Surveys are how honest and reliable?

To the extent that doubts have now been cast on whether the SWS survey finding Noynoy suddenly climbed up on top of the presidential preference chart, this writer likewise really finds it clear that its release, while well timed, tended to reflect a kind of ‘dishonesty’ in so far as its impact upon readers is concerned. Point is, the survey was conducted on September 5 and 6 and covering only Luzon, as if by pre-ordained assumption favorable to Noynoy, and released in Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 14, this even before Noynoy actually formally announced his decision to run as president. This leaves one to ask – how much more if there was already an earlier announcement prior to the survey?

Well, let us see.

There must have been a statistically probable connection between that week within which the survey was undertaken (5 & 6 September) and the week that followed when the official acceptance of Noynoy was made on the occasion of the 40th day of Cory (9 September). In other words, for any skilled statistician, something is perceptibly clear from the periphery. Logically, if one samples from a long beach of yellow pebbles, what kind of pebbles must one pick if not yellow – given that it approaches the 40th day of Cory when public sympathy is at its overwhelming peak?

SWS survey is therefore both, accidental and intentional.

But I am inclined to think that the latter would have been more like it. With a giant network of an ABS-CBN behind it and an equally influential broadsheet of an Inquirer – both serving as a jumping board – is there anything next to impossible to catapult an otherwise ‘virtual greenhorn’ like Noynoy? The so-called Fourth Estate plays kingmaker, doesn’t it?

So how indeed have the doubts been stated?

It was by another private polling circuit or political advocacy group under the directorship of Ed Malay – the Issues an Advocacy Center. Offhand, Malay calls it “impossible” to interview in just two days respondents totaling 1,200. At least, by his own perceived standards, Malay thinks it takes 5 to 7 days to do field data extraction, 2 to 4 days for tabulation, and 2 to 5 days for analysis, call-back and cross-evaluation. That completes the cycle at a 9-day time continuum, at the minimum or a 16-day time continuum, at the maximum. Thus, can it be said that what SWS has come up with truly ‘generated an accurate picture of the political topography in the country’, pray tell?

I contend that Malay is right as when he posited that the results of the survey must be ‘ranged against the realities on the ground’.

Apparently, this myth of the “1,200 respondents” needs now to be demystified especially where polling circuits tended to project fairly consistent scores for the top 5 presidentiables for weeks and months on end. Is a new statistical configuration now being introduced in our viewing screen to scare the wit out of Villar? Well, chances are, polling circuits, will sell like hot potatoes in so far as those willing enough to commission them are concerned.

At the end of the day, things all boil down to whether or not surveys by the most reputable or the least reputable of available polling groups, are in fact, reliable. Just like in any market research, what seems primordial if not downright fundamental is on whether people respond to questions honestly. From where I stand, it is possible that our favorite polling circuits only ask what are called the ‘safe issues’ or those that elicit honest response from most people most of the time rather than what are called the ‘no-go issues’ or those that are unmentionable in survey topics. Truly, they should now go for that survey technique of ‘projective questioning’ that ferrets out honest answers and more importantly tests how people think in a particular situation. We are yet to see diversifications elicited by the more ethical issues and absent these, survey results play importance akin to cosmetics or ‘beauty parlors’. Chances are, what polling circuits are coming up with are damned lies rather damned facts.