The Manila Times
NO HOLDS BARRED
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column
POLL surveys have been ubiquitous features in the electoral landscape after the first was introduced during the 1824 US presidential race among Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. The survey which was conducted by the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian showed Jackson led Adams. While Jackson won a slim popular vote, the US House of Representatives, pursuant to the US Federal Constitution, voted Adams as the 6th President of the United States because not one of the contenders got an overall majority in the Electoral College.
Much later, American George Gallup made empirical innovations on what was then known as “straw polls”. He created a more scientific methodology by, among others, “sampling a randomly selected, statistically average group of people”. He also used trained interviewers. Today’s pollsters generally follow Gallup’s methodology.
The conduct of opinion surveys and the publication of results are accorded adequate protection by the Philippine Constitution as integral to the freedoms of speech and of the press. This protection gains primacy during elections when the people are guaranteed access to information on election issues. Verily, the freedom of expression and the right to know are indispensable complementary components of the right of suffrage.
Thus, the Supreme Court in ABS-CBN v. Comelec pronounced that “the freedoms of speech and of the press should all the more be upheld when what is sought to be curtailed is the dissemination of information meant to add meaning to the equally vital right of suffrage.”
Consequently, in SWS v. Comelec, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the provision in the Fair Election Act which prohibited the publication of survey results days before election day as found in Section 5.4 which read: “Surveys affecting national candidates shall not be published fifteen (15) days before an election and surveys affecting local candidates shall not be published seven (7) days before an election.”
The Supreme Court held that “§5.4 is invalid because (1) it imposes a prior restraint on the freedom of expression, (2) it is a direct and total suppression of a category of expression even though such suppression is only for a limited period, and (3) the governmental interest sought to be promoted can be achieved by means other than the suppression of freedom of expression.”
However, like all freedoms, the expansive protection to poll surveys is not absolute. It is subject to reasonable regulations by the State to prevent abuse and misuse, like for partisan and ulterior motives. Farcical surveys to deceive the electorate by creating artificial trending or bandwagon stratagem do not deserve protection.
Thus, the Fair Election Act provides:
“5.2. During the election period, any person, natural as well as juridical, candidate or organization who publishes a survey must likewise publish the following information:
“(a) The name of the person, candidate, party or organization who commissioned or paid for the survey;
“(b) The name of the person, polling firm or survey organization who conducted the survey;
“(c) The period during which the survey was conducted, the methodology used, including the number of individual respondents and the areas from which they were selected, and the specific questions asked;
“(d) The margin of error of the survey;
x x x x x x x x x
“5.3. The survey together with raw data gathered to support its conclusions shall be available for inspection, copying and verification by the COMELEC or by a registered political party or a bona fide candidate or by any COMELEC-accredited citizen's arm.”
In a letter dated Mar. 7, 2022 to then Acting Comelec Chairperson Socorro Inting, I inquired whether the poll agency has monitored the compliance by current pollsters with the foregoing requirements, more particularly on the publication of the methodology used, areas covered, and the questions asked. I have not received a reply.
The one who commissioned the survey, the methodology used, areas covered, sampling of respondents interviewed, and questions asked, including the professionalism of the interviewers, are important to ascertain the accuracy, credibility, and representativeness of poll surveys.
The crystal balls of election fortune tellers are not correct in their predictions all the time. In the United States, where poll forecasting began and is institutionalized, there were election forecasts which dismally failed.
In 1936, the reputable Literary Digest polled two million of its subscribers and predicted republican Alf Landon would beat reelectionist President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It turned out Roosevelt garnered 63% of the votes. Literary Digest committed the mistake of polling mostly well-off voters who were traditionally republicans. The representativeness of the respondents is indispensable. The Literary Digest soon became bankrupt.
All pollsters, including the credible Gallup Poll, predicted that Thomas Dewey would wallop Harry Truman. After the election, the iconic photo of the victorious Truman holding the issue of the Chicago Tribune heralding “Dewey’s triumph” went global. Gallup failed because it “stopped polling during the last few weeks of the campaign, figuring voters weren’t likely to change their minds.” Timeliness of the polling is important.
More recently, pollsters predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the crucial States of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Donald Trump won these States and eventually took the vote of the Electoral College and the presidency. The pollsters surveyed respondents who mostly did not vote. The respondents must be sampled correctly.
Verily, what is crucial is that the pre-election polling is “asking the right questions of the right people at the right time”.
The Philippine pre-election polling scenario for the May 9 elections forecasting that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would capture Malacañang may fall into the trap of the disastrous failures in the United States.
How can Filipinos enthrone the son of Marcos the dictator who is guilty of oppression and plunder against his own people as adjudged by our Supreme Court?
Why should Filipinos elevate to the presidency an unrepentant principal beneficiary of the corruption and repression of martial law?
Why would Filipinos entrust their vote to a candidate who has no concrete and coherent platform of government?
Why should Filipinos install as president someone who has no credible performance in his previous elected public positions?
The Filipino electorate will make a verdict, not a forecast.