The midterm elections of 2019 will go down in history as the time the Filipino youth staged a collective rebellion and in doing so made an exceptionally strong point about who deserves election to public office.
This is the only way to describe the wide gulf between the national surveys of pollsters SWS and Pulse Asia on one hand, and campus polls and mock elections, on the other.
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This is not to say that the two are comparable. The SWS and Pulse Asia surveys are backed by the quantitative arsenal of the social sciences. Their randomly selected respondents allow for the generalizability of results. Thus, even if the sample size is just 1,800 respondents, their results could reasonably be taken as representative of the 61.8 million registered voters, given a statistical margin of error.
Both outfits have been maligned for the way they conduct their polls, but their records speak for themselves. SWS and Pulse have had a good batting average in predicting the winners; in the last midterm elections, in fact, they got the “Magic 12” 100 percent right.
Campus polls are hardly social-scientific. Most are mock elections whose participants were drawn out of sheer convenience or availability. In the survey conducted by campus publications in UST, where I teach, only a quarter of respondents were registered to vote. Thus, campus polls cannot really be used to make generalizations about the campus vote, more so the youth vote.
The pattern of most results from various colleges and universities all over the country strike a defiant tone, however. Three activists are more or less in the top five: human rights lawyers Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno and Neri Colmenares, and Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc. Of the three, Diokno is the clear campus favorite, making it to the top of several campus mock polls. One recalls the popularity enjoyed by the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago in college campuses ahead of the 1992 presidential elections, which she lost by a relative hair strand—874,000 votes—to Fidel Ramos.
The proportions by which college students are turning out for Diokno can only be described as decisive—60 to even 90 percent, compared with just 50 percent or lower for the top candidates in the SWS and Pulse surveys.
Diokno, Colmenares and Gutoc however are doing poorly in the SWS and Pulse surveys and are probably, like Miriam for president in ‘92, going to lose. The three are not just cellar-dwellers in the polls; they have in fact been rejected by SWS and Pulse respondents. In the April Pulse survey, 68 percent of respondents said they were aware of Colmenares, a former party-list representative for the militant Bayan Muna. Diokno and Gutoc’s awareness ratings were 50 and 37 percent, respectively, not bad for first-time candidates for a national post.
But only about 11 percent would vote for Colmenares, according to Pulse. For Diokno and Gutoc, the figures are even lower, at 5.3 percent and 5.9 percent. The three are having a hard time converting their awareness among the general electorate into actual support.
On campus, however, these three are certified rockstars. In conservative UST where the three progressive Senate bets joined a senatorial forum last month, a survey placed Diokno at No. 1 with 75 percent, followed by Gutoc at 67 percent and Colmenares at 55 percent. In UP Diliman, no surprise: Diokno topped the vote with 84.8 percent, Colmenares got 80.3 percent and Gutoc, 74.1 percent. Are these really “mock” polls? Clearly, the students are not the ones doing a mockery of the electoral system.
Contrast this with the Pulse top three: Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe, both seeking reelection and are likely 2022 presidential contenders, and ex-senator and ex-Pampanga governor Lito Lapid, an otherwise has-been politician and action star who managed to stay in the radar through a starring role in a popular primetime teleserye. The Pulse awareness ratings of these three hit the ceiling at 100 percent.
What accounts for the gaping differences in voting preferences? Is it wisdom versus youthful naiveté? The campus bets are not reckless choices, however, if one looks at their qualifications and political convictions. The students are resoundingly rejecting not only pro-administration candidates but also most of the incumbents or returnees, with the notable exception of Grace Poe. They want lawmakers who will check the Duterte administration, rather than enable it.
The barrage of mock poll results ahead of Monday’s elections sound like an appeal, almost a desperate cry for help or change to those old enough to vote. They may be too young to decide the nation’s fate, but it's their future that’s at stake.
The youth get how democratic checks and balances are supposed to work. Perhaps the parents and titos and titas, even lolos and lolas, would do well to listen, and perhaps learn from them, for a change. For sure, politics as main fare will make the weekend’s dinner table conversations interesting.
Felipe F. Salvosa II heads the journalism program of the University of Santo Tomas. He was reporter and editor for BusinessWorld and a researcher for the Financial Times. He recently left as managing editor of The Manila Times over disagreements on a published story about the Duterte Ouster Matrix
Photograph from Jilson Tiu, George Calvelo ABS-CBN News, ABS-CBN News, Junny Roy ABS-CBN and Jonathan Cellona ABS-CBN News.