Surveys vs. upcoming SONA

In today’s headline of the Inquirer, Social Weather Station came out once again with the latest (dis)satisfaction rating of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This means that at 54% to 55%, her grading card remains ‘virtually unchanged’. Let us touch on the highlights of this latest scoreboard quickly:

One, GMA earns negative ratings in all sectors – “34 in socio-economic Class D, 28 in Class ABC, 22 in Class E, 35 among men and 26 among women”.

Two, in Mindanao, GMA drowns from a “bad negative 40 to a poor negative 21” which means from 62% dissatisfied and 22% satisfied to 53% dissastisfied and 31% satisfied”.

Three, in Visayas, again GMA gets a “bad negative 33 to a poor negative 28 which means 61% dissatisfied and 28% satisfied to 57% dissatisfied and 30% satisfied”.

Four, GMA earns a “bad negative 37 in urban areas and a poor negative in rural areas”.

Five, GMA’s net rating outside the metropolis on the country’s main island worsened from a poor negative 24 to a bad negative 32”.

In the context of the above givens and with 12 more days to go before GMA’s last and final State of the Nation Address, the president’s advisers may have to do some work in ‘knitting’.

It is rather revealing that among Filipino adults in Luzon but outside of Metro Manila, the dissatisfaction as reflected by this June 19 to 22 survey even ‘intensified’ and that the rest of Luzon even “dropped from 29% in February to 23% last month”.

It remains a rather crippling constant that Metro Manila remained highly critical of GMA with “65% of respondents dissatisfied and 19% satisfied for a bad net rating of negative 46”. On a nationwide net rating basis, GMA gets a “bad negative 31” which means “56% dissatisfied and 26% satisfied”.

And what exactly it is we hear from GMA’s rabid ‘defenders of the faith’? They are saying as they have always said as a matter of bureaucratic protocol if not motherhood statement that “performance is not popularity”. Thus, the Palace is said to have advised the “public to listen to GMA’s SONA come 27th July 2009 to know more of her accomplishments” which coincides with the anniversary celebration of the Iglesia ni Kristo.

This is what U/Sec. Gary Olivar said – “We will state this: The President governs for performance and prosperity not for popularity”. According to him, the forthcoming SONA outlines and summarizes GMA’s “substantive achievements’ during her watch. Well said, perhaps or shall we not say – “tell it to the Marines”?

Since surveys are never known to have been acceptable to whom it may have “disfavored”, then we can begin to look at these statistical findings as ‘diagnostic’ or an enlightened estimate on the state of affairs. Is RP a healthy functioning democracy? Is the president whom people have elected via a supposed-to-be fair, clean and honest elections except that the “hello Garci” points to something else, really aboveboard, beyond reproach and rebuke all throughout her term in the presidency (invariably ‘entrusted’ or possibly ‘stolen’)?

Rather than merely shrugging off the normative value of surveys which appears to be an act of intellectual snobbery if not arrogance, why can’t the advisers of the President also commission a polling circuit just so to do an honest-to-goodness reality check? Surveys, to the extent that they can correctly capture the true signs or symptoms of something problematic, remain a normative guide that must be taken into account however disfavored Malacanang maybe be by this SWS’ latest results.

It challenges reflection what surveys really end up doing. Do they embarrass the president? Do they paint a thorny picture of governance? Do they take away trust in the president’s ability to do the right thing? Are surveys to begin with, scientific?

In other words, something ought to be dysfunctional somewhere if the situation is such that a persistently moving down negative satisfaction and trust ratings are always registered in the scoreboard of GMA than her spin doctors may be willing to accept to be true. Come to think of it, even Obama suffers from this same fate and some leaders in Latin America.

For instance, based on the Harris Poll of March 23, 2009 alone, results do show that ‘while a majority of Americans give President Obama’s overall performance high marks, the same is not the case in his performance on the economy’. In short, ‘53% gives Obama negative marks while 47% gives it positive ratings’. And what about Jacob Zuma of South Africa with surveys saying he will do a good job as president at 40% and the same 40% saying otherwise, with 20% reflecting the “don’t know” response?

Again, to the extent that such negative ratings could deliver truly negative impact upon the presidency of GMA and her brand of governance, from where I stand, it would seem to destroy the path toward that final day in 2010 when she ought to officially turn over the presidency to the next successor. Sadly, GMA is leaving the gate of the Palace more unpopular than when she first came in. For one, to my mind, surveys evoke some notions of “moral embargo”, true or not. Well then, has GMA been that ‘evil’ or bad our president, pray tell?