Mockery polls

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The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC) held mock presidential polls last week. The results surprised both the faculty as well as UP-CMC student leaders.

Richard Gordon came in first with a vote of 139 out of 370 students who voted, followed by Gilbert Teodoro (107). Benigno Aquino III was a poor third with 48 votes, followed by Manuel Villar with 37 votes. The rest of the results may be said to have been as expected: Nicanor Perlas received 15 votes, Eddie Villanueva 5, Jamby Madrigal 3, and Joseph Estrada 1, while Vetallano (sic) Acosta and J.C. de los Reyes received 0 votes. (The College has a total student population of over a thousand, and the low turn-out may be indicative of skepticism over the process or even the actual elections themselves.)

A sympathetic reading of the results makes them less surprising than they seem at first glance. The results’ non-conformity with what the surveys say are the Filipino voters’ current preferences indicates a disconnect between the perception of the candidates by the UP students involved and that of the majority of Filipinos. It suggests that as far as some UP students are concerned, the candidates are going to have to approach them differently from the way they approach other sectors of the electorate.

I suspect, however, that the bottom line reason for the results is a sense among UP’s journalism and communication students that the choices that the majority have identified are not really choices at all, signifying skepticism over the popular view that Benigno Aquino III will bring about the reforms our society needs should be become President, or that Manuel Villar has the welfare and future of the poor at heart and will abolish poverty(!) once he’s in power as his ads promise.

The Noynoy Aquino image as reformist is tarnished by the Hacienda Luisita massacre, no matter if his supposed link to it is limited to his being part owner of the Hacienda. Even his late mother suffered from the fall-out from the Mendiola massacre, despite its being the handiwork of the police during her term as President. Among many UP students, both issues remain unresolved, thus undermining Mr. Aquino’s, and even the late Mrs. Aquino’s, reformist persona.

On the other hand, Mr. Villar still has to work on getting his protestations of innocence over the C-5 extension project across, that scandal having resisted closure, thanks to Mr. Villar’s allies in the Senate. There are also those rumors about his other failings, among them allegations of other shady deals involving his real estate empire.

UP students are nothing if not reform-minded and pro-poor, both being the bottom line preferences of UP culture. But there they were, rejecting the two candidates most identified in the popular mind with those preferential options. Obviously they were not buying either the idea that Mr. Aquino is the country’s last hope for reform, or that Mr. Villar is the poor’s salvation.

Instead of either Aquino or Villar, most of them voted for Richard Gordon, whom one can identify with reformism or being pro-poor only with a very generous stretch of the imagination. Gilbert Teodoro’s coming in second, on the other hand, seems to suggest that for all the supposed anti-administration and anti-Arroyo bias of UP students, they see something else in Teodoro other than his Arroyo connection. Of course we can throw in such other possibilities as that, as in certain other schools, Teodoro’s looks may also have something to do with his popularity among these UP students.

In any case, both choices appear to be indicative of the very difference mentioned above between the majority of voters and some UP students. I suggest that student skepticism over the Aquino-As- Reformist and Villar- As- Pro-poor theses has led them to look for other, certainly less monumental reasons for making their choice for President, and that in this instance they chose to vote for the person who seems the most fluently persuasive, in which category both Gordon and Teodoro, who’re both as slick as glass and as glib as TV talk show hosts, belong.

While one could fault the students for equating fluency with substance, their choices could be read as a protest over what is popular, as well as the irony of the presidential contest’s consisting of nine candidates among whom there’s hardly any real choice at all. If neither Aquino nor Villar are authentic choices, as their votes seem to imply, what choices are left, after all?

But a less sympathetic — and probably more accurate — reading of the results is more compelling than a charitable one. Such a less forgiving reading would suggest that the image of the UP student as activist, which has endured despite UP’s accepting the children of the wealthy and the powerful in its rolls, is no longer accurate, as many have suspected for years.

Instead the results would say that UP students — or UP mass communication students particularly, among whom are the future journalists who would be tasked with providing the public the information it needs — have no historical sense and are as ill-informed as their counterparts in other schools, where the results of mock polls have followed almost the same pattern. As one UP faculty member remarked, “the mock polls are a huge mockery of what UP stands for.”

But there’s a caveat to all this: neither reading has been validated by science, and either can very well be invalidated by, say a focus group discussion. Everyone is therefore free to interpret these results pending their validation or otherwise through the usual, accepted means that social science research sanctions. The country is also only in the third week of the campaign and there are still nine weeks to go, in the course of which these students as well as much of the electorate are still likely to change their minds, who knows?

(BusinessWorld)

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