It’s a very tight two-man contest for the presidency, according to the latest survey.
Going into the last two months the campaign, Liberal Party standard bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III maintained a two-digit lead over closest rival, Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party.
The latest survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) from Feb. 24 to 28 showed Aquino’s lead down to only 2 percentage points, with Aquino at 36% and Villar at 34%. (See related story – Tracking the Numbers.)
“We’re saying it’s a 2-point lead [in the latest survey],” said SWS president Mahar Mangahas. “We’re not calling it a tie. To say that it is a tie is to lean toward one side. So we’re not calling it a tie unless it is the exact same point.”
He said the correct way of interpreting the results of the latest survey is that, given the margin of error of 2%, it’s either a statistical tie or that Aquino has a 4-percentage-point lead.
But what is clear, he added, is that there has been a consistent decline in support for Aquino based on the four presidential surveys conducted by SWS from December 5-10, 2009 to February 24-28 2010.
Aquino’s lead over Villar was 19 points in December 5-10, 2009, 11 points in December 27-28, 2009, 7 points in January 21-24, 2010, and 2 points in February 24-28.
Trailing the front-runners were former President Joseph Estrada (15 percent, up 2 points), former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro (6 percent, also up 2 points), Bro. Eddie Villanueva (3 percent, up 1 point), Sen. Richard Gordon (2 percent, no change), Nicanor Perlas (0.2 percent), Olongapo Councilor JC de los Reyes (0.1 percent) and Sen. Jamby Madrigal (0.1 percent).
SWS said the 6-point decline in Aquino’s rating since January was due to drops in all four areas across the country: 7 points in the balance of Luzon, 6 in Mindanao, 5 in the Visayas, and 3 in Metro Manila.
Villar lost 6 percentage points in Metro Manila, 2 in the balance of Luzon, and one in Mindanao, but picked up 5 in the Visayas to trim his overall slide to just 1 point.
By socioeconomic class, Aquino was ahead in Class D (38 percent compared with Villar’s 34 percent), while Villar was ahead in Classes ABC (33 percent compared with Aquino’s 30 percent) and Class E (34 percent versus Aquino’s 32 percent).
Pulse Asia survey
Meanwhile, the most recent survey of another polling firm, Pulse Asia, showed Aquino leading Villar by 7 percentage points. In the Pulse Asia’s survey, conducted on Feb. 21-25, Villar rated 29 percent, down by six percentage points from the Jan. 10 survey. In contrast, Aquino held on to 36 percent, down by one percentage point from the previous survey.
Explaining the different results of the Pulse Asia and SWS surveys, political analyst Ramon Casiple said it could be an indication of voters’ “wild swings.”
“There are wild swings among the voters, and there are only a few undecided. They have somebody in mind, but their choice is affected by issues that come out in the media. That’s why the trending is not fixed,” said Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.
He said the voters had a “deep interest” in the presidential election and were closely monitoring the news coming out in the media about the candidates.
“You may have a lead, but it does not necessarily mean that this will be maintained. But it appears that it’s a one-on-one between the two,” Casiple said of Aquino and Villar.
Vice presidential race
In the latest SWS survey for the vice presidential race, Aquino’s running mate Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II maintained his wide lead over nearest rival Sen. Loren Legarda, running mate of Villar.
Roxas garnered 45 percent, a drop of 4 percentage points from the January survey. Legarda remained at 28 percent.
Other vice presidential candidates did not gain substantially. Trailing were Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay (17 percent), former Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando (3 percent), former Optical Media Board chair Edu Manzano (2 percent), broadcaster Jay Sonza (1 percent), former Securities and Exchange Commission chief Perfecto Yasay (0.4 percent), and Dominador Chipeco (0.4 percent).
Despite his slide, Aquino remained upbeat. “I’m still No. 1, but it doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with that. The tightening race means that we’d just have to redouble our efforts,” he said.
Aquino said that getting ahead of his rivals despite what he called a “tsunami” of political ad and media spending by Villar was in itself an achievement. (See related story – Money and the Presidency.)
“I think our message is getting to its target audience despite our lack of resources. We just make it up with our campaigns and grassroots volunteers,” said the LP standard-bearer.
LP campaign strategist Florencio “Butch” Abad Jr. said Villar had failed to overtake Aquino in the surveys despite exceeding the limit on ad spending.
For his part, Villar said: “We are statistically tied,” referring to the SWS survey.
“As for me, I am comfortable with my lead and, of course, we still look to Noynoy (as a close rival) although we respect all the candidates. However, (Estrada’s) distance (or lead) from us is still far,” Villar said.
He said he was happy that “surveys have confirmed that we are responding to the hopes of the people across the country.”
He attributed the rise in his ratings to the frenetic pace of his campaign sorties across the country since Feb. 9.
“Of course, the others who are (trailing in surveys), we expect them to get more points now because of their wider exposure,” Villar said.
Estrada expressed elation over his rising rating. He said that if his numbers continued to go up at the rate they were going, he would have a high-enough rating to win come May.
“It’d be over for them,” Estrada said.” In 1998, I started in third place. It’s hard to be No. 1. It’s more difficult (to start) from the top (and then) going down, isn’t it?”
The camp of Teodoro welcomed his slight improvement in rating. “We’re gaining ground right in time for the presidential elections in May,” said Mike Toledo, spokesperson for Teodoro.
Gordon wondered how a small sample of respondents could accurately represent more than 50 million voters across the country. He warned against the mind-conditioning effects of the surveys.
Madrigal said she did not believe in surveys. “Unless and until these survey groups clarify who are funding them and what their methodology is, there will always be a cloud of doubt on their accuracy,” she said.