Friday, April 24, 2015

Why I can’t ask anyone to trust the polls

My Monday column (“Why do we let these fraudsters fool us?”) alarmed a few friends who felt it might have cost me whatever little chance I had of ever figuring in any political survey, should I ever lose my mind and decide to run for the office universally coveted by non-qualified aspirants.
This friendly concern is genuinely appreciated. But although I have won and lost elections, I have never played this political shell-game before, and I have no plans of playing it now. As an observer, my task is simply to expose the propaganda fraudsters’ game, and help the unsuspecting and the innocent avoid getting swindled.
We must never fail to expose those who fraudulently manufacture public opinion in the guise of scientifically measuring it. This is a highly lucrative con game, and there is a price to be paid for exposing this, but I have long paid it. Please indulge me a little.
In 1995, Dr. Mahar Mangahas of SWS failed miserably in his 1992 prediction and threat that I would not be reelected as senator if I did not support the family planning program of the Ramos government.
Not only was I reelected with flying colors; more than that, no population control proposal ever prospered in the Senate. But this meant battling the aggressive global anti-life and anti-family forces, which made profligate use of false and misleading propaganda surveys.
In the run-up to the senatorial elections that year, word leaked out that the President’s most influential political general had started a campaign to “junk” Sen. Rodolfo Biazon and myself from the administration ticket, which President Ramos had agreed to form in coalition with Sen. Edgardo Angara’s party, to which we were both affiliated. There was no rational explanation for it.
I cannot talk for or about Biazon. I can only talk about myself. I had by then become Malacanang’s closest collaborator in the Senate. In my capacity as Senate Majority Leader, a position I would hold under five Senate presidents, I worked on every Malacanang measure, including the most controversial ones, such as the new Mining Law and the Electric Power Crisis Act. I could not therefore understand why I had suddenly become the object of Malacañang’s secret wrath.
Ramos showed himself to be similarly perplexed. Reacting to the story that had leaked out from Mindanao, he convened a big Malacañang meeting to sort things out. In that meeting, the political general did not deny anything, but merely tried to trivialize the story by saying I was giving “too much credibility” to reports about his “capacity for mischief.” After that, Ramos assured everyone that whatever mischief was being planned against me and Biazon would be stopped.
I thanked Ramos for his statement. When asked by the press whether I trusted the President’s word, I said that if I could not trust the President’s word, then there was nobody else’s word one could trust. But as we came closer to the actual campaign, we tended to become hostage to the Malacañang “surveys.”
The senators and senatorial candidates would meet weekly at the President’s unofficial “residence” (the one outside Malacañang), with the President presiding.
After dinner and the political chit-chat, the President’s official pollster would present his “latest survey” to inform the candidates how they were being perceived in the field. In all these surveys, everyone seemed to be managing very well, including newcomers who had not done anything remotely associated with the national interest, or said anything on any public issue, or who had lost in their earlier bids for congressional office.
What I could not understand was why my numbers refused to move despite the fact that I was at the center of every major legislation, and spoke to every burning issue affecting the lives of our people. I listened to every presentation, saying nothing, but I began to smell a rat. Finally, when I could no longer stomach the obvious deception, I decided to ask some questions about the survey.
I asked the presidential pollster how one could ensure that the views of one’s samples (i.e., the people being interviewed) would be consistent with the views of the rest of the population, in a situation where the political forces had been de-aligned (as in a train that has gone off the tracks).
He said he did not understand the question, and therefore could not answer. I tried to explain. I said that in order for a pollster to be able to say that the views expressed by his samples reflected the views of the rest of the population, there should be a certain degree of homogeneity between the former and the latter. Otherwise, no pollster could claim that 10 percent of the population favors A for the position of dog-catcher, just because 10 percent of those polled had expressed that position. The only honest thing the pollster could say, under the circumstances, is that 10 per cent of “those polled” supports A for dog-catcher.
I could not hide my suspicion that the “survey results” were going to be used not only to condition the minds of the voters, but above all to provide the actual guidelines for the actual election operators on the ground. This would become much clearer when we talked about the expected turnout in the elections.
What was his planning assumption, I asked. He answered, “very high, about 90 percent.” I said, “that’s not possible. The usual average is 60 to 65 percent.”
“But there’s so much interest in the barangays,” he said. “That’s nonsense,” I said. “This is not a presidential election, which usually draws more voters to the voting centers. Even in such elections, political leaders normally physically drag voters to the polls. In any case, what is the historic figure that normally you use for non-voting voters?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand this term, ‘non-voting voters’,” he said.
This time I really blew my top. “If you don’t understand this term, then you don’t have any business making this presentation,” I said.
Everyone around the table looked stunned, except for the President who continued quietly with his meal.
The next week, we had the same briefing. But this time the President and his Executive Secretary came to me to say, “Congratulations, Kit, your rating has gone up, you’re now in the winning circle.”
To this, I could not manage a very polite response. “Naglolokohan lang po tayo dito,” I said, (“We are just fooling each other here.”)
I won handily in the elections on a shoestring budget as usual, but until now, some people who worked with me in that election insist that I lost some 2,200,000 votes to the usual operators. This is but one of the reasons I cannot encourage anyone to trust the propaganda polls.

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