Are the satisfaction ratings reported by Social Weather Stations valid?

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Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

To Take A Stand

Social Weather Stations’ fourth quarter 2018 survey found 54% satisfied and 17% dissatisfied with the Supreme Court of the Philippines, and 52% satisfied and 17% dissatisfied with the Cabinet as a whole.

The 1,440 adults interviewed in the December survey were supposed to be representative of all sub-groups of the 54.4 million registered voters. That means only 14 respondents came from the socioeconomic class AB, 130 from Class C, and 1,296 from among those belonging to the socioeconomic classes D and E.

SWS refers to the D class as the Lower Class who have some comfort and means but basically thrive on a hand-to-mouth existence, and the E class as the Extremely Lower Class who face great difficulties in meeting their survival needs. Maybe it can be safely said that based on their circumstances in life, the highest educational attainment of the 1,350 respondents from the Lower Classes would be 2nd year high school.

Their access to information pertaining to governance cannot be through the print media as they would rather buy food than buy a newspaper. Their main source of information regarding the national and local government must be the broadcast media. They may not own a TV set or a radio, but there is always someone in their neighborhood who has his TV set or radio turned on at high volume for everybody to hear what is being aired.

The survey showed that the Supreme Court’s net satisfaction rating stayed good among Class DE people, rural folks, and elementary graduates. Likewise, the Cabinet’s net satisfaction rating was good among the same clusters — Class DE people, rural folks, and elementary graduates.

Random interviews of ordinary folks by broadcast journalists regarding senatorial candidates reflect a strong bias on the part of ordinary folks towards candidates perceived to be likely padrinos or senators who can be relied on to extend help or do the folks a favor. That is probably why movie actors like Ramon Revilla and son Bong, Joseph Estrada, and Lito Lapid were elected senators because they are perceived as champions of the downtrodden and the poor, even if they are so only in movies.

Hardly heard in those random interviews of ordinary people was a preference for candidates who are competent in the making of laws, the primary role of senators. If the common folks do not know what the real role of the members of the Senate is, in spite of the wide and frequent mass media exposure they get, the more ignorant the folks should be about the functions of the members of the Supreme Court and of the Cabinet as what the latter do get much less media exposure than what senators do.

Yet, Class DE people, rural folks, and elementary graduates are asked by SWS to pass judgment on the performance of the Supreme Court and of the Cabinet. The respondents were asked this question:

Based on their overall performance, how do you feel about the performance of the following government institutions? Are you Very satisfied, Somewhat satisfied, Undecided if satisfied or not, Somewhat dissatisfied, Very dissatisfied or You have never heard or read anything about (institution)? You may indicate your answer by placing each card on the appropriate answer on this rating board.

The results of the survey show the majority of the citizens belonging to the poorest economic class, folks in the countryside, and adults with only elementary education are satisfied with the Supreme Court and the Cabinet. It is highly probable the uninformed or poorly informed people from the lowest economic classes and the countryside could have just chosen any one of the possible responses presented him so as not to appear clueless to the interviewer. Are survey results that are no more than a collection of guesses reflective of the true sentiments of the respondents?

I tend to think if the same 1,440 respondents were asked how they feel about the performance of Victoria Court and Ofix Cabinet and presented the same possible responses of “Very satisfied, Somewhat satisfied, Undecided if satisfied or not, Somewhat dissatisfied, Very dissatisfied”, they would be satisfied with the performance of the two establishments as they were with the two government institutions.

It should be noted that 29% of the respondents were undecided if satisfied or not with the performance with the Supreme Court and 31% with the Cabinet. I wonder how many would have been undecided about their feelings about the two government institutions if the respondents were asked an open-end question, “How do you feel about the performance of (the institution)?” instead of the multiple-choice question actually asked them.

Based on my experience in public opinion polling, an open-end question, where possible responses are not presented to the respondent, draws a high percentage of “Don’t know,” “No opinion,” or “Undecided” response. Such a response would be more reflective of what the respondent feels about the two government institutions than a “guided” or “prompted” answer.

Information regarding the extent of the ignorance of citizens about the issues of national import would be more useful. Such information is actionable. True national leaders (I don’t mean show biz celebrities and sports heroes catapulted to high government positions by the unthinking masa), the brains of our educational system, and the patriotic heads of mass media organizations can design information programs about the functions of government institutions and the roles of the members or officials of those institutions so that the citizens would become more discerning of the performance of those institutions and their officials. Only then would we have good government.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. was in charge of public opinion surveys of Robot Statistics, the Gallop Poll affiliate, in the early 1960s. He is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.