MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Over 63 million Filipinos, both here and abroad, have registered for the midterm elections on Monday, May 13, 2019.
In the last two midterm polls, voter turnout have averaged above 70%. In 2007, 73.10% of voters turned up at the polls. In 2013 midterm polls, the turnout was slightly higher, at 77.31%.
Midterm vs presidential elections
In general, midterm elections usually have lower turnouts than presidential elections conducted every 6 years. The 2010 and 2016 presidential elections posted 74.99% and 81.95% turnout, respectively.
The low turnout in midterm polls, as compared to presidential elections, may be attributed to the limited number of national candidates to choose from — only 12 senators and one party-list group. In presidential elections, more is at stake, with voters have to also elect a president and a vice president, a political scientist said. (READ: Surprising turnout for midterm polls)
Senators are also usually considered as having less “star power” compared to the two highest government seats, explained political scientist Hansley Juliano of the Ateneo de Manila University.
Midterm elections are equally as crucial as presidential elections, however, according to Juliano. He explained that midterm elections provide an avenue for opposing parties to test whether the incumbent opponent is weak or unpopular enough that they could be unseated come election time – or to test whether opposition candidates can survive and fight again in the next election cycle.
Regions with highest turnouts
The regions with the biggest increase in turnouts in the last two midterms were Ilocos Region (Region I), Eastern Visayas (Region VIII), Caraga (Region XIII), and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In the 2013, Eastern Visayas recorded the highest voter turnout at 83.45%. The provinces from Ilocos Region, Caraga, ARMM, and Bicol Region followed. Metro Manila, the capital and most vote-rich region, recorded the lowest turnout at 70.56%.
In the 2007 elections, Ilocos Region had the highest turnout at 80.68%. ARMM, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, and Caraga followed. The National Capital Region recorded again the lowest turnout at 62.10%.
High turnout in these regions can be attributed to “uncompetitive elections,” explained Juliano. Uncompetitive elections are brought about by various factors, such as weak opposition slates, candidates without opponents, and the presence of political dynasties.
The Marcoses and Singsons in Ilocos Region, the Romualdezes and Tans in Eastern Visayas, and the Tys in Caraga, for example, are political dynasties that contribute to the regions’ huge voter turnout rates. They have built their “well-oiled political machineries” in order to gain their regions’ command votes, Juliano said.
Uncompetitive elections may also explain the command votes gained by national candidates. When unopposed candidates, for example, show solid support and loyalty to their national candidates, they help drive command votes for their national allies. (READ: Only one vote to win)
However, in other countries such as Germany and Japan, the lack of competition among political parties actually translates to low voter turnout. When there are clear winners, people become unmotivated to cast their vote as they perceive their single vote will not have any impact.
Low voter turnouts, meanwhile, in Metro Manila could be attributed to “demobilization.” This happens when, despite people’s attempts to criticize the administration, people’s disenchantment is not mirrored in the polls.
A significant showing of this phenomenon happened under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when voter turnout for senators in the 2007 elections reached a low turnout of 65.51%, explained Juliano.
Given these patterns, Juliano predicted two scenarios for the 2019 midterm elections. There would either be a minimal change in voter turnout as what happens when a president’s reputation seems unassailable or, given the current political climate under President Rodrigo Duterte, a visible drop in turnout due to demobilization.
Visayas, Mindanao turnout
Provinces in the Visayas have recorded strong turnout of voters in the past two midterm elections – with Siquijor, Guimaras, Bohol, and Biliran consistent in delivering.
Historically, the Visayas has the highest percentage of voter turnout among the big island groups. The island’s high turnout may also be attributed to local political machineries.
In Mindanao, Lanao del Sur delivered 90.8% in 2013 – the highest turnout among provinces on the island. The lowest turnout was recorded in Davao del Sur at 64.03%.
Batanes, the northernmost tip of the Philippines, recorded the highest turnout among provinces in 2007, at 86.9%. Davao del Sur recorded the lowest turnout at 61.48%
Editor’s Note: We initially published this story with voter turnout data from 2016, a presidential election, and 2018, barangay elections. The story has been updated to include past midterm elections as points of comparison.