UniversityA look at the behavior of the electorate
A look at the behavior of the electorate

With the May 2016 national elections fast approaching, the electorate has more or less already had a good taste of what the presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial candidates have to offer, despite the campaign period only officially set to begin next month. Along with election seasons like this is the rise of some predictable behavioral patterns among the nation’s voting population.

“The Filipino electorate is an active electorate,” describes Ian Jayson Hecita, program manager from the Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance (JMRIG). Compared to their Western counterparts, the Filipino voters are active in terms of voting, says Hecita, who compares elections to a fiesta — “Makulay, may banderitas, maingay.”


Delving into the election trends

Political Science professor Dr. Ador Torneo cites several studies on election trends done by the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) in the years 1995 and 2003. He shares, “In 1995, popularity was the most influential consideration. In 2003, the image of the candidate [or the] characteristics perceived to benefit the voter had the biggest weight. In that year, the party affiliation, whether the candidate was in administration or the opposition, was a consideration for many survey respondents. It is [important] to remember that the survey was conducted just a few years after highly divisive and polarizing events in EDSA 2 and 3.”

“Both family and experience will likely have impacts on the 2016 elections,” Dr. Torneo adds. He also mentions that the leading presidential and vice presidential hopefuls have been observed to be “using their family names as important components of their campaigns.”

“Grace Poe taps her famous father’s name Fernando Poe, Jr. Mar Roxas also highlights his grandfather, former president Manuel Roxas and his father, Gerardo Roxas, Sr. Bongbong Marcos also benefits from and actively taps on the popularity of his deceased father. Even Leni Robredo benefits from the name of her deceased husband, even if she is not directly using it as a cornerstone of her campaign,” he explains, commenting that such candidates are being accused of relying on the names of their famous family members instead of their own accomplishments.


Personality vs. platform

At present, the Philippine government is comprised of a lot of famous personalities, and this is equally true for the roster of candidates in the 2016 elections — with the likes of Senator Tito Sotto, a well-known TV show host, who is running for re-election; Alma Moreno, an actress recently put in the spotlight for her “awkward” interview with Karen Davila, who is running for the senate; and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, who won a seat in congress during the previous elections, and is now a senatorial candidate as well.

Philippine politics is said to be closely tied to Philippine show business. A personality’s name can spell victory for nearly any given post. Years ago, the actor Fernando Poe, Jr. obtained a massive amount of votes compared to his competition, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, without much experience in governance. Pacquiao also won as a congressman without any previous experience in politics.

Hecita posits that the reason why people are easily swayed by personalities than the platforms of a candidate is because of political socialization. In political science terminology, he defines political socialization as “how an individual looks at political objects,” such as events and issues.

“Socialization can be affected by several factors. One [is] family, another is media, which is a very powerful socialization agent,” he explains, adding that another factor is socio-economic status. He mentions that it depends on the “place with more political competition. [If there is a greater political competition,] then it is likely that people will be more politically engaged.”

However, it is not just the candidate’s name that can win him votes. A presidentiable may gain a considerable amount of votes from his or her proposed platform. During the Certificate of Candidacy (COC) filing in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Intramuros last October, a “nuisance candidate” self-identifying as an “intergalactic space ambassador” won a few sympathizers by proposing free WiFi for all Filipinos.

While some candidates’ strengths lie in their names and reputations and others’ on their platforms, some also possess a combination of both. This is true for one of the leading presidentiables, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte. With an infamous name that shakes criminals and drug dealers to their cores, a reputation of leading Davao as the “ninth safest city in the world,” and a promising platform, Duterte is a leading contender for the presidential seat in poll results released last December, besting other candidates with 38 percent of survey respondents indicating him as their first choice.

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Experience needed?

Over the years, voters tend to only pry apart a candidate’s resume if the candidate aspires for high office.

Dr. Torneo expresses that prior experience in the government is generally an asset, but it can also become a liability, especially once associated with negative things such as corruption, extrajudicial killings, and even incompetence. “How people perceive the experience a candidate brings is also influenced by both mass media and social media,” notes Dr. Torneo. “Some candidates are being criticized for having poor track records despite their decades of experience in government. Candidates may tout their experience but opponents may frame it negatively.”

