Survey says…

Yoly Villanueva-Ong
Research should not be used the way a drunk uses the lamppost: for support instead of illumination

In many ways, a survey is like faith. It can inspire believers, atheists and agnostics. Or to use a less spiritual analogy, it spawns supporters, bashers and fence sitters.  

If they like the findings and these boosted their agenda, “praise releases” will proliferate in media. The numbers are quoted as if they are “ex-cathedra,” infallible in their wisdom. You can almost identify who published the survey results. Even the tabloids will carry the news item as if their readers cared. 

For those who feel that the outcome was less than positive for them, the research is thrashed, questioned, dismissed and buried. In the 2013 senatorial campaign, the bottom-dwellers even tried to secure a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the publication of results. They claimed that the ranking was a way of conditioning the voters’ decision. 

Then there are those who flimflam in-between, believing a survey only when it conforms to the movie in their mind and dismissing any aberrant outcome. As Homer Simpson expressed, “Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.” 

The irony is that a survey is supposed to be an objective measurement, assuming a credible, professional research company was behind it. It is a snapshot of a particular timeline with a plus-minus 3% in the accuracy and veracity of the results, depending on the size of the respondent base. 

Surveys should not stir so much passion. Nor should the data be analyzed so literally or read in a vacuum. As has been said many times, research should not be used the way a drunk uses the lamppost: for support instead of illumination.  

A master strategist looks at the numbers for insight into the respondent’s mind, not as a tool to conjure an image or to belie a contention. He knows that statistics are dynamic and fluctuations are the ebb and flow of a survey’s limited shelf life. 

It is particularly dangerous for politicians who tend to be in denial and practice selective perception. Few understand trajectories and trending. Rude surprises await the research-illiterates. Many political ambitions have been thwarted by misdiagnosed information.

Survey on PDAF

Now it can be told.

Not all significant surveys become public. In fact most of the studies are embargoed for a period of time. Others are used purely for internal purposes; a handful is exploited for its PR value.

At the height of the purported Janet Napoles PDAF scam that instigated the so-called Million People March last August 26, 2013, TNS (Taylor Nelson Sofres) Philippines monitored the initiative, to probe the collective rage of the people.  

The field work was done from October 1-7, 2013. It covered the anti-pork rally set in Makati on October 4. The respondents from socio-economic class ABC were segregated from the DE for comparative purposes. The results were enlightening if not remarkable.

Asked what would assuage their anger and be a satisfactory solution to the crisis, the Filipinos spoke distinctly with one voice. Both top root and grass root had exactly the same sentiment in the same ratio — an uncommon occurrence.


  • Impeach/convict/imprison all officials involved in the scam  60%
  • Abolish/remove PDAF/pork barrel system  22%
  • Convict/jail Napoles 20%


  • Impeach/Imprison all officials involved in the scam 69%
  • Imprison Janet Napoles 15%
  • Abolish PDAF 15% 

The only points of divergence were the additional prescriptions from ABC that the money should be returned (24%); a stricter system for handling PDAF be established and the Freedom of Information bill (FOI) should be passed (20%).

The national wrath was principally aimed at the public officials who abused their pork barrel. The same survey identified the top three alleged culprits as former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. 

The insight culled from this study shows that Filipinos were more outraged at the pork abusers than at PDAF per se or even at Janet Napoles. It also underscores the underlying frustration that the lawbreakers might not get punished for their crime.

A Social Weather Stations survey for the Office of the Ombudsman done in August 2013 bolsters this conclusion. Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe that few, hardly any or none of the accused are investigated or prosecuted and 74% believe that those found guilty are seldom or never punished.

This snapshot partly explains why PNoy’s ratings have not substantially declined despite the strident criticism from the triple whammy of the PDAF scam, the MNLF’s raid of Zamboanga City and the Yolanda aftermath. As long as he remains honest and tries his best to solve humongous problems, the people will still be on his side, to the distress of his detractors.

As for those who abuse power, be very afraid. Filipinos are gearing up to put an end to the culture of impunity. The message is loud and clear: We have had enough! YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH IT! –

Yoly Villanueva-Ong, the founder of Campaigns & Grey, is currently Group Chairperson for the Campaigns Group of companies. She writes weekly for Rappler.




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