Comelec Urged to Sanction Pulse Asia, SWS, etc.

SENATORIAL candidate Francisco “Kit” Tatad has challenged  the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to  sanction  the opinion polling firms and  media establishments for publishing and reporting pre-election surveys without disclosing their sponsors and other necessary information as required by Republic Act 9006, or the Fair Election Act of 2001.

At the same time, Tatad urged all presidential, vice presidential and senatorial candidates who are skeptical about the opinion polling of Social Weather Stations, Pulse Asia and other polling firms to demand that said firms open all their polling records for inspection, copying and verification, as authorized by law.

Section 5.2 of RA 9006 provides that  during the election period, any person, natural as well as juridical, candidate or organization who publishes a survey must likewise publish the necessary material information about  it  to enable the public to determine its reliability.

This information includes full disclosure of the name or names of the person, candidate, party or organization who commissioned or paid for the survey, and the survey methodology used, including the number of individual respondents and the areas from which they were selected, and the specific questions asked.

The law also provides  that the survey, together with the raw data gathered to support its conclusions, shall be available for inspection, copying and verification by the Comelec or by a registered political party or candidate or any Comelec-accredited citizens’ arm.

Tatad said the polling firms have been more interested in manufacturing public opinion in favor or against certain candidates, instead of measuring actual opinion.  He was particularly critical of the polling firms’ practice of  selling to candidates sponsorships of the surveys and the right to introduce their own questions, but without disclosing to the public their individual identity.

Pulse Asia says the matter is covered by a “confidentiality” agreement.  But Tatad says the fair election law requires them to disclose the names of candidate sponsors of the surveys.

Moreover, “it is an election-related expense which every candidate is required to report to the Comelec. It is also part of the polling firm’s income which must be reported when paying taxes,” Tatad said.

The former senator said that it is possible the pollsters “are selling not only the right to participate in the survey but also the right to appear in the ratings.”  This could be the explanation why some sitting senators who are widely ridiculed as completely useless Senate furniture are still rated as ‘popular’, and some nationally  known solid personalities do not figure in the charts at all.

Tatad was the first candidate to openly criticize  SWS and Pulse Asia for using “quota sampling” and “face-to-face interviews” after  these methods had been  abandoned in the United States, where over the years leading pollsters had made serious miscalls in the  presidential elections.

Several presidential candidates, notably Senators Richard Gordon and Jamby Madrigal, have since joined in criticism of local pollsters and their surveys. Some Filipino statisticians and survey science experts have also joined the issue. The tabloid press has run headlines and editorials about it, in stark contrast to the mainstream press which has not given it as much space.

Quoting American polling experts, Tatad also faulted the local pollsters for using the old  hypothetical question—-“If elections were held today, whom would you vote for, among the named candidates?” He said  the question compels even the undecided to give a “top of the head” answer;  that is why it is called  a “forced-choice question” which suppresses and distorts  the real numbers of  “undecided.”

US expert David Moore, a former Gallup vice-president, says that the practice leads to survey firms manufacturing public opinion instead of measuring it.

Tatad has accused  the polling firms of biasing their surveys to suppress  the torrid expressions of popular support that PMP presidential candidate, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada has been getting  in all parts of  the country.

“This is why in every mammoth rally we have I always ask the crowd, whether they had been surveyed by anyone, and whether they knew of anyone who knew anyone who knew anyone who had been surveyed at all.  The  answer to this is always a great no,” Tatad said.

Tatad questioned the ability of the polling firms, notably SWS,  to come up with nationwide surveys almost within one week of each other, when independent experts maintain that one such survey normally takes two to three months to finish.

In its latest survey, SWS put the size of “undecided” at four to five percent, although in 1998, it said that one out of every voters remained undecided until election day,  while in 2004, 12 percent remained undecided and another 12 percent uncommitted until election day.   No explanation was offered for the statistical change, he noted.

Tatad said he may have found a “smoking gun” to support his charge of manipulation when someone called a radio program (Karambola) on DWIZ in Manila last week to report that an SWS interviewer in Cebu was asking his “random respondents” to choose between Manny Villar and Noynoy Aquino for president, and that when he protested  there were ten candidates to choose from, he was told that the choice had been narrowed down to two.

“It’s really a crooked business,” Tatad said.  He recalled that in 1992, upon his election to the Senate as a pro-life candidate, Mahar Mangahas of SWS showed a senators’ workshop the alleged results of a survey showing that any senator who did not support the government’s family planning program (now called “reproductive health”) would not get reelected.

“Not only was I reelected with flying colors in 1995, I also became Senate majority leader to five Senate presidents.  But that SWS presentation  had a lasting impression on me, on how polling could be used to promote certain advocacies.  Mangahas has not deviated from that course since.  He is still playing the same ugly game,” Tatad, whose pro-life work has expanded to the international scene,  added.

“In the 2004 presidential elections, Mangahas came up with an execrable exit poll in Metro Manila  that showed Mrs. Arroyo leading her rival Fernando Poe Jr. all the way. The official Comelec count, however,  showed FPJ taking all of Metro Manila, except for Las Pinas,” Tatad said.

“Despite that scandalous incident, SWS continues to do pre-election polling as though its reputation had never been tarnished,” Tatad lamented.  “In the US, the Literary Digest quietly folded up after it had erroneously predicted the defeat of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Alf Landon in 1932, and the House of Representatives as well as the US Social Science Research Council investigated Gallup, Roper and Crossley after they had unanimously but erroneously predicted that President Harry Truman would lose to Thomas Dewey in 1948,” he pointed out.  #

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