2022 Philippine Elections

[New School] Can Isko stay afloat? The ‘two joints’ debunked

John Jared Garcia
[New School] Can Isko stay afloat? The ‘two joints’ debunked
'While many have already pointed out Isko’s problematic campaign strategy, I would argue (in supplement) that his downward spiral, at least in theory, is partly because of our electoral system'

Amidst the monstrous tides of pinks and reds, can the “centrist” mayor stay afloat? 

In a recent statement, Manila mayor and presidential candidate Isko Moreno once again ramped up his attack on the two leading frontrunners, Marcos and Robredo. To no surprise, his argument rested on the same old “yellow-pinks vs. reds” narrative, warning voters that the dichotomy between the two bases could lead to destabilization. 

While his contention is at best debatable, it is obvious that Isko remains fixated on the idea of creating a “third front.” He unyieldingly postures himself as a third alternative to the seemingly solidified bases of the top two leading candidates. For him, the battle is far from over as he claims support from the “silent majority.”

But is there really a silent majority? If there is, does it support Isko?

Data says otherwise. Surveys consistently place him lagging behind Marcos and Robredo, and in the most recent ones, he is far behind. A “silent majority” support should have been able to at least make him competitive towards the second frontrunner, creating a three-way race. But current numbers and experts suggest that the presidential election is more of a duel now, a clash between the top two bets

Even if for the sake of argument we count both Marcos’ and Robredo’s soft voters as part of the supposed “Isko-supporting silent majority,” it is mathematically not enough. In the March Laylo survey results, Marcos’ and Robredo’s soft voters add up to 44%. Even if, in theory (which is highly implausible), all of this flips to Isko, this is still far from the majority as hard voters of both Leni and Bongbong sum up to 70%. These numbers tell us that Isko’s silent majority is most likely a myth and most voters are now either hard pinks or hard reds. 

[New School] Can Isko stay afloat? The ‘two joints’ debunked
The theory behind Isko’s downward spiral 

While many have already pointed out Isko’s problematic campaign strategy, I would argue (in supplement) that his downward spiral, at least in theory, is partly because of our electoral system. 

In the Philippines where a presidential candidate only needs a plurality of votes to win, theory tells us that this system might eventually lead to the sustenance of the top two candidates. This is related to the so-called “Duverger’s Law” – an observed regularity where electoral votes in plurality systems often converge into the top two most popular political parties, or in this case electoral candidates. 

This law is supported by the m+1 rule by Gary Cox where “m” refers to the number of seats for a particular electoral position. Using this rule, Cox hypothesized that presidential elections where there is only one available seat (m=1) will only have two viable candidates, in our case, Marcos and Robredo. 

In addition to these theoretical concepts, the theory of strategic voting further explains why Isko is losing voters (down by 2 percentage points compared to the February survey). A strategic vote by definition is a vote that is both based on preference and perceived chances of winning. For example, a voter strategically votes if she votes for her second choice candidate who she deems has more chances of winning than her most preferred one so as to not “waste” votes.

In relation to this, the Niou-Kselman hypothesis tells us that voters who prefer the third most popular candidate (in this case, Isko) are more likely to strategically vote. They will more likely dump Isko and consider voting for their second-most preferred candidate who they deem is more viable (either Robredo or Marcos) to win the election. 

For the few remaining days, these theories summarily predict a further systematic deterioration of Mayor Isko’s presidential campaign. These also prove how his previous call for Robredo’s withdrawal was unfounded and illogical. Given the survey numbers, Robredo has a much more stable voter base than Isko who, in theory, is expected to lose more voters due to strategic voting. 

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The lead-up to, and aftermath of, Isko Moreno’s ‘Leni withdraw’ call

The lead-up to, and aftermath of, Isko Moreno’s ‘Leni withdraw’ call
What’s next for Isko? 

Although present data suggest that Isko’s run is proving to be a herculean climb, the Manila mayor’s words and rhetoric are showing no signs of retreat. 

However, behind those words are actions that say otherwise. His absurd call for Leni’s withdrawal and the “yellow-pinks vs. reds” narratives seem to signal an exasperated campaign acknowledging the hegemonic bases of the top two leading candidates. His campaign team for sure knows that Isko needs to crack both Marcos’ and Robredo’s hard voters’ base if he aims for an upset win. 

Given these conjectures, Mayor Isko’s infamous “two joints” is shaping to be a case of “copied strategy gone wrong.” This hand sign coupled with his strongman antics, street slang, and rags-to-riches story was supposed to be a copied, improvised strategy straight from Duterte’s populist playbook. But it appears that the copying did not work. The current numbers, his questionable actions, and a system that is seemingly against him unanimously require him to overcome an almost impossible feat. – Rappler.com

John Jared Garcia is a Political Science student from the University of the Philippines Diliman under Dr. Rogelio Alicor Panao’s Statistics for the Social Sciences course.