The perils of mock elections
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:15:00 12/02/2009
BOTH Belinda Oliveras-Cunanan and Bobit S. Avila are entranced by what Cunanan considers Gilbert Teodoro’s “surging” in a Facebook (FB) “survey” of presidential candidates, with Avila asserting that the FB results are superior to those of surveys done by Pulse Asia or Social Weather Stations. The only problem is that their excitement stems from a lack of comprehension of what is going on.
There is no FB survey. Avila in particular seems to believe it is FB itself that has taken it upon itself to start tracking opinion with regard to the candidates for the Philippine presidency. As an active FB user, I think this is a disservice to FB, to those who have created applications related to the 2010 campaign, to the candidates, and to the broader public.
What Cunanan and Avila referred to in their columns, and what was reported in various news stories, is an application, and if you go to the Election2010 page on FB, it very clearly says, “this application was not developed by Facebook.”
The Election2010 application isn’t a survey application. It is an ongoing effort, over multiple rounds, to periodically undertake mock elections. The Round 1 results were published on Sunday, Nov. 15: Aquino 48.48 percent; Escudero 24.24 percent; Teodoro 12.12 percent; Villar 12.12 percent; Estrada 3.03 percent. Round 2 started on Monday, Nov. 16 and lasted until Sunday, Nov. 22, 11:59 p.m. and its results were: Aquino 47.59 percent; Teodoro 25.13 percent; Villar 13.37 percent; Escudero 11.76 percent; Estrada 2.14 percent. Round 3 started on Monday, Nov. 23, 2009 and lasted until Sunday, Nov. 29, at 11:59 p.m. with the following results: Teodoro 58.69 percent; Aquino 31.90 percent; Villar 6.79 percent; Estrada 1.07 percent; Escudero 0.83 percent; Ebdane 0.71 percent. As of this writing, Round 4 was ongoing and Teodoro has 63.40 percent, Aquino 28.41 percent, Villar 6.82 percent, Estrada 1.36 percent.
The experiment has, at its core, only those who are aware of, and use, the application. You have to know about it, and install it, and authorize it, in order to use it. Also, the experiment does not report the actual votes, only percentages. Therefore those who want to make sense of the results have no means of finding out how many people participated in each round of voting.
The Election2010 page reports the following statistics: It has 1,605 active users, which means this is more or less the active voting population that participates in each round of the mock polls. It has 43 friends, and 395 fans. The active users represents the largest potential voting population for the application; but it could also mean 1,600 people are the total voters for what is now four rounds, not the total voters for each round. We have to extrapolate what the voting population might be, without being able to answer how many actually vote in any given round, and what’s more, since the application is open for sharing, whether the boosters of any particular candidate can inflate the results for their candidate by swarming the application during each round.
For a comparison of how online surveys can and ought to be reported, the Definitely Filipino Facebook page has 400,000 fans, making for a much larger potential voting population. On Dec. 2, a mock poll was put up using the PollDaddy.com application. The results as of 1:26 p.m. on Dec. 2 were: Aquino 54 percent (268 votes); Teodoro 19 percent (94 votes); Villar 14 percent (68 votes), Gordon 5 percent (23 votes), Villanueva 3 percent (17 votes), Estrada 3 percent (13 votes), Fernando 2 percent (12 votes), Madrigal one percent (1 vote)—a total of 496 votes out of a potential vote pool of 400,000. If you’re not on Facebook you can access the mock poll and its results at: http://fbfilipino.wordpress.com/ 2009/12/02/mock-poll/. This points to something Election2010 can do in terms of the ongoing development of the application: it can break down actual votes, so that people who participate and view the results, or who report on the results, can determine the actual number of voters per round, and the breakdown per candidate.
One thing is sure: Neither the 2010 FB application nor the ongoing voting in the Truly Filipino page has ever claimed to be surveys. Both are mock polls. They are not based on random sampling of the population, they are based on whoever runs across, or hears about, the mock polls and decides to join them. And both, by the very nature of Facebook, rely on limited populations—not even the total potential voting population, spread across multiple pages, of the various candidates.
A comparison to the active fan base of the candidates is useful at this point. In Facebook, most of the candidates have fan pages where their supporters congregate and share information and opinions among themselves. For the major candidates who have official fan pages (pages they have endorsed or accredited), here are the numbers: Aquino—109,349; Villar—38,261; Escudero (now dropped out of the race)—13,098; Teodoro—7,743; Estrada—3,403. In addition, Aquino has accredited other FB pages, so you have the Noynoy for President Movement with 56,327 fans, Noynoy for President with 24,010, Yellow Ribbon for President Cory Aquino with 66,939 and Cebu Volunteers for Noynoy with 991 and Tsinoy for Noy with 394—a total of 148,661 in the accredited FB pages.
Another way to measure commitment to the candidates is by means of Twitter, where people can follow people and candidates they like. A total of 20,461 follow Noynoy Aquino’s and 22,116 follow Mar Roxas’ Twitter accounts, respectively; 15,541 follow Escudero’s; 4,190 follow Teodoro’s; and 585 follow Villar’s. On the other hand, Villar is the master of Friendster, with 14,727 friends followed by Escudero with 1,155, Aquino with 218, and Teodoro with 140. Villar also dominates Multiply with 2,541 connections, while Aquino has 89 and Teodoro, 29.
Experiments like the Election2010 application are being seriously misrepresented. Hopefully due to ignorance and nothing else.