Campaign 2010: Demolition derby

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on February 2, 2010

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll conducted January 21-24 just as the C5 debate was approaching its apex made headlines earlier this week because it purportedly showed Senator Manny Villar (Nacionalista) narrowing the presidential preference gap with Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (Liberal Party) to seven points from 11 in a previous survey conducted December 27-28 last year.

Closing from 11 points to seven points-a four-point shift-at first blush seems significant. However, the results are largely ambiguous. Assuming the margin of error was plus or minus three percent-it was not provided in early news reports and the results of the commissioned survey were not available on the SWS website at deadline-the differential between the two surveys is statistically insignificant.

The late December results could have been 47% versus 30% for Messrs. Aquino and Villar, respectively, or 41% versus 36%-an even better performance for Mr. Villar than the current survey-rather than the reported 44% versus 33%. The latest survey shows Mr. Aquino slipping from 44% to 42% and Mr. Villar moving up from 33% to 35%. The margin of error means that these results conceivably could be 45% versus 32% or 39% versus 38%, a virtual tie.

For statistically significant insights it is necessary to consider the results for an earlier survey conducted December 5-10 last year and the January 21-24 survey. Mr. Aquino dropped four points in that period. While the drop is only barely statistically significant, it does show a trend suggesting gradual erosion of Mr. Aquino’s support in December. During that period, meanwhile, Mr. Villar’s support increased eight points. This result is statistically significant even considering the error of margin, and should encourage his supporters.

With less than a week to go before the official campaign period starts, both camps will be anxious to see the results of the next survey and whether the demolition derby antics surrounding the C5 extension south of Manila and the SCTEx construction to the north have further influenced voter sentiment. According to one veteran political consultant I spoke with, they are likely to have some impact.

For other observers it will be interesting to see if both candidates experience a fall in support. Allegations against Mr. Villar have been well documented, and appear serious. If he is elected, will the issue follow him into office, hampering his ability to govern? The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been hounded by similar allegations, resulting in dismal approval ratings and difficulty in pushing major reforms as a result. Will corruption fatigue among voters slow Mr. Villar’s momentum?

Allegations of corruption are less likely to stick to Mr. Aquino. However, his declining support suggests that voters won’t elect him president just because he is the son of national heroes. Mr. Aquino’s challenge is to find a message he can own that resonates with voters. With time and support slipping away, pressure is mounting for Mr. Aquino to step up and be his own man and to distinguish himself not just from other candidates, but from his parents and their long-time supporters.

The closest rival in the presidential derby to Messrs. Villar and Aquino is former president Joseph M. “Erap” Estrada Ejercito (Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino), who has also been trending lower in surveys and has little, if any, chance to win. Rather than face a humiliating defeat, will Mr. Estrada choose to throw his support to one of the leading candidates despite repeated denials, and if so, which one? And will voters follow his lead?

Typically supporters of candidates who drop out of a race will switch to other candidates in ratios reflecting the popularity of those candidates. So if Mr. Aquino has 42% support among voters, 42% of Mr. Estrada’s supporters will shift their support to Mr. Aquino. At present, that would give him about 5.5 additional points, for 47.5%. Mr. Villar would receive about 4.5 additional points, giving him 39.5%.

But if Mr. Villar attracts seven percent of Mr. Estrada’s supporters or more, things get interesting.

The results of the December 2009 and January 2010 surveys show that the presidential race is narrowing. So far, they also show that the contest is largely a two-man race, and that it is unlikely a dark horse will emerge. The vice presidential race appears to be much clearer, with Senator Manuel A. Roxas III (Liberal) stretching his lead over rival and former senator Loren Legarda (National People’s Coalition) to 21 points.

So I wonder. Did Mr. Roxas bow out of the presidential race too early?

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on Twitter, @asianpundit ; Facebook and LinkedIn, michaelalanhamlin.).

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