In the 2015 Special Elections, more than half of the 90 positions in the University Student Government (USG) were won by candidates from Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon, whereas 14 seats were won by Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista.
However, the trend from the past few General Elections has shown a rise in the number of students running as independent candidates, with two—Migi Moreno and Pram Menghrajani—bagging the highest position in the 2013 and 2015 elections, respectively.
Independent candidates may be considered as the underdogs in the political arena because they have no backing from any of the parties, nor do they have as much resources as the political parties do from their benefactors and sponsors. Nevertheless, independent candidates have shown success in their sojourn in the field, winning the presidency twice in the past four elections. The case of the independent candidates may or may not be linked to the underdog phenomena, but esteemed professors from the behavioral sciences and students alike offer their own insights.
Seeing one’s self in underdogs
Isa Vivas (III, BS-LGL) shares that she roots for the candidate she thinks has the qualifications needed for the position. “However, I also think that sometimes, the people who have such qualifications are not the same people who deserve to win,” she adds. She highlights that some of these qualifications are over-exaggerated or made to sound important to look good on paper.
“I also see myself in underdogs,” Vivas shares. “I am not as skilled as others in certain areas and I always feel as though I can only give half of what others have to offer. I root for underdogs because people usually expect the least from them, and for them to win means that it took twice as much effort.”
Sherlyn Lima (III, AB-OSDM) narrates that she thought Menghrajani was the underdog when she ran for the USG presidency last year. “I think many students who voted for the next USG president were pulled in by the two political parties of the school based on their association,” she says.
Lima shares that Menghrajani served as a new voice running as USG president, thanks to her palpable and heartfelt platform that a lot of students who do not associate with political parties adhered to. “In Pram’s case, she was the underdog. I saw her as a typical student just like me,” she describes.
Even Menghrajani herself admits to feeling like an underdog, retelling her experience running as an independent candidate in last year’s General and Special Elections. “I felt like an underdog during the elections last year because of the resources that the political parties have. The manpower of the political parties is over a hundred and I only had around ten.”
The underdog phenomena
Yellowbelle Duaqui, a sociology professor from the Behavioral Sciences Department, says that people’s love for a success story is an instinctual tendency of human behavior to favor equity or fairness.
“Such is the case of the David and Goliath story,” Duaqui shares. “David casting his slingshot is the sym-bolic insistence of rooting for the underdog. People siding with those who appear in a weaker position in any type of position is an attempt to equalize or level the playing field.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Melvin Jabar, also from the Behavioral Sciences Department, states that the plight of the underdogs contains narratives and discourses that regular people can relate to. He says that, consciously or not, people are able to relate with the underdogs because, at some point in our lives, we were marginalized or estranged.
“We have a theory called theory of minority discourses. This argues that people in the margin—you can call them underdogs—have antagonistic relationships with the dominant culture because they are disenfranchised due to the power imbalance of the dominant culture,” Dr. Jabar elaborates.
Dr. Jabar also shares that some people may be non-conformist and would want to place themselves in situations that are unpopular. “This could be a manifestation of the unconscious. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of discomforts towards standardization, thus as a show of agency and resistance to the majority. People tend to play the devil’s advocate,” he expounds.
Moreover, he says that some people side with less popular viewpoints because they want to counter power, hegemony, or dominance of one group or party over the other, which leads to power imbalance.
The underdog’s noble struggles and perseverance in the face of adversity highlights the catch-all of the existential journey: The struggle, then the failure, and ultimately, the redemption and success. Some people may find this set-up enthralling because they can relate themselves to the underdogs, giving them the belief that, “If they can do it, I can too.”
The behavioral points provided by the sociology professors underscore the manifestations that shape people’s affinity towards underdogs. This can be a problem, however, if one considers a person’s underdog-ness as the only reason for voting for them.
Independent candidates may or may not pose as mediators to the status quo between two political parties. Perhaps their general appeal could be attributed to the idea that students are looking for other options for representation, beyond the colors of yellow and orange. The case of the independent candidates gives students this choice, this freedom—that voting is not just limited to binaries and it shouldn’t have to be. The government the students want rests in their hands. In the end, though, what should matter is for students to be critical in voting.
Vivas concludes, “At the end of the day, we should still vote for those who we believe are rightly qualified for the job, regardless of political party or lack thereof. Their track records should be taken into consideration, and we should be critical in choosing our leaders.”