THE Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is asking voters not to be influenced by pre-election surveys and political ads.

Follow dictates of your conscience, the bishops say, after prayer and discernment.

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CBCP must share the fear of those wary about opinion polls "because they influence rather than reflect public opinion and can be manipulated to give a false picture of public opinion."

Leaders in surveys will disagree while those trailing in the charts will cheer.

Despite margin of error, use of wrong samples, and possible tampering, opinion polls are believed to be "generally reliable and useful," which is why the public can be misled by flawed surveys.

Defenders say opinion polls set off public debate and help voters in the same way that newspaper articles and broadcast forums stimulate public discussion.

A nagging concern of bishops though must be that opinion polls can induce a mindless stampede towards the bandwagon, which so far carries Noynoy Aquino, supporter of the church-hated "reproductive health bill."

Play on emotions

Political ads are no less worrisome. Ad makers have shifted "from promoting programs to promoting images that play on people's emotions." They don't target the intellect: Manny Villar was bred in poverty; Mar Roxas is "Mr. Palengke."

And broadcast ads cost a lot of money. Those who have huge campaign chests enjoy an obscenely unfair edge over poorly funded rivals.

Voters can skip opinion poll results, but how can they ignore those "I-come-from-the-poor" Villar commercial and the Roxas "Mr. Palengke" spiel?

(paseares@yahoo.com)