From the pollsters’ lens–darkly

From the pollsters’ lens–darkly

BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

The camp of losing presidential candidate Manny Villar got tremendous boosta, even during the darkest hours of the failed campaign, from an in-house polling firm that has compiled a track record of skewing figures to favor its principal. And, boy, it really delivered.

If you graph the figures of this pseudo-pollster, there was never a point in the campaign that showed a noncompetitive Villar. The fake pollster exclusively reported two results: Villar closing in on the figures of the survey leader or Villar surging to victory.

The pollster can never compete in the mainstream market and is fully aware who butters his bread. So he does what his principals pay for—arrive at results that would lift even the most hopeless campaign.

It is interesting to dredge up what this fake pollster did in previous engagements: put out figures that showed a competitive run by Joe de Venecia in the 1998 presidential campaign and a parity in the senatorial fight between the GO and the TU in the 2007 senatorial election. We all know the results: de Venecia was massacred in the 1998 presidential election and the administration senatorial ticket, the Team Unity, just won three of the 12 slots up for grabs in 2007.

In sophisticated democracies, political parties retain in-house polling companies or professional polling and survey people. But would Mandy Grunwald, the pollsters identified with the US Democratic Party, ever report figures other than the truthful ones? The idea behind hiring in-house polling people or polling firms is to get a feel of the sentiment at ground level so adjustments can be made in a campaign whenever necessary.

It is not to come out with fake figures to lift the morale of a losing campaign. Or, to have a peg for a press statement. I have to keep repeating this. As the Bard wrote, all lies end up badly.

The two mainstream polling firms, on the other hand, had been credited for getting two things right about the recently concluded national campaign: Noynoy’s percentage of the votes cast and the rankings of the winning senators. The divergence between the figures of the two mainline polling firms and the actual election results also fell within the standard margin of error.

Despite this, there are several on-the-ground sentiments that the respected polling firms missed and missed by a mile.

The mainstream polling firms failed to really capture the depth of support for the Estrada-Binay team. This sentiment was not a late-breaking development in the campaign, as the pollsters wanted us to believe. It was there from the start and peaked at the right time. Only, it was not enough to get past the popular clamor for change that Noynoy’s campaign represented.

All along, it was not Villar and his team that were competing with Aquino and company. It was Estrada and Binay who gathered huge crowds especially in the areas that belonged to the poorest of the poor.
People queued to see Noynoy in the urban areas and in the cities where fulfillment of the human development benchmarks are higher. In the poor areas such as the struggling Cordilleras, the sentiment was Erap pa rin.

Check the voting figures in the weather-beaten provinces such as Catanduanes and Aurora, those outside of the media loop. The Erap magic still lives in such areas.

Track the survey results of the mainstream polling firms and this Erap pa rin sentiment was never factored in.

There is enough reason to make a realistic assessment of the oversize role the polling firms play in national electoral campaigns. Reforms are urgently needed in the area of polling and surveys. The pseudo polling companies that do pay-for-favorable survey work should be categorized as such—hired guns.

They should readily identify themselves as polling mercenaries, to which they really belong, to separate them from the ones that carry out honest-to-goodness surveys.

The mainstream polling firms should update their methods and their metric preparations. The science of polling is an evolving thing, a dynamic one that should not be mired in stasis.

The methods and the techniques that the Philippine mainstream polling firms use are behind the times as those in the know have correctly pointed out. These polling firms need to employ 21st century polling methods for 21st century elections.

The clamor for reforms in the way the credit ratings agencies—Moody, S&P and Fitch—does their rating of bonds is now a great movement within the developed economies. After the near-collapse of the global economy, caused in part by the Triple A ratings stamped by the mainstream rating agencies on junks and worthless bonds, there is a reexamination of the same oversize role the credit rating agencies play in the financial world.

Philippine polling firms should be up for a major scrutiny. Despite the apparent success in some areas, there are flaws and shortcomings all over.

Even political junks often get Triple A ratings and are rated as possible winners. And the polling firms often fail to capture the true sentiment at ground level.

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