Pulse Asia Evades Disclosure of Sponsors; Election Surveys Suppress Number of Undecided Voters; Insiders Blow Whistle on Local Pollsters

Survey Watch

Bulletin No. 3

6 March 2010

Pulse Asia Evades Disclosure of Sponsors;

Election Surveys Suppress Number of Undecided Voters;

Insiders Blow Whistle on Local Pollsters

by Francisco S. Tatad

The release yesterday by Pulse Asia of the results of its February preelection survey comes at a time when there is widespread public questioning of the methods and practices of opinion polling firms and the injurious effects of surveys on the election campaign. The criticisms that many of us have raised probably came too late to influence in any manner the way this recent Pulse Asia survey was done. But some omissions could have been rectified but were not. We detail these objections in this bulletin, along with a new important research finding that should make the nation more skeptical of survey results.

The media and the public should not be lulled by the positional or percentage changes in the horse race into thinking that the Pulse Asia has improved in methodology or the malpractices have been corrected. They have not.

  1. Pulse Asia’s Continued Evasion of Disclosure Requirement

In issuing the results of its February survey, Pulse Asia continues to ignore our demand for public disclosure of the names of all those who have sponsored its surveys – this and previous Ulat ng Bayan surveys. It invokes the confidentiality of its contracts and eludes professional responsibility because there is no responsible professional association of pollsters in the country.

In the US and other countries, disclosure of the identity of survey sponsors is a must prior to publication. They are demanded by the professional association to which pull survey firms normally belong; they are also demanded by the media organizations that publish or report them. In the Philippines, this requirement is unconscionably cast aside.

Disclosure is fundamental and necessary because the prospect of the sponsors’ identity being revealed helps to ensure that the survey will be conducted along professional and ethical lines. Without the guarantee, the pollster can do whatever he likes and the survey client can use or misuse the survey results in whatever way he wishes.

Without disclosure of sponsorship, neither the pollster nor his client earns the right to publicize the survey results, especially when these are used to serve the propaganda goals of candidates

Pulse Asia cannot escape this responsibility by saying that its February survey, and its previous surveys, are “not singularly sponsored”, because this is a blatant half-truth. They are not singularly sponsored, because they have in fact multiple sponsors.

Neither should it posture that releasing survey results is “a public service” or an “academic responsibility”, because the fact that they are sponsored and undertaken for a fee or fees colors them with the self interest of both pollster and sponsors.

Our position is simply stated. If the sponsors do not want their identities revealed, then Pulse Asia must not disclose to the public the survey results. In the case of multiple sponsorships, the disclosure of all sponsors should be mandatory prior to release. It should not select only those willing to come out in the open.

  1. Suppression of Undecided Voters in Preelection Surveys

I submit, secondly, that poll survey firms are wittingly or unwittingly suppressing the real number of undecided voters because of the way they frame the vote-choice question to respondents. Consider:

In late January, with the election still three months away and the campaign not even officially begun, SWS reported a mere two percent of voters undecided and Pulse Asia four percent undecided. In May 2009, with the election still a year away and our people hardly thinking about it, Pulse Asia reported a similar four percent of voters undecided. Ironically, it is only now, when the election date is closer, that Pulse Asia is reporting a higher percentage of undecided — six percent.

The number of the undecided is perennially being understated or suppressed because Pulse Asia, SWS and other local pollsters continue to frame the vote choice question in the same way pollsters did in the 1948 US election: “If the elections were held today, who would you vote for among these candidates, etc.?”

Former Gallup executive David Moore, who has led the way in exposing this Achilles heel of election polling, says that this question formulation  is a “a forced choice” question that glosses over voter indecision. It does not take into account that statistically and realistically most voters are undecided up to the final moments when they actually have to vote. It forces respondents to choose even if only in a hypothetical way. Consequently, they get answers that are soft and far from accurate about real voter feelings.

Moore says that in actual tests conducted in the US, the forced–choice question produces undecided answers of five percent or lower. But when respondents are offered a clear choice of saying that they still haven’t decided yet, the number of undecided can range from 20 percent to as high as 70 percent—depending on how far away the election is. He says that when the election is still three months away, it’s a safe bet to presume that some 30 percent are still undecided.

Because of the insistence of pollsters since 1948 on using the forced-choice question, Moore says in his recent book, The Opinion Makers, that pollsters “do not measure public opinion, they manufacture it.”

  1. Insiders Blow Whistle on Local Pollsters

Our expose of the flaws and malpractices in local public opinion polling has stirred much comment in the media and the Internet. Among the most revealing and striking are those coming from people who have done work in opinion research. Below are two of these:

From Ricky Cuenca:

“I remember that my statistics teacher once told me that numbers can always be skewed to the way you want it interpreted. Since I used to work as a consultant with Pulse Asia, I had a chance to have a long sit-down with Pepe Miranda, and he did say that surveys are always done with a science that is based on the request of the client. You can always suggest an answer based on the type of question asked. However, it also reveals a top-of-mind opinion. All in all, it is a tool for those that have the resources and wherewithal to shape opinion so like any other man-made product it can be used for the folly or honest opinion of people. I would also put a finger on the media for the way they report such data. Cheers.”

From “The View From Below” (http://lamanglupa.blogspot.com):
“Isn’t it funny that candidates – even the front runners in the Pulse Asia and SWS surveys — subscribe to these pollsters but actually use other pollsters and studies confidentially at the same time for their strategic planning?

“The answer is simple: The confidential studies reveal the true measure of their success (or failure) and accurately guide them in their plans. SWS and Pulse Asia results have been bought and are instruments of public (and media) manipulation. They are there to condition minds to a pre-determined result or, worse, manipulate them into thinking there is a bandwagon for these cadidates, and not following it will be a waste of votes.

“Lokohin niyo lola niyo!”

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