IN a presidential forum sponsored by residents of Ayala-Alabang Village Association and hosted by GMA 7 anchor Mike Enriquez, presidential bets Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Manny Villar tangled on the issue of political surveys.

Social Weather Station (SWS) had just released survey results at that time showing Villar narrowing the gap with Aquino, the leader in various surveys. That survey was commissioned by Villar's ally, Rep. Ronaldo Zamora.

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Noynoy said that while he is a survey believer, it depends on what survey, adding that “marami namang survey na mabibili sa Quiapo.” Like Noynoy, I am also a survey believer, but I look into the credibility of the agency conducting it. Noynoy, however, tended to assail the credibility of SWS.

Are results of surveys, including those conducted by credible and competent survey agencies like SWS, Pulse Asia and AC Nielsen, affected by their being commissioned by a political camp? I don't think so. The credibility of a survey agency will be affected if they favor the sponsor.

Political surveys intend to come up with a clearer picture on the standing of candidates in relation to the voters. They are like surveys done to determine the position of a product in the market and which enable the product manufacturer to come up with strategy to boost sales.

Broadcast media surveys follow a different process. For television, the survey is electronic. Attached to the TV set is a device that determines the channel the owner is viewing at a particular time.

For radio, there’s the coincidental and face-to-face interview with respondents. The field verifier asks radio listeners what station they are tuning in. The other is the diary system where respondent-listeners are given a diary and are asked to fill this up with the name of the radio station they are listening to at a particular time. Another is day-time recall wherein surveyors ask radio owners what station/program they listened to the day before.

Like presidential bets lagging in the surveys, some broadcast entities don't acknowledge survey results if they are not on top. They claim that the survey agency is being paid by a network or that results are being manipulated in the field through promotions.

But whether they like it or not, the result of a survey is the “bible” of advertisers as it becomes the basis for commercial and spots placements. Survey results are also used by networks in mapping out reprogramming moves and program innovations.

Through surveys, the network can determine the demographics or the profile of the viewers or listeners, meaning, the cross-section of the community that watches TV or listens to the radio, including their age, social standing and gender. That's what they call “niche.”

The common argument against surveys is that the respondents only represent a small percentage of the voters and thus do not determine the result of an election. Of course, you can't conduct a survey on an entire populace. Plus, other factors come into play in winning an election.

Elections are not based only on popularity. The most important is political machinery down to the grassroots. And political machinery involves money.

Indeed, surveys don’t determine who will actually be our next president. It is just an efficient way of collecting information from a large number of respondents. Statistical techniques are used to determine validity, reliability and statistical significance.

Surveys are flexible in the sense that a wide range of information can be collected. They can be used to study attitudes, values, beliefs and past behaviors.

(bgnalzaro@gmanetwork.com)