Understanding the SWS survey and the early Marcos lead

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Presidential surveys from reputable pollsters tell more than just the poll leaders. If one examines the full report, you will find a wealth of data, not the least of which are the reasons why certain candidates trend upwards or downwards.

The most recent national poll was conducted last Jan. 28 to 31 by the Social Weather Stations (SWS). SWS, under the baton of Dr. Mahar Mangahas, is arguably the most credible pollster in the country. Its methodologies conform to internationally accepted standards, eliminating any shadow of bias. Its reputation is impeccable, here and abroad, as its polls carry a margin of error of only three percent.

Comparing the SWS surveys concluded on Dec. 16 and Jan. 31, you will find that Marcos and Pacquiao trended downwards, each losing voter traction over the period. Pacquiao ended January with an 11 percent voter share while Marcos ended with 50 percent, a drop from his all-time high.

The gainers were Robredo who surged five points to end at 19 percent and Domagoso who also gained 5 points to end at 11 percent. Lacson gained one point to secure a 6 percent voter share.

Marcos enjoys a wide lead in the polls despite the baggage he carries and the controversies that face him. To what can we attribute his popularity?

First, we must understand that Bongbong Marcos is not the superstar here. Another reputable survey (not SWS) shows that Bongbong’s authentic base of voters is at 20 percent, plus or minus. Thirty percent of his votes are attributed to President Duterte. The President still enjoys a 75 percent approval rating.  Data show that 55.83 percent of the voting public view Bongbong as “Duterte Lite” or the continuity of the regime. Whether this is true or not is another story. Marcos has become the sole beneficiary of Sara Duterte’s decision to slide down to vice and Bong Go’s decision to bow out of the race.

Let us now look at the profile of the voting public. Forty nine percent are between 18 to 44 years old. Those in their 40s today were born in the late 70s, too young to be aware of the atrocities and economic devastation caused by Ferdinand and Imelda. The younger voters were not even born yet.

Seventy-five percent of the voting public belong to the economic class whose household income is between P10,481 to P20,962 a month while 14 percent live below the poverty line. Put together, 89 percent of voters live from hand to mouth and represent the sector betrayed by the system.

In terms of educational attainment, 21 percent of the voting public have had either no formal education or finished only elementary level. The bulk, or 57 percent, finished high school or some vocational course.

As for internet access, 92.1 million Filipinos are now active on social media. Internet connectivity was at 67 million back in 2018 but the pandemic accelerated digital adoption. Filipinos spend an average of 10.27 hours on social media daily, the second longest in the world. Facebook dominates all platforms, followed by YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok. Other than free TV, social media is the primary source of information for the greater majority.

So here we have the perfect conditions for disinformation – a voting public too young to know the truth about the Marcos era; a population whose vast majority is educationally-challenged, thus easily swayed by parallel truths and disinformation; a population fraught with discontent due to the hardships of life and who blame the oligarchs for it; and a population armed with a mobile phone that enables them to be force-fed disinformation.

Social media is where narratives are formed and where votes are won or lost. Thus, candidates with the strongest social media engagements have the greatest advantage.

We were informed by insider intelligence that the Marcoses engaged a Swiss campaign consultant to scientifically conduct surveys, provide analysis and formulate strategies. This is why the Marcos campaign is executed with seeming precision. At the heart of the Marcos campaign are four messages: That Marcos Junior is the most qualified candidate; that the Martial Law years were the country’s golden era; that the UniTeam is unstoppable (for bandwagon effect); and that mainstream media is biased and not to be believed.

Marcos had an early start in his social media campaign. The retelling of alternative history started even before the 2016 campaign. The campaign has since gone on overdrive following Bongbong’s filing of candidacy last October. The Marcos camp registered a 60 percent engagement share last November, which explains why he was lording it over the surveys. In the last week of January, however, his share of engagements dropped to 50.9 percent while that of VP Leni Robredo surged to 39.9 percent from nil three months ago. This partly explains Robredo’s five point surge.

There is still 75 days left before we cast our vote and anything can happen. It will be recalled that in 2016, Mr. Duterte was still in fourth position as of end January with a voter share equivalent of Robredo’s share today. Adding to unpredictability is that 28 percent of the voting public are likely to change their presidential choice, according to the SWS survey. It will be interesting to see how all these pan out.

Two things are for sure. First, as we face the height of the campaign, the candidate who gets the highest engagements on social media will likely win. Second, the candidate who effectively and genuinely addresses the pain points of the voting public – poverty, unemployment, rising prices and corruption – will resonate the most. May the best man, or woman, win.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and Twitter @aj_masigan

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