October 12, 2019
BY circulating and publicizing the satisfaction surveys on presidential support by Social Weather Stations (SWS), Philippine media organizations unwittingly enabled for decades the depiction of Philippine opinion research as undisciplined and backward in its methodology and practices.
Where the entire world uses the standard job approval approach in measuring public support for presidents and prime ministers, the Philippines appeared to be sanctioning the idiosyncratic satisfaction format of SWS to measure public support for national leadership.
The SWS domination of our survey scene has been so pervasive, that foreign journalists and institutions were routinely forced to adopt its satisfaction ratings. Similarly, Philippine officialdom has adopted the SWS survey as a guide, in spite of its misrepresentation of Philippine public opinion.
Even Stephen Sackur and his “HARDtalk” program on BBC were forced, while interviewing then senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, to acknowledge the SWS survey as a rough presidential approval rating of President Duterte.
Correcting this SWS warp in our public life has taken such a long time in coming that we Filipinos appeared fated to be known in the world as treating our high public officials like commodities. (Question: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with so-and-so?)
It was therefore an aha! moment last week, when Pulse Asia Research unveiled its third quarter Ulat ng Bayan survey and presented its results as the job approval ratings of President Duterte and other top government officials.
At last, the country had entered the modern world of public opinion research.
Pulse Asia approval survey
Pulse Asia Research issued its new survey on Tuesday, September 25. It headlined its press release: “Duterte’s approval, trust ratings fall to lowest.”
In fact, the survey method that was used was probably just as significant.
Public approval of Mr. Duterte’s performance as chief executive fell by 13 percentage points to 75 percent in September from 88 percent in June, according to the nationwide survey held from September 1 to 7.
Alongside the approval rating, Pulse Asia claimed that it also conducted a trust survey.
Duterte enjoyed his highest-ever approval rating and second to the highest trust ratings in the previous survey held in June 2018 before his controversial “God is stupid” remark.
“At the national level, President Duterte experienced a decline in his approval ratings (minus 13 percentage points) and a rise in indecision (plus 5 percentage points) during the period June to September 2018. The President’s overall disapproval score also goes up during this period (plus 7 percentage points),” said Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes.
Holmes also said that based on the survey findings, “trust in the President becomes less pronounced not only at the national level (minus 15 percentage points) but in basically all geographic areas and socioeconomic groupings.”
The results in Pulse Asia’s polling indicate a new tone of realism in the public’s perception of President Duterte and his performance at his job. The one-time stratospheric ratings are gone.
SWS satisfaction survey
Within a week after Pulse Asia released its third quarter survey, SWS scrambled to release its own third quarter satisfaction survey on Oct. 8, 2019.
The polling firm announced the following details:
The 3rd Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey, conducted from Sept. 27-30, 2019, found 78 percent of adult Filipinos satisfied, 9 percent undecided, and 13 percent dissatisfied with the performance of Duterte as president.
Compared to June 2019, gross satisfaction with President Duterte fell by 2 points from 80 percent, gross undecided did not change, and gross dissatisfaction rose by 1 point from 12 percent.
This gives a net satisfaction rating of plus 65 (percent satisfied minus percent dissatisfied), classified by SWS as very good, 3 points below the personal record-high very good plus 68 in June 2019.
The three-point decline in President Duterte’s net satisfaction rating from June 2019 to September 2019 was due to decreases in Balance Luzon and Mindanao, combined with increases in the Visayas and Metro Manila.
President Duterte’s net satisfaction rating stayed very good in Balance Luzon, at plus 54 (71 percent satisfied, 17 percent dissatisfied) in September 2019, although down by 11 points from the personal record-high plus 65 (78 percent satisfied, 13 percent dissatisfied) in June 2019.
It stayed excellent in Mindanao, at plus 76 (85 percent satisfied, 9 percent dissatisfied) in September, although down by 5 points from plus 81 (88 percent satisfied, 8 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded) in June.
But it rose from very good to excellent in the Visayas, at a new personal record-high plus 75 (84 percent satisfied, 9 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded) in September, up by 9 points from plus 66 (77 percent satisfied, 12 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded) in June. This surpassed the previous record of plus 73 in June 2017.
It stayed very good in Metro Manila, at plus 66 (78 percent satisfied, 13 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded) in September, up by 7 points from plus 59 (73 percent satisfied, 14 percent dissatisfied) in June.
With the earlier release of the Pulse Asia survey, which was bannered as a job approval survey, the later release of the SWS survey by SWS looked routinary and anticlimactic.
Future of satisfaction ratings
With Pulse Asia’s crossing of the Rubicon, and use of the presidential job approval format in its periodic survey of public support for presidential leadership, the future and prospects of the SWS satisfaction surveys will be under heavy pressure.
It will now be asked whether SWS will persist in its satisfaction surveys, while the rest of the nation and the whole world worship by the presidential approval survey.
The primary problem of the satisfaction survey is its ambiguity and confusing thrust. Nobody knows whether SWS is talking about Mr. Duterte’s personal satisfaction with his job or about Filipino customer satisfaction with a public service. (I discussed this problem of the SWS satisfaction survey in a column on March 21, 2019: “SWS surveys are surreal: Filipinos are citizens, not customers.”)
Now, the country can make a full switch to job approval opinion research, and leave behind SWS and its eccentric surveys. SWS can go on, of course, doing things its own way, but it could wind up talking only to itself.
Job approval vs personal approval
Questions should be raised about Pulse Asia’s pairing of the job approval rating, with a trust rating of the President. The trust survey is not used in this way by Gallup.
I worry that Pulse Asia bends its opinion research too much to serve commercial purposes when 1) it rates so many officials of vastly different ranks in the same survey; and 2) when it conducts different surveys during the same survey period.
What is more common in US polls is the pairing of the approval rating of a president (rating of job performance) with his favorability rating (rating of him as a person).
This may sound odd.
There have been times in the US when a president had a higher job approval rating than his personal approval rating.
At the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton had a higher job approval rating than his rating as a person.
This subject must wait for another column.
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