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The Manila Times : Strategic thinking: Why BBM-Sara are dominating this early, and the others still await a sign from God

News & Interviews
30 November 2021

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

It is strategy, not spin, that wins elections. A candidate who waits for the other candidate to make a mistake or relies on outspending his opponent to win is playing a fool's game. The wiser course is to rely on a basic strategy which frames the interplay of competing messages clearly and shows a path to victory.

– Dick Morris, The New Prince

First word

IT is no mystery that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio are dominating the race for president and vice president at this early stage, and that many of the rival candidates are still blindly groping for their corner in the ring.

It is not a riddle either that Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa folded his presidential run, just weeks after filing his certificate of candidacy (CoC), or that Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go has confessed to being still in shock over his candidacy for president, and that he is still waiting for a sign from God whether to press on or withdraw.

Many of the presidential aspirants are in limbo because they have not answered the fundamental questions about their candidacies: 1) why they are running for president of the Republic and what they can bring to national life; and 2) how or by what means do they figure to secure the votes of millions of our people to win the presidency.

To answer these questions sensibly is to apply a measure of strategic thinking to a candidate's campaign. It is to introduce rationality in place of wishful thinking.

Strategic thinking

A most illuminating guide to the concept of strategic thinking is the book Thinking Strategically by Avindash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff (W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1991). It is subtitled The competitive edge in business, politics and everyday life.

Thinking Strategically became an international bestseller: it was enthusiastically received in Japan and became required reading at the best business schools. One measure of its influence is the popular saying from the book: "Thinking strategically — 'Don't compete without it'."

What was all the fuss about?

In the book's preface, the authors wrote: "Strategic thinking is the art of outdoing an adversary, knowing that the adversary is trying to do the same to you. All of us must practice strategic thinking at work as well as at home. Businessmen and corporations must use good competitive strategies to survive. Politicians have to devise campaign strategies to get elected, and legislative strategies to implement their vision.

The science of strategic thinking is called game theory. This is a relatively young science — less than 50 years old."

A campaign strategy today is an essential component of every election campaign. No candidate can succeed without one.

Here at home, two authors, Maria Lourdes Tiquia and Maria Irene Cariaga, explained the strategy concept in their book, Campaign Politics (Brown Ink Publication, 2000), as follows;

"What is a campaign strategy? A strategy is a blueprint for winning an election.

There are five components of a campaign strategy: 1) determining which voters in the electorate to approach; 2) creating the message to communicate; 3) obtaining the necessary resources; 4) timing the activities; and 5) tactics."

Morris concluded his discussion of strategy with this curious comment: "A good campaign strategy should take no more than a few words to express. But it is a sentence that most campaigns never write. Instead they wait to see what develops, hoping to pounce on the tactical errors of an opponent."

Candidates' response

Modern election campaigns neglect or ignore strategic thinking at their own peril and disadvantage.

In the present election cycle in the country, it is painfully apparent which candidates have taken the time to think strategically about their presidential bids, and which have been too lazy and clueless to create a campaign strategy to win in the election.

Probably because most of his adult life has been a rehearsal or preparation for his presidential candidacy, Bongbong Marcos has thought through all the problems, challenges and barriers to his candidacy; he and his advisers have fashioned a coherent strategy to capture a convincing majority of the vote across the entire archipelago. He has molded a campaign message which, given some fine tuning and a dose of eloquence, could swing the campaign and election in his favor.

When I said in the title of the first part of this column, "Geography and demography rhyme in BBM-Sara tandem" (The Manila Times, Nov. 27, 2021), I meant specifically to underscore how the BBM-Sara UniTeam has expertly targeted two strategic factors in Philippine elections which, if won, would confer a decisive and probably insurmountable edge in the campaign.

These factors are: 1) the geography of the vote — the union of the votes of the north and south of the country; and 2) the demographics of the vote — the age distribution of the voters.

Geography of the vote

By consciously forming a single presidential team and by extension a single national team for the entire election, BBM and Sara are aiming for a consolidation of voter support not only from the north and south of the archipelago, but from all major voting blocs throughout the country.

The north has long been called the "Solid North" in national elections because of the tradition and tendency of northern voters to favor a favorite son in national elections, particularly a candidate seeking the presidency.

Ferdinand Marcos made this cohesion legendary under his leadership, and now BBM seeks it for his own election.

The so-called solid north consists of three regions: the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) – 1,013,418; Region 1 (Ilocos Region) – 3,331,394; and Region 2 (Cagayan Valley) – 2,194,418.

The election of Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 election as the first president from Mindanao heralded the potential emergence of a south vote, consolidating the votes from Mindanao and key regions of the Visayas.

The BBM-Sara team adds as a factor the power of two of the largest language groups in the country: the Cebuano vote and the Ilocano vote.

Demographics of the vote

One other decisive factor must be reckoned with in weighing the Philippine electorate, and this is the demographics or age group distribution of Filipino voters.

In its last report on the registration of voters for the 2022 election, the Commission on Elections said that as of Sept. 11, 2021, it had registered 60.42 million voters.

It said further that young Filipino voters now comprise 52 percent of the total registered voters, according to Comelec communications director James Jimenez.

"That's how significant the youth vote is in the coming election," Jimenez said during a briefing with CNN Philippines.

Jimenez said that as of July this year, 60.46 million Filipinos are already registered for the 2022 general elections — higher than Comelec's target of 59 million.

Out of that total, 31.41 million voters are in the age group of 18 to 40 years old, classified as the youth vote.

Despite the pandemic, Jimenez said the poll body expects to record more registered voters for the coming elections. In 2019, the number of registered voters stood at 61,843,771.

"We are closer to 62 million, the numbers keep growing. We have massive registration going on right now," he said, adding that the Comelec has been processing over 25,000 registrants per day.

The size of the youth vote is a major factor that must weigh on the minds of the candidates and the political parties as the election campaign gears for its start in February next year.

Not surprisingly, the BBM-Sara team appears prepared for the challenge of the youth in the election.

Marcos Jr. is 63 years old; he belongs among the baby boomer generation born after World War 2.

Duterte-Carpio is 43 years old; she belongs to the generation described as Generation X.

It is very clear that generational change is going to transpire with the 2022 election. There will be changes of people at the helm and there will be massive changes in different sectors and levels of society.

Managing this massive transition and process of generational change will require leadership and vision from the government, the private sector and civil society.

The candidates must address this challenge too during the campaign.