When asked whether parental lineage and previous experiences matter in choosing a candidate, Hecita argues that they do, in fact, matter. “There are questions as to why Bongbong Marcos is prevalent with the millennials,” he begins. These come from various factors that affect the decision of the voters. Among these is the political exposure of an adolescent. “It starts from [the family]. Whether explicitly or implicitly, your parents can impose what values they want you to choose in a candidate,” expresses Hecita. The second factor is the level of political engagement of the parents, which is of importance in influencing a potential voter. The third one, Hecita adds, is the socio-economic status of parents. He mentions, “There are parents that need to work and focus on their career, thus resulting into a not-so politically-engaged environment, which greatly affects a rural area.” The take on parental lineages and previous experiences also can come from learning institutions.

It is evident that the candidate’s credentials play a good role in the presidential run. Recently, much fuss has been created by Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas’ “background in economics.” The LP bet lists the Wharton School of Economics in his resume, which was refuted by presidentiable Rodrigo Duterte’s team, stating that Roxas is a Wharton undergraduate, and therefore is only a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, which Wharton is a unit of. The fuss has created much commotion and debate on social media. The commotion started to decline after Wharton said in a statement that “Roxas is indeed [their] graduate.”

The electorate isn’t as particular with the aspirant’s background in the lower seats. Incumbent Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s daughter, Nancy Binay, won a seat in the senate without prior background in Philippine politics aside from “assisting her father.” The same goes for Pacquiao, who won a seat in congress, despite coming from sports, which many can argue to be completely unrelated to politics.


On parental lineage, dynasties

It is undeniable that the reputation of the candidate’s parental lineage has an effect on the overall view of the electorate to him or her. It is an important factor that could lead to a bid for the office to win spectacularly, or fail miserably.

Dr. Torneo shares that among other things, politicians coming from well-known families enjoy the benefit of name recall, which can help towards their branding. However, he emphasizes that this is a double-edged sword, and results may depend on how people are able to perceive those family members. “Those whose families or relatives are strongly associated with particular political parties or groups may also inherit their family’s political networks,” he explains.

This may assist the candidate in gathering more votes which further secures his or her bid for office, as is the case for the outgoing President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, whose parents championed democracy in the Marcos regime and won the hearts of the people.

Back in the 2010 presidential elections, many people supported Aquino’s run for presidency for many reasons – upper governmental experience, track records, and of course, the reputation of his mother and father, former president Corazon Aquino and senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

On the flip side, it isn’t going as favorably for vice presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos, whose infamous father established the equally infamous martial law. With the sour taste of the Marcos regime still in their mouths, a large number of Filipinos are disinterested in casting their vote for Bongbong. Many are also wary of voting for him, with the belief that he may “cause the abolishment of democracy all over again.”


Impact of the youth and the millennials

“If you look at the demographics, I think the youth sector and the millennials have large voting segments,” says Hecita. “Most of the candidates have youth volunteers, wherein they build youth action groups to capture the millennial market,” adds Hecita.

Dr. Torneo agrees with this sentiment, positing that the vote preference of the youth will shape the elections. “My personal impression is that the youth of today, particularly millennials, tend to be more demanding of government officials, critical of corruption, and dissatisfied with the current state of things. They are also more vocal in expressing dissatisfaction, especially in social media. [The IPER Studies suggest] that they are less likely to accept bribes from candidates, relative to older voters. However, the recent study of Publicus Asia, Inc. also suggests that young voters are more cynical about the notion that elections bring about change,” he adds.

Aside from these, Dr. Torneo mentions the fact that millennials are swayed by politicians who “promise discipline and order, even when these could potentially come at a steep price.” He asserts that millennials were “born during better times,” and that this is also partly because of the older generation’s negligence to relay the lessons of history. According to Dr. Torneo, millennials “have not experienced the horrors of authoritarianism, martial law, compulsory military training, censorship, and even corporeal punishment at home and in the school,” he highlights.


Does my vote even count?

On the other side of the coin, there are people who are generally apathetic about the elections and do not wish to vote. There are several reasons behind this choice — some do not vote because they are not registered and were not able to reach the deadline; others do not vote because of a general dislike of candidates; while still others have no wish to endure the long lines of the voting polls. However, the biggest reason why a lot of Filipinos do not vote is because they think that their vote does not count.

“My vote will not make a difference!” is a common excuse heard from Filipinos who are apathetic about the elections. These people generally believe that, next to millions of other voters, their singular vote will be insignificant.

For Hecita, choosing not to vote is participating as well. “It is a voice of the people saying that they need more choices, and their [choice] not to vote is their participation in democracy,” Hecita stresses. He describes, “There are so many reasons why people do not vote. Maybe [it’s] because of inconvenience, the [issues on the] qualification of candidates, and […] perhaps also a manifestation of our weak party system.”