‘Presidentiables’ surveys

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

What if you are included in a survey of potential presidential aspirants, and you land in the top three of the most preferred, but you sincerely don’t intend to run and don’t want to be included in the survey?

Should polling firms exclude you from further surveys? But who’s to say if you will change your mind at the last minute?

The issue is being discussed by the OCTA research group after Sen. Raffy Tulfo asked that his name be stricken off the list of potential “presidentiables” in 2028.

OCTA fellow and political scientist Ranjit Rye said the exclusion may not be possible for non-commissioned, open-ended surveys, wherein the pollster does not supply the names of possible candidates but allows respondents to list their top-of-mind preferences.

Even those who commission surveys may also not agree to exclude certain names especially of emerging frontrunners from the list.

Polling accuracy can also suffer if certain names are excluded, Rye told “Storycon” on One News last Tuesday, even as he acknowledged that it’s still too early to conduct polling on likely contenders for the presidency in 2028.

Why would a person want to be excluded from surveys on races for the presidency, or for lower posts such as senator, for that matter?

Based on previous events, we have an idea why.

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When a person is perceived to be eyeing high elective office in our country, everything the person does is deemed to be colored with politics.

If a senator, for example, conducts a legitimate probe into anomalous activities, the subject of the probe could dismiss negative findings as politicking or black propaganda.

This, of course, could work both ways. Being seen as a presidential frontrunner facilitates brushing aside as mere smear jobs valid questions raised about the integrity or competence of a public figure.

This is what Vice President Sara Duterte has done with criticisms of her massive confidential funds. For this year, she has lost the P650 million in secret funds that she requested for the Office of the VP and Department of Education, thanks to her political nemesis, Speaker Martin Romualdez and the super majority in the House of Representatives.

When the position believed being eyed by a person is the presidency, inclusion in a survey raises name recall. But it is also guaranteed to make enemies of potential rivals, especially for those who emerge at the top of voter preferences.

For the presidency, serious contenders typically have enormous resources for employing vast armies of trolls, disinformation and smear campaign specialists. Every sin of commission or omission, both real and fabricated, every misbehavior of a perceived rival candidate, from childhood to the present, will be dredged up. The potential candidate becomes a magnet for criticism both fair and unfair.

Naturally, the most blistering attacks are directed at the perceived frontrunner.

Rye points out that this is par for the course for politicians, and public officials should not be onion-skinned.

Being an early frontrunner in a presidential race also has its pluses. The support base can be widened and campaign financiers can come on board (although many hedge their bets until the last minute, or else place bets on all the strongest candidates).

*      *      *

Some quarters say polling especially for races still several years away can result in mind conditioning of voters. In our country, this tends to favor populist politicians, entertainers and other public figures with strong name recall, and excludes lesser known individuals with integrity and competence for public office.

Rye, whose research group gained national prominence during the pandemic for frighteningly accurate projections of COVID infection trends, agrees that it’s premature to be conducting surveys on preferences for the 2028 presidential race.

OCTA nevertheless has accepted three commissioned surveys so far on who might win in case of a one-on-one between VP Sara and Raffy Tulfo.

It would be interesting to know who paid for the surveys. But Rye declined to provide details to Storycon except one: the common outcome. He said the winner in all three polls, hands down, is Tulfo – by a comfortable margin of 10 to 15 points.

Rye was quick to point out that there has never been a two-way presidential race in this country since the elder Ferdinand Marcos faced off with Corazon Aquino in the 1986 snap election.

A three- or four-cornered fight in 2028 obviously will produce a different result. OCTA might hear grumblings from certain camps about being excluded from the commissioned survey.

Polls may also not accurately reflect actual voting behaviors in this country, where bailiwicks remain important.

Tulfo, Rye noted, has no bailiwick; the Dutertes have a strong bailiwick in Mindanao. The Tulfos have roots in Davao, but have not been politically active in the region or the city.

With or without a bailiwick, Raffy Tulfo has said 2028 is not on his mind – “wala sa utak ko ang 2028” – so could he please be excluded from surveys on 2028 presidentiables?

These days when he is teasingly addressed as “Mr. President,” he pleads for the teasing to stop because, he sighs, “dadami ang kaaway ko” – his enemies will increase.

It’s noteworthy though that his plea does not include a categorical statement that he won’t seek the presidency in 2028. But perhaps it is truly too early at this point to discuss solid political plans for a race that’s still four years away.

In the meantime, Rye says that while OCTA respects Tulfo’s views, respondents in open-ended surveys cannot be prevented from naming the senator as a preferred presidential candidate.

A senator is a public figure, and fair game for polling.

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