Do satisfaction rating surveys provide useful information?

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Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

To Take A Stand

During episodes of DZMM TeleRadyo’s special on senatorial candidates, the station’s field reporters asked ordinary folks in the streets who they would vote for senator. Many said they would vote for candidates who can provide jobs or access to housing while many others said they would choose candidates who can enforce the law. A few said they would choose candidates who would extend assistance if and when they have to deal with government offices or when confronted by law.

The general impression that the answers give is that people vote for candidates who can be counted to help them meet their basic needs. In short, the voters seek patrons. Competence of a candidate in creating laws or improving existing ones, the primary duty of a senator, is not a consideration in their choice of candidates. The implication is that most of the respondents of DZMM’s field reporters do not know what the responsibilities and duties of a senator are.

That brings up Social Weather Stations’ survey on the satisfaction rating of Senate President Tito Sotto. The Fourth Quarter 2018 social weather survey conducted last December found 72% satisfied and 11% dissatisfied with Mr. Sotto. The resulting net satisfaction rating is a “very good” +61 for the Senate President.

I do not know what those who are satisfied with the senator based their answers on. I do not even know what they are satisfied with, his performance as senator or as Senate president. SWS did not ask its 1,500 respondents why they feel the way they do about him.

The question asked the respondents in the survey was: “Please tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the performance of Vicente ‘’Tito’’ Sotto III, Senate President. Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, undecided if satisfied or dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, or you have not ever heard or read anything about Vicente Sotto III?

Alfred Whitehead wrote in The Art of Asking Questions that “language is always ambiguous as to the exact proposition which it indicates.” The ambiguity occurs because each individual interprets the question from the interviewee’s viewpoint. As a result, the interviewee’s interpretation of the question is his own and may be significantly different from another person’s understanding.

When it comes to national or political issues, the frame of reference is likely to be characteristic of sub-groups of Philippine society — socioeconomic classes, geographical clusters, educational brackets, etc. Robert L. Kahn and Charles F. Cannel wrote in The Dynamics of Interviewing that to determine the frame of reference of a respondent in a public opinion survey, the respondent is asked why he feels the way he does about a topic in order to make explicit the frame of reference from which he answered the question.

Respondents of the December survey of SWS may have judged the performance of Mr. Sotto, whether as senator or as Senate president, on the basis of his ability to have been a good patron to them, as the respondents of the DZMM RadyoPatrol ambush interviews perceive the role of a senator to be.

The 1,500 respondents of the SWS survey are supposed to be representative of all sub-groups of the 54.4 million registered voters. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Philippine population breaks down into 1% AB, 9% C, 60% D, and 30% E. If the 1,500 respondents in the December survey are representative of the voting population, then only 15 respondents come from the socioeconomic class AB, 135 from Class C, and 1,350 from among those belonging to the socioeconomic classes D and E.

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 governments must be the broadcast media as they need not own a radio or television set. There is always someone in their neighborhood who lets neighbors listen or watch what is being aired on his set.

It can be assumed that the overwhelming majority of the respondents of the December SWS surveys perceive the role of a senator the same way the DZMM Teleradyo interviewees do. It would not be far-fetched to conclude that SWS survey respondents perceive elected officials, from president to barangay captain as potential patrons.

As the SWS survey respondents are supposed to be represented of the entire voting population, then it can be said the overwhelming majority of voters vote for candidates who are likely potential patrons. That is why movie actors like the Ramon Revillas, father and son, Joseph Estrada, and Lito Lapid are elected again and again because they appeared in their movies as “heroes” of the downtrodden and the poor.

Ramon Revilla, Sr. portrayed Nardong Putik and Joseph Estrada played Asiong Salonga, villains in real life, but presented as Robin Hoods in movies. Drama actors Cesar Montano and Richard Gomez failed in their bid for the Senate because they were not seen by their millions of movie fans as “champions of the oppressed and the poor.”

Senator Sotto gets elected again and again not because he is seen as a champion of the common tao but because he relieves the masa of their anxieties with his toilet humor.

Senatorial aspirant Bong Go, seen the past three years by the public as the Presidential butler, now projects himself as the champion of the lowly and the disadvantaged, as his commercials aired repeatedly during the TV coverage of the Pacquiao-Broner fight showed.

Senatorial hopeful Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa chose to project himself not as a champion but as the butler of a champion. He was seen during the weigh-in of Manny and after the fight itself carrying the championship belt of Manny. He even heaved Manny on his shoulders like a doting father hoisting his toddler son. And to think he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy and was a couple of years the chief of the National Police.

That an image of a champion wins votes is a conclusion of mine drawn by logic, not from statistics. The tagline in the SWS logo says: Statistics for Advocacy. I ask what can be advocated out of the statistics SWS prodigiously pours out regularly. What can be advocated by the statistics that people are satisfied with President Duterte without corollary statistics on why people are satisfied with the President? What can be advocated by the statistics showing people are satisfied with Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin?


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.