MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino has arrested a slide in support while his nearest rival, Manual "Manny" Villar of the Nacionalista Party, lost ground ahead of elections on May 10, an opinion poll showed on Monday.
The Businessworld-Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, conducted on March 19-22 before the start of campaigning for Congress and local positions last Friday, also showed administration candidate Gilberto "Gibo" Tedoro remained a distant fourth in polling.
Support for opposition senator Aquino, son of the country's democracy icon, Corazon "Cory" Aquino, stood at 37%, basically steady with his February reading of 36% although well below a support level of 60% last September.
Billionaire senator Villar dropped six points to 28%, and former president Joseph Estrada, forced out of office in 2001, saw his support rise 4 points to 19%.
Support for Teodoro, a former defense secretary in outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration, was unchanged at 6%, the SWS poll showed.
Major campaign issues are corruption, poverty and managing the economy and a large budget deficit.
Aquino portrays himself as a "change" candidate, promising to fight corruption, reform development spending and improve transparency, and has said he would investigate allegations of corruption against Arroyo.
His Liberal Party lacks the national scale of the ruling Lakas-Kampi coalition, whose grassroots organisation could boost Teodoro's ratings now that local campaigning has started.
However, if Teodoro is unable to lift his ratings soon, analysts believe Arroyo's supporters could swing behind Villar.
The SWS results are very similar to support levels in a late February poll by Pulse Asia, another independent pollster.
The opinion poll results were posted on the SWS website https://www.sws.org.ph/
The survey of 2,100 people has a 2% margin of error.
Voter fatigue to Villar ads?
Edwin Lacierda, spokesman of the Aquino campaign, attributed the rise in Aquino's survey ratings to voter-fatigue to Villar's ads and the success of Aquino's campaign message against corruption.
"It's really because of all these things that have come out - the fatigue on the commercials, overspending, the C-5 report, Villaroyo alliance - as well as our own message of 'kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,'" he said in an ANC interview.
Lacierda said Villar tried but failed to overtake Aquino's lead despite spending close to a billion pesos in ads before the start of the official campaign period in February. He said the closest that Villar ever got to toppling Aquino's lead was when they reached a statistical tie in the February 24-28, 2010 SWS survey. (Read Aquino's lead falling steadily: SWS chief)
He said the latest March 19-22 poll put Aquino ahead of the pack in terms of both geographic area and socio-economic class, although he saw his support drop in Metro Manila (39% from 42%) and Mindanao (32% from 35%). He overtook Mr. Villar in the Balance of Luzon (35% versus 30%), and among the class ABC (45% vs. 17%) and class E (33% vs. 31%).
Support for Villar erodes
Villar saw his support eroded in almost all geographic areas and socioeconomic classes, except in Metro Manila where he kept his score of 20%, keeping him third behind Joseph Estrada. Mr. Aquino’s nationwide gain was limited to one point as his 3-point losses in Metro Manila and Mindanao offset increases of 4 points in the Visayas and 2 points in the Balance of Luzon.
"We really studied per region and per class. We realized where our weak areas were so we mapped out a strategy in reinforcing those weak areas. I think the people's response has been very positive. They have responded to our message of good governance, the character and the integrity of Sen. Aquino, and the dividends of good governance," Lacierda said.
He said Aquino's sister, Kris, was also instrumental in bringing in crowds during LP campaign sorties in Northern Luzon.
"The presence of Kris was also a big gain in areas where we are weak. It shows her drawing power. At the same time, it shows we are not done yet with our campaign. We have not yet mobilized our entire resources for the rest of the campaign, and we will do so as the election draws nearer," he said.
Villar: We'll adjust
Villar, however, still seemed optimistic as he cited the previously wide gap between him and Aquino in the result of a survey conducted November last year.
"Talagan ganyan ang mga surveys. Minsan mataas ka, minsan mababa. Pero considering na 50 [percent] naman iyong hinabol ko, eh okay na rin sa akin iyon. Nakikita ko ngayon, napakarami namang sumasali sa amin na local officials. At sa akin, papag-aralan namin iyan and we will adjust accordingly," said Villar.
