The Manila Times : Survey deniers

19 March 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

THIS election season will leave in its aftermath a landscape that will be littered not with dead bodies but with family and friendships torn apart. In addition, it will also leave in its wake a badly damaged sense of reason among many people, including even those whose vocations are supposed to nurture and propagate it. Science has been attacked and diminished not only by those who opposed vaccination and mask mandates, but also by those whose candidates are losing.

And some of those who are taking the lead are people who are supposed to know better because they took classes in statistics not only in high school, but even in college. Some of them even have graduate degrees.

It is understandable to be disappointed when survey results are not to one's liking. It cannot be a happy moment for people who see former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as the son of a dictator, one who benefited from the alleged plunder by his family, one who misrepresented his degree and one who even President Rodrigo Duterte is not fond of retaining his overwhelming lead in all scientific surveys with randomized samples whose data was obtained using face-to-face interviews. And as if this were not enough, and based on the most recent survey results from Pulse Asia, he is even the most trusted by the people, perceived as the most pro-poor and considered the least corrupt. This would be enough to send dyed-in-the wool Marcos haters to hyperventilate.

And you can really see the anger and frustration. Exploding in social media are people vowing to migrate and leave the country and change their citizenships. There is also a renewed condemnation of the state of mind and morals of those who bestowed on Marcos Jr. what they see as anomalous numbers. And then, there are those who criticize the survey takers as paid hacks and peddlers of fakery, and their surveys as pure works of fiction.

These are coming from people who question scientific surveys and cast doubt on the very principle of randomization and probability sampling, raising the perennial gripe about how a sample of 2,400 respondents can speak for the entire voting population. This, even as these people are now placing much value on Google Trends, Google search and social media analytics, where their candidate is out-performing the survey front-runner, despite the fact that the scientific basis for the reliability and validity of these metrics as predictors of voter preference remain dubious.

Yet, these very same people who slander the reliability of surveys because they show Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo at a distance from Marcos Jr., the survey leader, are now saying that the numbers are not yet showing the alleged uptrend in her numbers, as evidenced by the allegedly huge crowds attending her rallies which were held only after the surveys were conducted. Thus, they cast aspersions on surveys showing Robredo losing, but are setting up a mindset that would make them believable when Robredo will be leading. Science is thus rendered as believable only when it is consistent with a convenient and preferred narrative.

This argument is also based on two premises that lack scientific rigor. First, it assumes that only the rally crowds of Robredo are getting bigger while that of other candidates, especially that of Marcos Jr., are getting thinner. A corollary to this is that it is also further assumed that the Robredo crowds swell because of a significant number of former Marcos Jr. voters who are now abandoning him and have now been converted to Leni supporters. There is no benchmark data to prove these claims.

Second, there is also no evidence to disprove that these large crowds attending rallies of candidates are actually mere manifestations of general voter sentiments that are already captured statistically by the surveys. There is no benchmark to show otherwise since there were no rallies held in the same places prior to the conduct of the surveys to enable a clear comparison to claim that crowds are, in fact, growing or thinning. There is no definitive data that can validate the claims made by some analysts, partisan or otherwise, about trends in voter preference as correlated with size of rally crowds or Google searches.

What these survey deniers conveniently forget is that it is largely their failure to correctly read the sentiment of ordinary people that led to a situation where a person they derisively label as a thief ends up the most trusted and the least corrupt by most voters. Many of us have been telling them that it is no longer just about Marcos Jr. anymore. He was able to rebrand himself not only because of his attributes, but also thanks to a defiant mass base of supporters who are voting out of spite after being patronized, insulted, demeaned and diminished by an elitist and morally self-righteous crowd that has become the brand that they have successfully attached to Robredo.

Now that only 51 days are left before elections, these survey deniers are casting their hopes on a miracle, as they struggle to manufacture an imagined groundswell of support not governed by science but propelled by optical illusions and bravado. They count on this as they wish that first, all other candidates would withdraw in favor of Robredo; second, all their voters would like herds of cattle dutifully transfer their votes to her; and third, that a substantial number of Marcos voters would have an epiphany and become Robredo supporters.

These are people who will not believe the results of scientific surveys and the advice of non-partisan political scientists, but would rather wish for a trifecta of the nearly impossible. And it seems, as evidenced by their game plan, that they would continue mobilizing optics. They seem to have never learned as they continue to work on what that lady from New York once said: It doesn't have to be true. It just has to look like it is true.