Amicus Curiae

Election surveys as election propaganda

Rodulfo Jose R. Martinez

April 27, 2016

Since last year, mainstream and social media have been constantly bombarding us with survey results from various polling entities. Even before the campaign season officially kicked off on Feb. 9th, we’ve had this idea of who among the candidates for President or Vice-President is the front-runner, at a certain period in time.
Usually, after the survey results are released, the candidates who are ranked low in the surveys express, unless they discredit the results altogether, that they will double their efforts in the campaign to improve their standings in the surveys, while those at the top usually say that they will continue conveying their message to maintain their position in the surveys. Thus, these surveys are commonly treated as data which are supposed to inform the candidates and their parties as to the success or effectiveness of their campaign and help them strategize moving forward.
These survey results matter to candidates significantly.
However, what is not commonly admitted is the fact that these surveys are not just an aggrupation of data or a means to an end, but are ends in themselves insofar as election campaigns go.
Contrary to what is generally perceived, the surveys during election season do not only serve as an aid and guide to candidates in the conduct and fine tuning of their campaign and election propaganda, but are propaganda in themselves.
Undeniably, survey results have an effect on the voting public and will have an effect on how voters will behave or cast their votes come election day. As discussed by the Supreme Court in the 2015 case of SWS v. Comelec, they can have various effects.
First, there is the bandwagon effect which will influence voters to support the front-runner.
Second, there is the underdog effect which rallies voters to support the candidate who is trailing in the survey.
Third, there is the motivating effect, which encourages voters who did not intend to vote in doing so. On the other hand, there is the de-motivating effect where voters, especially supporters of front-runners, decide to no longer vote because their candidate enjoys a huge lead.
Fifth, there is strategic voting, where “voting is influenced by the chances of winning.” Lastly, there is the so-called free-will effect where people vote for a candidate to prove the survey wrong.
Fittingly, the Supreme Court also mentioned that election surveys, “far from being a passive “snapshot of many viewpoints held by a segment of the population at a given time,” can warp existing public opinion and can mould public opinion. Published election surveys offer valuable insight into public opinion not just because they represent it but more so because they also tend to make it.”
Given the effects that these surveys have on the voting population, they cannot be seen as mere tools or aids in formulating strategy. If at all, these surveys can only be considered a means to formulate election strategy or propaganda when they are limited to the own consumption of the candidates or their political party.
However, when these surveys are published for the consumption of the general population, given their tendency to mold the choice of the voters, they no longer formulate election strategy, but become the implementation of the strategy themselves.
Similar to television, radio, and newspaper ads and the streamers, posters and billboards we see everywhere this season, survey results can generate or diminish support for a particular candidate.
As a result, while they do not directly entice you to vote for a certain candidate or not to vote for one, they can be considered a form of campaigning or partisan political activity, which refers to acts designed to have a candidate elected or not or promote the candidacy of a person or persons to a public office.
Under the Fair Elections Act, election surveys are defined as the measurement of opinions and perceptions of the voters as regards a candidate’s popularity, qualifications, platforms, or a matter of public discussion in relation to the election, including voters’ preference for candidates or publicly discussed issues during the campaign period.
Recognizing their significance and the influence they tend to cause to the voting population, they are regulated by requiring, among others, the publication of (a) the name of the person or entity who commissioned or paid for the survey; (b) the name of the person, polling firm or survey organization who conducted the survey; (c) the period during which the survey was conducted, the methodology used, including the number of individual respondents and the areas from which they were selected, and the specific questions asked; (d) the margin of error of the survey; (e) for each question for which the margin of error is greater than that reported under paragraph (d), the margin of error for that question; and (f) a mailing address and telephone number, indicating it as an address or telephone number at which the sponsor can be contacted to obtain a written report regarding the survey.
Further, the survey together with raw data gathered to support its conclusions shall be available for inspection, copying, and verification by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) or by a registered political party or a bona fide candidate or by any Comelec-accredited citizen’s arm. Lastly, surveys affecting national candidates are not allowed to be published fifteen (15) days before an election.
These regulations are recognition of election surveys’ significant effect on voter preference and that they are also, wittingly or unwittingly, election propaganda in their own right.