Friday, July 14, 2017

What surveys about the Duterte administration don't tell us

Hegel's conception of the state as an expression of rational will may not apply to our present concept of the state. Hegel believes that men created states as expressions of their freedoms. These freedoms, although individualized, are collectivized at some point when individuals themselves find reason to subsume their individual freedoms and rights over to the universal freedom which actualizes itself thru the state. When the state ceases to actualize collective will, it ceases to exists.

What, then, is our collective will? Can we summarize collective will thru surveys or Focus Group Discussions? How reliable are surveys?

Surveys are not exactly reflective of the totality of public sentiment. As what these survey firms emphasize, surveys collect data from a sample of the population and extrapolate results from there. Some are pretty accurate, while some leave doubts in the minds of many especially when results are so unbelievable.

There is a current debate on whether surveys do provide us with a complete picture of reality. The elections in the United States is one example. Surveys upon surveys point to a Hillary Clinton victory. In the end, it was Trump who emerged from the shadows after initially throwing a warning of a possible rigged elections. Trump cruised easily thru electoral college and eventually got himself elected as president.

What happened in the US happened here in the Philippines. Prior to his election as president, Duterte also warned the people of possible electoral fraud. Unlike Trump who did so a few days prior to the elections, Duterte's warning came a full two months and a half.  Duterte's warning may have been part of campaign propaganda to preserve their gains over their opponents. Yet, the similarities between the two campaign strategies of both presidents are uncanny.

Duterte's ascension to popularity is due to his impeccable timing. He peaked at the right time, which is close to the elections. Like Trump, Duterte threw caution out of the window and spoke like how a grandfather speaks with his fellow septuagenarians in some dinky street corner. Unmistakably clear language caught the public's attention while confusion reigned among opposing elite groups.

Surveys did not exactly catch "the drift" and even now, there is no clear determination as to the patterns or trends generated by public support behind Duterte. What surveys show are trust and satisfaction ratings which could be attributed to improved bureaucratic efficiency, which, to those who know the real score, came from years of better legislation and adoption of newer technologies. Meaning, improvements in public service may simply not be the direct result of Duterte's efficiency as a public servant, but more of a systemic improvement caused by legislation or previous Executive action. Duterte maybe reaping the goodwill now due to the work undertaken by his predecessor which are being felt only now. 

What am I saying here? We correlate the expression of public will with net satisfaction and trust ratings when there is simply no correlation at all. There is simply no surveys out there which catch the real public sentiment when it comes to national will. An interdisciplinary approach is pertinent here, not just surveys.

We are also being misled to believe that trust and satisfaction ratings give this administration its legitimacy. No.

Political legitimacy is based on how people behave. When people act in conformity with the state's stated norms of behavior, then legitimacy surely exists. We all know that legitimacy rests in the observance of a social contract between the government and the governed. This contract has to be observed by those who govern, and the only action expected of the governed is to follow what those who govern tell them to do. Problems or irregularities come to the fore when the actions intended by the state are not visible within a particular society.  Max Weber says it very plainly:

“the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige” (Weber 1964: 382)

Weber expands this by saying that a state is legitimate when people believe that the existing system has been in existence for so long that tradition dictates people to follow it. Another thing that gives a government a form of legitimacy is when people are following a charismatic leader or people respect the rule of law. When one or three of these factors is or are broken, then, state violence begins to take a more dominant place in that society.