Government News Analysis

A matter of trust

PRRD SWS Trust Ratings

The above chart, just released by independent Philippine social-research provider, Social Weather Stations (SWS), shows not just the exceptionally high level of trust which the Filipino people have in their president, Rodrigo Duterte, it also shows the remarkable consistency of that trust from the time they swept him to power in May 2016.

We can’t find a ‘trust chart’ for any other national leader – at least not one made by an independent polling agency – that comes even remotely close to this one. The best we can find is the average job approval ratings for US president John F. Kennedy – who, undoubtedly, was the most popular American president in contemporary history. For his term – from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963 – he managed an approval rating of 70.1%, according to pre-eminent pollster, Gallup.

That has always been regarded as an outstanding achievement, and rightly so; and the fact that it’s never been convincingly challenged since, attests to that. In the present era – say the past 20 years – however,  no US president has even got close to Kennedy – much less to Duterte. Bill Clinton, over his term for example, achieved a rating of 55.1%; Barack Obama, 47.9% (source: Gallup). And yet, both those leaders are regularly portrayed as being immensely popular with the American people.

But what this chart also graphically explains is the very real problem which those opposing Duterte have in convincing the rest of the nation that he’s the wrong man for the job. His “much trust” rating was exactly the same during the last quarter as it was when he assumed office. Moreover, those who registered “little trust” in him have dropped by around 20% over that period.

This, then, is a very sobering chart for the likes of the Liberal Party which formed the previous administration and would dearly love to form the next one. Its leading light, incumbent vice president, Leni Robredo, can’t get within 30% of Duterte’s trust figures.

Let’s look at her net ratings over the past three quarters. While Duterte ended up with a net trust rating of 75% for the fourth quarter of 2017 and a net-satisfaction rating of 58%, Robredo – whose net-trust rating bobs around the 30% mark – managed a net-satisfaction rating of 41%, the same as in the third quarter and 5% better than the 36% she achieved in the second quarter.

In terms of trust, according to SWS classification, that puts Duterte in the “excellent” trust range (scores of 70 and above), and Robredo just sneaking into the “good” range (score of 30 to 49). It terms of net satisfaction, Duterte gets a “very good” while Robredo just manages another “good”

In fact, the lowest Duterte’s ever been in terms of his trust rating is the 60% he recorded in September 2017 – that’s midway in SWS’s “very good” range; scores of between 50 and 69. That survey was carried out from 23 to 27 September and followed rallies and demonstrations held nationwide on 21 September to mark the 45th anniversary of the imposition of martial law by former president Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Thus, with that one exception – when every piece of opposition machinery and manpower was brought into play – Duterte has maintained an “excellent” rating as far as the people’s trust in him is concerned from the moment he was elected.

Here’s a little more of the breakdown of this latest SWS survey. Duterte’s scores were “excellent” in Mindanao, Visayas, and Metro Manila; Very Good in Luzon. Excellent across urban and rural locals; all classes; men and women, all educational levels – as well as among age ranges of 25 to 44 and 55+. For 18 to 24 and 45 to 54 year olds he registered a “very good”.

That’s a pretty formidable poll profile and it must give Duterte’s opponents – whether, political, social; international or local – much pause for thought. Because what’s clear from all this is that, despite the unprecedented attacks which Duterte and parts of his administration have received over the past 18 months, they’ve failed to make any real dent in the people’s support for him.

And, as we’ve seen, that’s certainly not through want of trying. No Philippine president since Marcos has been subjected to the level of criticism and condemnation that he has. In fact, arguably, Duterte has received more. For the most part, opposition to Marcos was domestic – there was no international dimension to it as there has been with Duterte.

The United Nations didn’t have meetings condemning him, the European Community, the forerunner of the present European Union, didn’t either. Nor did the US Congress – indeed, Marcos left the Philippines on a US Air Force plane that took him to Guam, a US territory, and later to Hawaii, a US state.

In addition to those groups, which have all gone after Duterte, a tight coalition of Liberals and Leftist groups in Congress; the Philippine Roman Catholic Church; the media, both foreign and domestic; human-rights groups and various legal fraternities have all spent the past year and a half sticking their knives into Duterte.

And with all that, all they have to show for the considerable time, money and effort they’ve put into trying to bring down a president is a president who’s as popular today as the day his people chose him to lead them.

Meanwhile, for the Liberal Party, which continues to wither in opposition, the hill it needs to climb to get back into power remains as steep as it was just after losing it. Their tactics of undermining Duterte; belittling or at least failing to acknowledge his achievements, continue to fail.

But not just them, all his opponents – from the pro-Liberal media to the politically driven bishops of the Church – have failed. They continue to believe, somehow, that by destroying Duterte their causes would automatically be elevated. And yet, the reality is, the more they denigrate him, the more impoverished support for their causes becomes.

They all miss the point, magnificently – because the truth is unpalatable. And that simple truth is this – it’s precisely those causes that brought Duterte into office. On top of that, the mass of Filipinos never benefitted from a rising economy under the last Liberal government; the crime and drugs that made people’s lives increasingly unbearable over the past couple of decades, was never addressed; the rural regions, particularly in Mindanao in the south, we re left to struggle – in fact, leaving aside the economic gains made on paper, relatively few benefited over the six years that the Liberals held the helm.

The uncomfortable and inconvenient fact for Duterte’s detractors is that the majority of Filipinos trust him in everything from ridding the country of the scourge of illegal drugs, bringing order and discipline into a society that had been allowed to become feral in many places; in handling the twin insurgencies of radical Islam and violent communism; in restoring pride in the nation, and in his economic blueprint to rebuilt the country from the bottom up.

Duterte’s opponents may be in denial about this but, if Duterte were to go for some reason, the people who elected him – the vast majority of the nation, in other words – would be looking for someone just like him to follow him. And we can guarantee one more thing based on that chart above – the person they choose will not be wearing yellow.

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