By Ricardo Saludo | The Manila Times
Whether automatically or deliberately generated, "News About Leni Robredo" on the Google News app compiles and updates online news links about her campaign, especially the series of endorsements she got from former top state officials, generals, diplomats and religious, education and business groups.
Will these support statements from public figures of past administrations, along with prelates, priests, nuns, laity, educators, students, artists, entertainers, economists and business groups boost the "pink presidentiable"?
So far, not yet. In the latest voter survey from Laylo Research, headed by Cornell-trained pollster Pedro "Junie" Laylo Jr., former senator and governor Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. continued to dominate, chosen by 63 percent of respondents on the February 12 to14 survey, hardly budging from 64 percent a month before.
Marcos was also most trusted among aspirants for the country's highest political post, with +59 net trust rating. He was seen by 64 percent of respondents as most likely to sustain President Duterte's work and do even better (59 percent). Plus: 56 percent of respondents favoring Marcos said they would not change their vote.
His Laylo rating mirrors grades in pretty much every broad-based poll since the October deadline for filing certificates of candidacy (CoCs) with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
That was when erstwhile survey leader Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio filed a CoC to run for mayor again, not president. In November, she switched to vice president and has since also enjoyed a huge lead in VP surveys.
In the poll conducted by the OCTA Research group on February 12 to 17, Marcos was selected by 55 percent of respondents, while rivals got 15 percent or lower marks. Pulse Asia's latest survey, done on January 19 to 24, had Marcos at 60 percent, up from 53 percent last December.
The Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll on January 28 to 31, commissioned by the Stratbase ADR think-tank of pro-Robredo, Aquino-era Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, gave Marcos 50 percent and VP Robredo 19 percent. And the February 11 to 16 survey by Publicus Asia, headed by fellow columnist and former Moreno adviser Malou Tiquia, gave Marcos 52 percent and Robredo 22 percent, both hardly changed since the December survey.
Are surveys reliable?
As candidates behind in surveys always do, Marcos rivals and their camps say the crowds attending their rallies belie their low ratings. In fact, large crowds numbering tens of thousands in several localities cannot debunk scientifically conducted polls able to capture voter sentiments nationwide.
One group of academics warned against unprofessional surveys, declaring last month: "We, the faculty members of the University of the Philippines School of Statistics, speak and lend our collective voice to call out the pervasive abuse of survey methodologies by some entities doing their own brand of research, and promoting them in social media."
The UP professors took particular issue with "surveys not based on random sampling, such as videos of "kalye surveys" being done by some vloggers and suspicious online surveys, especially on Twitter and Facebook." The Laylo, OCTA, Pulse Asia, Publicus and SWS polls use random sampling.
How did surveys do in predicting past elections? The last three presidential races were all won by the topnotchers in final surveys of both Pulse Asia and SWS, which are barred by law from polling one week before voting.
In 2004, then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was ahead of Fernando Poe Jr. by about 6 percentage points in the last surveys by Pulse Asia and SWS; she eventually won by 1 million votes, or 3 percentage points.
In the 2010 elections, winner Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino 3rd was the choice of 39 percent of respondents in Pulse Asia and 42 percent in SWS; he got 42 percent of the actual vote.
And six years ago, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was the choice of 33 percent of both Pulse Asia and SWS respondents. He won with 39 percent of votes cast.
Setting aside unscientific polls using such methods as buttonholing people on the street and soliciting online votes, which can be skewed by lack of controls, professional surveys do seem to reflect voter sentiments.
Changing voter choices
If the polls do reflect the current choices of voters, is it still possible to change them enough to give Marcos a real challenge?
Back in January 2004, film superstar Poe was ahead of President Arroyo by 10 percentage points in the SWS poll that month. But by April, she was leading by the equivalent of 2 million votes.
And in the last elections, Sen. Mary Grace Poe enjoyed a small lead over rivals until the end of March 2016. Then Mayor Duterte surged ahead, eventually topping Manuel "Mar" Roxas 2nd and Senator Poe by at least 10 percentage points in the last Pulse Asia and SWS surveys.
While these instances show that winners can come from behind, the survey margins overcome by Arroyo and Duterte were far smaller than the 30 to 40 percentage points by which Marcos leads Robredo.
Can she catch up? In 2010, Sen. Manuel Villar and former president Joseph Estrada could not overcome Aquino's lead of 10 to 20 points. So, it may not be possible for her to stop a Marcos landslide.
But she and her team are trying hard, and the avalanche of endorsements is probably the best strategy she has.
The hope is that leading figures in the Catholic and other Christian churches, respected educators, former top government officials, generals and diplomats, top economists and business groups would sway most of the 67.5 million registered voters.
Would they? Most of the electorate are young, so they may not connect that well with the Robredo endorsers who are mostly over 50. And while the latter lived through the Marcos decades, most voters didn't and may not share their concerns and animosity toward the late strongman and his family.
Perhaps the biggest factor is that ordinary folk tend to vote as family, friends and community, rather than follow the lead of big-name endorsers. Unless the latter happen to be local politicians to whom people turn for help. And so far, the political establishment seems to favor Marcos.