Treat political polls as entertainment

Last December, my two closest walking companions agreed on a friendly bet on whether or not the total votes of all other presidential candidates would be half of Bongbong Marcos’ votes in May of This year.

Whoever was betting that they obviously wouldn’t trust the results of a supposed poll published in a newspaper, of which he waved a clipping in front of us. They sealed the bet with a handshake which I was instructed to attend.

Last week I was told the bet was off; the friend who was confidently holding up the survey results was not so sure anymore and backed off. When I met him a few days later, I asked him what had happened. He said he grossly miscalculated.

I wanted to tease him about his missing “palabra of honor”, but I gave up when I saw that he was repentant. He still firmly believed his candidate would win, he told us, but was no longer certain of the huge margin. There is one Cebuano word that best describes his experience: nakuryente. The funny thing is that there are so many like him.

There are surveys that are fraudulent and there are surveys that are conducted honestly. The one who deceived my friend obviously belonged to the first, the fraudulent kind. But even the most authentic and simple ones do not necessarily reflect the real image. And it could happen even in the most technologically advanced country.

Take what happened in the last two elections in the United States. In 2016, all the polls pointed to a victory for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump won. And although Joe Biden won four years later, as the polls predicted, it was not by the same margin they had predicted. Even the best methodology cannot guarantee 100% accuracy of any survey result.

But I don’t have the same negative view of the polls as a Senate candidate who regularly follows the polls conducted by the only two more or less credible polling companies in the country, and who has been seen complaining loudly that all the polls are intended to condition the mind of the public preparatory to cheating. If he loses, which at this point is almost a certainty, it’s not because he was cheated. It would be a whole different story if he won.

But what good are fraudulent surveys if they are not intended as a prelude to cheating? To boost a collapsing campaign, this is one. A candidate must project the image of winning ability to be taken seriously not only by voters but also by potential donors. I once knew someone who was a master at table polls and made a whole lot of his racket.

His “company” sported fanciful names and he cited intelligence agencies from the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and France, among others, as sources. That in itself was indicative of the company’s lie, but people, including the newspapers that published its press releases, fell for it.

Another purpose is to promote the surveyor’s audience or viewership. This kind of survey is what they call a clickbait, targeting fanatical supporters of a party or candidate. The more “votes” queried, the more visits the website receives. Radio stations or programs also do this.

Political polls are entertaining, but only when they are not taken seriously. Don’t be like my friend who was certain to lose a few thousand because he trusted the product from a hole in the wall.

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