Villar's margin against Estrada, meanwhile, also dropped to a single digit or to 9 percentage points, a result which obviously elated the former president.
"Bago magtapos ang Abril eh medyo mas malaki na ang tataas natin. Iyon ang aking pananaw, iyon ang aking pakiramdam... Gusto ko doon ako sa ibaba at pataas. Ayaw ko ng nasa itaas pababa eh," said Estrada.
Gibo still 4th
The March 19-22 poll showed administration candidate Gilberto “Gibo” C. Teodoro, Jr. of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD remaining in single digit territory with his score staying at 6%.
There were minimal changes with respect to the rest of the presidential bets: Bagumbayan’s Sen. Richard “Dick” J. Gordon picked up a point to score a fifth-placed 3%, overtaking Bangon Pilipinas’ Eduardo “Bro. Eddie” C. Villanueva who lost a point to 2%. Following were Ang Kapatiran bet John Carlos “JC” G. De Los Reyes with 0.3%, and independent candidates Jesus Nicanor “Nick” P. Perlas (0.1%) and Sen. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” A. S. Madrigal (0.04%).
Votes for disqualified Kilusang Bagong Lipunan candidate Vetellano “Dodong” S. Acosta were classed under the undecided and others.
Aquino also leads Manila Standard Today poll
The Liberal Party said Aquino is also leading in the results of the Manila Standard Today (MST) pre-election survey, scoring 39% over Villar's 26%. Estrada and Teodoro, meanwhile, garnered 17% and 6%, respectively.
The Standard survey indicated a surge in Aquino’s popularity over the regions and the classes, noting that “[a]mong the very poor Aquino held a 12 point lead over Villar, or 39% to 27%.”
According to Pedro Laylo, the Standard’s resident pollster, “[s]upport for Villar is in the downtrend in urban areas specifically in the National Capital Region where he lost seven points while Aquino added 8 more points.”
As with the previous Feb. 24-28 survey, the SWS respondents were asked to privately fill out a ballot containing the names of the official candidates in alphabetical order.
A total of 2,100 registered voters were polled nationwide, divided into random samples of 300 in Metro Manila and 600 each in the Balance of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The sampling error margins used were ±2.2% for national percentages, ±6% for Metro Manila, and ±4% for the rest of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.
Palace: Wait for impact of local campaign
Asked about his reaction to the survey, Teodoro said: "Wala na akong magagawa don. I've stopped relying on surveys."
Meanwhile, the Palace downplayed the continued dismal survey performance of Teodoro.
"The (latest) survey started before the start of the (local) campaign. Di pa kasama diyan yung umpisa ng local campaign. Syempre up and down, see-saw ang ganung positions. Mararamdaman na po ang strength. This isn’t something that bothers the administration party. Hindi pa reflective sa kampaniya yun. The administration party pa rin, their belief is they have best candidate out eh," said Deputy Presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar.
Olivar also downplayed the defection of former Ilocos Sur governor Luis "Chavit" Singson to the camp of Villar. He said Singson defected to Villar's camp in response to the call of local leaders.
He also dismissed rumors that Singson's defection is proof that President Arroyo has forged an alliance with the Nacionalista bet.
VP race; strategic focus
Meanwhile in the vice-presidential race, Aquino’s running mate, Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas, also enjoys a commanding lead in both the SWS and the Standard surveys, scoring at 42% and 39%, respectively. His closest rival, the NP’s Loren Legarda, came in at 25% in the SWS survey, and at 29% in this month’s Standard survey.
LP General Campaign Manager Florencio “Butch” Abad attributed Aquino’s surge to the strategic focus provided by former Senator Serge Osmeña, who has recently taken a leave of absence to focus on his own senatorial campaign, and to the tireless assistance of Aquino’s hundreds of thousands of dedicated volunteers.
Aquino has been campaigning on a platform of good governance and freedom from the culture of corruption that is a major cause of poverty in the country.
Abad sees Aquino’s constant lead in the pre-election polls as indication that “the Filipino people continue to believe in Aquino’s ability to bring about a clean and compassionate government that will put an end to corruption and alleviate poverty.” -- with Reuters, BusinessWorld, ANC