Tatad replies to John Nery’s Inquirer Column

Dear John Nery,

This refers to your column of Feb. 23. (http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20100223-254797/Tatad-and-political-immaturity) Regardless of what it says, it is the first free advertising I have received since I became a senatorial candidate on Dec. 1, 2009. But for my hectic campaign schedule, I should have thanked you sooner. Still certain points need to be clarified.

On Feb. 17 at Café Fernandina, I presented a paper on our “fatally flawed political surveys.” It was an updated recap of what I had been saying since the pre-campaign polling began, long before I became a candidate, long before anyone ever filed a certificate of candidacy for the May elections, long before the official campaign rolled off.

These were some of my points: 1) that our local pollsters have been using quota sampling and face-to-face interviewing long after these have been junked by reputable pollsters in the US, where opinion polling originated; 2) that these have produced “unrepresentative samples” that could not possibly produce any good results; 3) that the basic information about each survey—who sponsored it, who did it, what samples were used, what questions were asked, in what order were they asked, what is the margin of error, etc.—all of which should be published with every survey result has never been published; 4) that politicians are allowed to ask their own questions in these surveys for P100,000 per question, on top of a P300,000 subscription fee; 5) that the media have routinely published the results without any critical analysis; 6) that the surveys have shaped voter preferences, even without further inputs.

My presentation offered more than enough room for an intelligent debate, in case of disagreement. Yet, instead of pointing out any errors in my brief, you chose to aim at my person, which is far from perfect, even without the added burden of imaginary misadventures and questionable quotes. Sad, to say the least.

There are at least 30 countries in the world today—including strong democracies like Italy and Canada—where one may not publish the results of a political survey within a certain period before an election, unless all the basic information about the survey are also published. In the US, newspapers have to satisfy themselves on some 20 questions (available online) before publishing any survey results. And the most reputable pollsters maintain that no preelection (or pre-campaign) survey may be taken at face value to predict the outcome of any election.

Some outstanding examples:

1) In 1932, Literary Digest, the leading US pollster, predicted that Alf Landon would defeat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was running for a third term. FDR won, and the Digest folded up not long thereafter.

2) In 1948, America’s leading pollsters—George Gallup, Archibald Crossley and Elmo Roper—predicted President Harry Truman would be overwhelmed by Thomas Dewey. Thus the election day headline screamed: “Dewey defeats Truman.” But Truman won. The pollsters were investigated by the US Congress and the Social Science Research Council later.

3) On 8 January 2008, eleven pollsters predicted Barack Obama winning the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. But Hillary Clinton won.

4) Among the Republicans, Rudy Guiliani was generally touted as the frontrunner. But in Nov 2007, a special Gallup poll showed no Republican candidate had more than 5 percent of the vote.

5) On May 11, 2004, in Metro Manila, an SWS exit poll showed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo leading Fernando Poe Jr. 31 percent to 23 percent. The official count, however, gave FPJ 36.67 percent of the votes to GMA’s 26.46 percent. In principle no exit poll should make such a mistake.

SWS was never investigated by any council or Congress. Nor has SWS ever publicly apologized or explained why it erred. Was that error so trivial or is public memory so short that SWS should once again be polling voter preferences for any election, as though its credibility had never been tarnished?

Time and space do not permit me to go on. But I hope you will be gracious enough in the spirit of fairness to give this letter the same space you gave yours. Thank you very much.

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