Decoding the Secret Language of Political Surveys

Decoding the Secret Language of Political Surveys

- in Feature

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who find it really hard to work when there are other loud conversations going on around me. Just take that sentence for example, in a quiet room, I could have shot that off in nothing flat. But because I’m in a public cafe where there’s this lady with volume control issues, completing even simple thoughts can become really difficult.

I was actually planning to write about something else but now my mind is just full of thoughts of foreign-owned fishing firms and holding companies and a million other things that I have absolutely no interest in. Its like having a real loud version of those Facebook status updates about people you vaguely know and absolutely do not care about. Unfortunately I can neither unfollow nor report her.

But more than just being annoying, people should realize that broadcasting yourself like that in public can be a huge security risk. Especially when what you’re discussing has to do with contracts, legal strategies, matters of law, case details, etc. Call me paranoid, but these conversations appear to be more suited within the privacy of a boardroom and not among a coffee shop-full of complete strangers.


Anyway, moving on to other stuff, I was going over the full published results of the most recent Pulse Asia survey and I must say it offers a lot of interesting reading into some pretty nuanced possibilities come election time next year. While the media chose to highlight the obvious headline grabbers in the presidential race, there’s actually a lot more to the survey than the surge of Sen. Grace Poe past VP Binay.

Among the aspects of the report that I found very educational were the entries for “senatorial fill-up rates” and “number of senatorial preferences,” which showed that, a little less than a year before election day, “Filipinos are already naming an average of 10 (out of a maximum of 12) of their preferred senatorial candidates and most of them (60%) have a complete slate for the May 2016 senatorial elections.”

By cross-referencing these results with the list of fourteen probable winning candidates, we can reasonably expect that majority of the names found in one will also be in the other. Which means that for the senatoriables beyond the statistical cut-off limit, the pool of voters to draw from suddenly becomes significantly smaller, and consequently, so do their chances of winning.

Also, for these possible senatorial also-rans, a more careful look at the breakdown of the survey results might be in order so as to determine the adjustments they need to make in their current campaign strategies, such as…

First, forget about targeting the sixty-percent that the survey already identifies as having an almost complete senate slate picked out. These were the previously low lying fruits that the twelve most popular candidates easily picked for themselves. Having already made their decisions, the competitive cost of trying to change these voters’ minds will be prohibitive for anyone else except those already within striking distance (i.e. numbers thirteen and fourteen). In other words, they are not worth the effort, and your resources might be better used elsewhere.

Second, focus your efforts on the forty-percent whose ballots still have room for three, four, or five more candidates. Forget about NCR, whose voters only have two slots left open, and go for the Ilocanos and Kapangpangans with their six and four slots. As a whole, if we go by total registered voters who actually voted in the previous elections, this forty percent should number about sixteen million votes. Enough to get the top spot in any election. Unfortunately these are the harder to reach voters. The ones that require a little more patience, perseverance, and presence. But for those willing to put in the work, the rewards will be worth it.

Third, look at the detailed breakdown of the voters and segmentize your campaign messaging to those blocks who have not yet made their complete selection. For example, based on age, candidates should  have a better chance of getting in the senatorial list of those between fifty-five to sixty-four years old (fill rate fifty-three percent) over the eighteen to twenty-four year olds (fill rate sixty-nine percent). Advertising that targets older audiences, maybe those that talk about senior citizen benefits, or evoke feelings that resonate stronger among more mature voters, might do the trick. Create micro-messages for the Ilongos, the Muslims, and those with little or no formal education. With digital and online media at an all time high, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to make individual pitches to whatever population niche campaigns need to reach.

Fourth, awareness is less important than credibility. If you compare the figures for Lacson (# 1) and Pacquiao(# 12), you can see that while the latter has a higher “awareness” level at ninety-nine percent, the former’s formidable advantage in the “voting for” category puts him way ahead in the rankings. Based on this, trailing candidates must rely less on advertising to boost name recall, and work harder to build relationships that engender trust among the voters.

Lastly, and in this is somewhat connected with the previous suggestion, mass media advertising may not be the most cost effective means to reach the kind of fragmented audience that non-leading candidates need to attract. According to the survey, sixty-four percent of the voters in urban areas – the same market that is primarily served by the national media outlets – have already made up their minds on who to vote for. This means that the hundreds of millions spent on ads targeting this particular market has a less than forty percent chance of actually convincing anyone to vote for candidates who are not already on their list.


In addition, while it is true that advertising can be a great way to increase voter awareness, it is even more effective at keeping an already leading candidate ahead of the game. The only way advertising can work for those playing catch up is when they are willing and able to out spend those in the lead by at least a factor of two-to-one. If not, then just imagine a race where you are starting several places down from the leaders. If each time you step on the gas, all the other cars do the same in equal measure, then at the end of the race you would end up exactly in the same spot that you started in – dead last.

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