MANILA, January 28, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - "Heading into the 2004 elections, expect more surveys to pop up in the press," the Makati Business Club alerts members. "The most-often quoted ones will be those of Social Weather Station, Pulse Asia, and ASW-Roper. Donít believe everything you read about a survey in the media. Reporters tend to gloss over the technical details of survey preparation and rush for headline-grabbing news."

The MBC drafted a quick guide on how to read surveys:

Rule 1: Check whoís conducting the survey. All surveys and polling companies are not alike. Some use scientific methods while others donít. Make sure you are reading the results of a reputable pollster.

Rule 2: Check whoís sponsoring the survey. In the Philippines, political surveys are typically sponsored or commissioned by third parties. For instance, SWS surveys on presidential candidates are commissioned by media companies or political consultancies. The sponsors, and not SWS, submit the names to be tested in the surveys.

Rule 3: Surveys are snapshots of opinion. Surveys provide a picture of public opinion at given points in time. The mood or opinion are of course subject to change. Thatís why surveys taken at different times may reflect different opinions. For presidential elections, surveys are typically conducted every month, with the frequency increasing the closer we get to elections.

Rule 4: Sampling matters. The only reliable surveys use a sampling method known as stratified, random sampling. Respondents to the survey are typically drawn randomly from all socioeconomic classes (i.e., AB, C, DE) and all regions (Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao). For a presidential survey to make any sense, all respondents should be aged 18 and above and be registered voters. Both SWS and Pulse Asia use sample sizes of 1000 to 1200 persons. All respondents are given face-to-face interviews. ASW-Roper surveys usually cover only 300 people and are limited to businessmen. Some, if not all, may have been interviewed over the phone.

It should be noted that random samples allow for inferential statistics; that is, a pollster may make a projection from the data to cover the entire population. Non-scientific samples allow for only descriptive statistics; that is, they only describe the opinion or behavior of the survey group.

Rule 5: Margins of error. Survey results have a margin of error. For SWS and Pulse Asia, it is usually plus/minus 3 percent. This means that any result within this margin is statistically a tie and too close to call. Concretely, if Candidate A has 20 percent of the vote and Candidate B has 18 percent, the race is too close to call and could go either way. Media rarely makes this distinction.

Rule 6: Make sure the survey is real. Political dirty-tricks campaign operations have been known to release fabricated survey results under the names of legitimate pollsters. Since media doesnít verify all reports, itís best not to believe news items until you check pollstersí websites. Both SWS and Pulse Asia have been victimized in this way in the last two months.

Rule 7: What was the question again? The press is usually quick to give you the results but oftentimes fails to even give you the question. The relevant question is "Who would you vote for?" rather than "Who do you think will win?"

Different people read surveys differently. Political parties check them (and commission them) regularly because they want to know whom to field. In other words, they want to check for so-called "winnability". Others read them to find out who to support or bankroll in an election. And still others want to simply find out whoís leading the race today. What people should not do is to read a survey so theyíll make up their minds about who to vote for. Thatís not opinion measurement; thatís self-fulfilling prophecy.

By the way, ever met anyone whoís been surveyed before?

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Heading into the elections, expect more business groups too to come up with "candidatesí forums." In sequence expect the leaders to be gushing about the forum guestsí supposed charm and candor. Donít be taken in by such platitudes. Charm is something candidates strive to exude, candor is what we should demand of all of them. But these virtues do not necessarily mean they are fit for the position they are aspiring for.

It is not beneath certain leaders to use their business groups to promote certain candidates. Or for them to praise all their guests equally. Some of them may be angling lucrative jobs in government entities.

There are government banks whose board directorships, for instance, are awarded to businessmen who supported or at least praised the winning presidential candidate. Some of the controlled agencies, including the mandatory mutual funds, have board seats reserved for "representatives of the private sector", that is, business leaders. The appointing power will naturally want to appoint someone he remembers to have promoted his campaign.

Some business leaders have made a habit of cornering these seats among their clique. They are known to rotate the seats among themselves. Businessman A may seat in a government bank under a certain President, and his colleague Businessman B will take his place upon assumption of the next President. In which case, Businessman A will take over the post vacated by Businessman C in the mutual fund, and the latter will in turn take the post left by Businessman B in a government corporation. Any which way, they continue the old, even anomalous contracts inserted by the departing colleague. At times, they even award juicy contracts to each otherís companies.

By the way, have you noticed how cliques of leaders also rotate the chairmanships of certain business groups?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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