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The Philippine Star : Unprecedented

News & Interviews
25 December 2021

By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star

The Pulse Asia preference survey brought us no surprises.

Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte are leading their rivals by unprecedented margins as the other surveys indicated. What is different is that Pulse Asia is the survey of reference, if one might call it that. Over so many years, the polling firm has anticipated actual voting with uncanny accuracy. It has a track record to stand on.

This is certainly bad news for the lesser candidates who seem to be standing under an avalanche.

The Pulse Asia results will be reference for local politicians plotting their campaign alignments. It will be reference for the usual campaign donors deciding on where their contributions will go. It will be reference for those who command blocks of votes now deciding who to affiliate with. It will also be reference for beleaguered candidates deciding on whether or not to continue what might appear to be quixotic bids.

In a word, the Pulse Asia December survey shapes the course of the electoral contest.

In December 1997, the Jose de Venecia campaign faced tremendous odds as indicated by the preference survey. The vastly popular Joseph Estrada led the administration Lakas candidate by about 15 points. It did seem that it was all over except for the voting.

The Lakas campaign strategists combed all the numbers, looked at provinces where voting numbers might be shored up. The ebullient and unsinkable Manong Joe was convinced the command votes could overcome the market votes. A win could still be eked out and a narrow margin similar to that posted by Fidel Ramos over Miriam Defensor Santiago was achievable.

Local allies were pressed to turn out the party vote. Religious groups committing to deliver the votes of their faithful were asked for real numbers. What we call the electoral “machine” was put on full throttle.

All the valiant effort was in vain. Estrada won by landslide.

The insight I drew from this episode is that command votes, at least in the presidential election, were no match for the market vote. Voters might vote for the local warlords because they were asked to. But they reserved the vote for president and vice president as a deeply personal choice.

The final numbers after the votes were counted confirmed what the surveys said. All the command votes fizzled.

In the 1998 elections, command votes were pitted against the market votes. The dynamic of the May 2022 elections is completely different. The command votes will reinforce the trend the surveys document. Both popularity and machine are on BBM’s side.

This will magnify, not diminish, what the surveys now tell us.

The grizzled veterans of previous elections know what is happening. But the lesser candidates will never admit the full repercussions of what the survey results say. To do so is to basically tell their camp followers to fold the tents and go home.

So it is that we now witness some really hard spinning.

The Robredo camp underscores how much contortion is required for spinning exercises. The camp wants us to see the fact that she more than doubled her September numbers. But they do not want us to see that BBM also more than doubled his numbers (which are larger) during the same period.

It takes some amount of intellectual dishonesty to peddle the Robredo line.

The increase in the voter preference shares of both BBM and Leni is a function of the reduction in the number of candidates listed in the survey fed out to the respondents. That is plain arithmetic.

Bongbong’s share increased because he won over the voters who might have gone for Sara had she continued her run president. Leni’s share is boosted by voters who might have gone for Grace Poe and not by anything intrinsically competent in her campaign.

Then there is the fact that there were more BBM voters to begin with and an even bigger number migrating from Sara’s abandoned presidential bid. That explains why BBM now has something we have never seen before under the present constitutional framework: a 53 percent voter preference share.

Alas, we now stand at the threshold of finally having a majority president.

Leni’s spokesman repeats an old message to hold on to the media space after the Pulse Asia release: that their lines for cooperation remain open to the other candidates. That is an academic statement to make. Even if all the other candidates pool their votes together, they cannot muster a majority.

The other day, I listened to a TV interview of Edwin Lacierda, Noynoy Aquino’s former spokesman and now a talking head for the Leni camp. He labored on the arithmetic of where the votes will go should BBM be disqualified. The subtext he leaves the viewer, however, is that only disqualification will dramatically alter the voter preference trend we see.

Not once did Lacierda mention the possible costs of disqualifying a candidate massively leading in all the measures of voter support. Those costs include a very long period of political instability and a massive loss of legitimacy for the electoral system we have.

I shudder contemplating the magnitude of those costs and the effects these will have on our national fortune.

Nevertheless, the calamity, the pandemic and the disappointments of some political camps notwithstanding, we deserve a Blessed Christmas as we always do.

There are times when it seems the nation needs to thread the eye of a needle to get through to the future our people deserve. This is one of those times.