Research associates from the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) presented the initial study findings of Vote of the Poor 2016: Bottom-up Perceptions of Electoral and Political Strategies in a public forum held on Monday, 25 April 2016, at the San Alberto Hurtado Hall, Social Development Complex, Ateneo de Manila University.
An institutional research of the Institute of Philippine Culture, Vote of the Poor 2016 is a follow-up study to the IPC’s Vote of the Poor 2004, which argued that the vote of the poor is a “thinking vote.” Vote of the Poor 2016 is directed by Filomeno V. Aguilar, Jr., PhD (Department of History, ADMU), with Jose Jowel P. Canuday, PhD (Department of Sociology and Anthopology, ADMU), Lisandro E. Claudio, PhD, and Jayeel S. Cornelio, PhD (Development Studies Program, ADMU) serving as co-investigators and co-presenters at the forum. The 2016 IPC research aims to investigate how poor voters perceive electoral processes.
A mixed-method research
The project employs a mixed-method research methodology, with qualitative data gathered from in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork in four barangays in rural Camarines Sur, Quezon City, Tacloban City, and Zamboanga City. The study sites, which were purposively selected, manifest different types of poverty: rural poverty (Camarines Sur), urban poverty (Quezon City), poverty exacerbated by natural disasters (Tacloban City), and conflict-related poverty (Zamboanga City). Thirty interviews were conducted with poor voters in each study site except in Quezon City (where 29 interviews were held), for a total of 119 interviews. An interview lasted one and a half hours on average.
The quantitative data were culled from exclusive national survey data from the Social Weather Stations (SWS), a partner research organization of the IPC for this study. Specifically, at the 25 April Vote of the Poor 2016 public forum, the research team discussed findings from the Third Quarter 2015 SWS National Survey conducted from September 2 to 5, 2015 using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 voting-age adults (at 95% confidence level, and with sampling error margins of ±3% for national percentages, ±6% each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao).
The field research conducted by the IPC team began in January 2016 and will be completed in June or July of this year. Additional survey data from the SWS Second Quarter (April 18-20) 2016 and Third Quarter (September) 2016 National Surveys will be included in the final report.
Based on survey data from the Third Quarter (September 2 to 15) 2015 National Survey of the Social Weather Stations, the research team reported at the forum that, nationwide, the respondents’ three most reliable sources of information for choosing a candidate for president are television news (84% mention), radio news (47% mention), and television interviews (37% mention). Commercials/ advertisements ranked as the fourth most reliable source of information for choosing a presidential candidate (20% mention), followed by newspapers (12% mention). Radio commentaries, the Internet, and radio interviews each received an 8 percent mention by survey respondents.
The same SWS survey also revealed that the top three qualities that the respondents look for in a candidate for president are: concern for the poor or malasakit sa mahihirap (with 69% mention nationwide, and 76% mention by respondents from the E class); personal integrity or integridad/pagkatao (with 61% mention nationwide, and 70% mention by respondents from the ABC class); a principled stance or paninindigan (with 55% mention nationwide, and 75% mention by respondents from the ABC class). Intelligence or talino ranked as the fourth most important attribute of a presidential candidate (39% mention nationwide), followed by experience in governance or karanasang mamuno (18% mention nationwide), then by platform of government or plataporma (16% mention nationwide). The name (pangalan) of a presidential candidate was mentioned as important by only 4 percent of all respondents in the September 2 to 5, 2015 SWS National Survey.
Based on the IPC research team’s preliminary findings from in-depth interviews in the four aforementioned barangays, the study contends that votes are usually bought for local and not national candidates. Vote buying is carried out through various means—giving out cash, sponsorship of events, or construction of facilities, among others. Generally, the candidates themselves are not involved in vote buying but have personnel (tauhan) in charge of buying votes.
A key question asked by the IPC research team during interviews in the barangays was on whether the giving of money to voters was “vote buying” or “helping the people.” Research participants who generally viewed the giving of money during elections as “vote buying” were the conflict-poor from Zamboanga City (83.3% of 30 interviewees) and the urban poor from Quezon City (82.8% of 29 interviewees). On the other hand, the disaster-poor from Tacloban City and the rural poor from Camarines Sur were less inclined to see the giving of money as “vote buying,” with lower percentages—at 63 percent of 30 interviewees from Tacloban City, and 37 percent of 30 interviewees from Camarines Sur—saying so. An equal proportion (37%) of interviewees from Camarines Sur replied that the giving of money to voters is also a form of “helping the people.”
More important, the IPC study’s qualitative data show that the selling of one’s vote is a reasoned and logical decision for poor voters. Depending on how vote buying is done and the voter’s individual situation, the money received from politicians can be viewed by poor voters in various ways (with “BREAD” (slang for “money” or “cash”) used as a mnemonic device). Such money can be perceived: as Biyaya (a blessing or form of help (tulong); as Rightful money (money that they deserve because it is money that comes from taxes paid by the poor (i.e., expanded value added tax or E-VAT), or it is money that they were deprived of because of corruption); as Earned money (money as a result of negotiations and transactions); as Accessible/easy money (easily available money that can be spent for the family, etc.); or as Dead money (sinful money that cannot be spent for the family).
An open forum followed the researchers’ presentation. The audience was comprised of media practitioners, faculty, students, members of other research organizations, and civil society representatives. The questions that were raised dealt on the study’s policy implications, the relationship between vote buying and the issuance of receipts, the various aspects of vote buying, and trends related to variables like age, gender, and religion, among others.
The vote of the poor is a logical decision
Toward the end of the presentation, the researchers reiterated their finding that the poor have rational reasons for selling their votes, depending on their particular context. They further argued against looking at the poor as “bobotantes.” Rather, the poor should be regarded as people who understand their own situation and the vote buying mechanisms: they are individuals who exercise their agency when making decisions on voting.