By Francisco S. Tatad
Social Weather Station (SWS) should first explain its fatally flawed exit poll of the 2004 elections in Metro Manila before it conducts yet another opinion poll related to the May 10 elections. For its part Pulse Asia should disclose to the public how many candidates have paid how much in order to participate in and benefit from its surveys.
I believe this is the irreducible minimum ethical and professional requirement before the two firms resume their unrestrained effort to shape public perceptions on the next presidential elections. Our people have a right to make this demand in light of the far from exemplary record of the two firms and the unaccountable power they now seem to possess.
On May 11, 2004, within hours of the close of balloting, SWS announced that the incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo got 31 percent of the votes in Metro Manila as against the opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr who reportedly got 23 percent. The exit poll, commissioned by ABS-CBN, was conducted in the homes of 528 votes in the National Capital Region.
The SWS announcement was dutifully recorded around the world, landing on the pages of such reputable US newspapers as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, which both described the SWS as a “respected forecaster.” However, when the official Commission on Elections count came, Mr. Poe took Metro Manila with 1,452,380 votes or 36.67 percent of the votes, while Mrs. Arroyo got 1,049,016 votes or 26.46 percent of the votes. Mr. Poe won in all Metro Manila cities and towns except Las Pinas, where he lost by a mere 1,876 votes.
This gross misreading of the results of the 2004 presidential elections in Metro Manila was far more devastating than the costly error of the Literary Digest in predicting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’ s defeat in the hands of Alf Landon in 1932, and George Gallup’s, Archibald Crossley’s, and Elmo Roper’s common error in predicting President Harry Truman’s defeat in the hands of Thomas Dewey in 1948. Why so? Because while the American pollsters had erred in their respective preelection surveys, the best of which could never be completely free from any mistake, SWS had messed up in an exit poll, where no professional pollster should.
And yet while the 1932 polling fiasco had prompted the Literary Digest to phase out, and the 1948 US polling fiasco had prompted the Social Science Research Council to investigate the pollsters’ methods, and the US Congress to investigate their record, SWS simply carried on as though its credibility had not at all been touched. Last year, SWS conducted some “push polls”—-otherwise known in the industry as “polls that stink”—to “push” a reproductive health bill, which none of the respondents had read.
Despite the encouragement it has received from the public, SWS has shown serious limitations, from the questionnaire design, to its sampling method, to its manner of interviewing respondents, to its collation, analysis and interpretation of data. And despite those limitations, it once again seeks to foist itself upon us as a competent and faithful interpreter of public opinion as the campaign enters its critical stages. That must not happen.
Similarly I would ask Pulse Asia to make a full disclosure of the services it has sold to politicians who are eager to rate in its surveys. Contrary to what appears to be sound ethical practice, the firm has been inviting politicians to participate in its surveys at the rate of P400,000 per head, and to introduce “rider” questions about their candidacies at P100,000 each.
The politicians’ names have never been published, and neither have the “rider” questions. Since the questionnaire forms the soul of any survey, it should be neutral and not biased for or against anyone. But the fact that paying politicians are allowed to contribute their own questions is not the best way of ensuring the neutrality and objectivity of the questions. And it does not prevent anyone from asking, what else is being sold aside from the questions?
In the US, after the Literary Digest bowed out, Gallup, Crossley and Roper reigned. After the 1948 fiasco, Lou Harris and Associates arrived. To the extent that opinion polling can be done according to the highest professional and ethical standards, we must all support it. But we must now make room for a new set of professionals.
OFFICIAL CANVASS OF VOTES
2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Congress of the Philippines
NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION
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