a caricature. It exists only in the minds of anti-administration propagandists. Unfortunately for them, the caricature cannot influence the random sampling methods on which the approval rating was drawn.

It will serve the anti-Duterte groups better if they accept the survey results and learn from it. It is the best possible sounding of what is going on in our communities.

My own theory about the very high approval rating given the President is that recurrent pattern here and elsewhere for people to rally around their leader in moments of exigency and uncertainty. This pattern is particularly salient among wartime leaders. The British, for instance, mocked Winston Churchill until they had to depend on him to avert being overrun by the Nazis.

We are, in a way, in the middle of a war. It is a war against a vicious virus. However imperfect government might have been in this war, it is the only leadership available to defeat the pandemic. If we do not rally around it, we are lost.

This is not the moment to fiddle with petty partisan concerns. The country needs all hands on deck to defeat the most perilous public health crisis we ever had. Duterte is the only functioning leader we have.

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