Philippines is already emerging from lockdowns, but Filipinos still don’t know Duterte’s approval ratings

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Source: AFP/VNA). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, Jul 18, 2020, PhilStar. Over two quarters have passed but the latest satisfaction ratings of President Rodrigo Duterte are yet to be released by popular polling firms, The Philippine Star reported.

The results of these surveys have never been more important than it is now, with the coronavirus pandemic putting Duterte’s popularity under a tough test as he faces the biggest crisis of his presidency to date in his fourth year in office. However, the stringent restrictions he imposed to fight the virus have also become the same barrier that’s hindering the release of the much-awaited survey data.

“It is harder to approach people face-to-face and ask them questions but actually it’s not just the disease itself that bothers us, it’s the unnecessarily strong lockdowns,” Mahar Mangahas, president of pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS), said in an online forum on Friday.

“Transportation lockdown is the biggest handicap of survey work,” Mangahas added.

Apart from SWS, Pulse Asia also releases quarterly surveys not only on Duterte but also on officials like Vice President Leni Robredo. If the normal calendar of releases would be followed, SWS’s March report, which would capture public sentiment at the onset of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, should have been out in April.

As it is, the polling firms already missed two quarters, which would reveal public opinion at the height of the ECQ until the government started gradually rolling back tough lockdown measures in June. Following their typical schedule, SWS’s second quarter poll should be published this month.

In the same online forum, Mangahas said SWS managed to release two reports during the lockdown period, thanks to its database of 31,661 mobile phone numbers that the firm gathered from 2017 to 2019. However, the SWS chief said even mobile phone surveys have disadvantages.

Out of the 31,661 mobile phone numbers that SWS collected, only 3,884 respondents completed the phone interviews for the pollster’s May 4-10 survey on the state of Filipinos’ optimism amid the pandemic. The rest of the phone numbers were no longer active, incorrect and cannot be reached, among other reasons. Still, the 3,884 respondents were way bigger than SWS’s typical sample size of 1,200.

Asked whether SWS will also conduct a mobile phone survey to guage Duterte’s satisfaction rating, Mangahas said SWS cannot promise anything at the moment.

“We will not telegraph our subject matter; just wait for what we release,” he said.

For his part, Jose Ramon Albert, a professional statistician, said SWS should “experiment” with their data gathering modes and see how they can continue conducting surveys even in the middle of the outbreak.

Albert, who is also a senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, cited a study that shows reducing the interviewer’s social presence “may result into higher quality data, greater respondent disclosure and even satisfaction.”

“It would be important to look into whether these alternative modes of data collection may indeed be better or face-to-face is still the gold standard,” Albert said in the same virtual forum.

“My sense is that it depends on context because sometimes for questions that involves social desirability, you may not want to use face-to-face modes,” he added.

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