Survey says, 'it's the economy, stupid!'

The latest polling by Pulse Asia on the Performance Rating of the Top 5 Government Officials and Selected Cabinet Members and Other Government Officials shows the administration of PNoy still enjoying tremendous public support. The survey which was conducted from October 20-29, 2010 cemented the impression provided by the SWS national survey which was held from September 24-27, 2010 that PNoy’s ratings have almost returned to their previous highs right after the election.

In the Pulse Asia results for the top 5 government officials, PNoy enjoys a one point advantage over VP Binay with a 79% approval rating compared to Binay’s 78%. Although this reflects a decline from the July survey where PNoy got 88%, the drop of 9% points has not led to an increase in the disapprovals (a mere 3%) but to the undecideds (now at 18%). Senate President Enrile received 61%, while House Speaker Belmonte got 45%. Meanwhile Chief Justice Corona got a mere 35%. This is a complete role reversal from the time that another chief justice, Hilario Davide, Jr became the most popular government official in the land.

The popularity of the president has flowed on to some of his cabinet members despite some controversial events and policies. Social Welfare Sec Soliman got the highest rating for a cabinet member at 65% despite congressional scrutiny of her portfolio’s planned expansion of the conditional cash transfers program and for her alleged involvement in a scam under the previous administration. Following her is Justice Sec De Lima with 60% on the back of her staunch advocacy for the rule of law as demonstrated by her chairing of the panel investigating the Luneta hostage crisis. In third place with 52% is Health Sec Ona whose pursuit of health reform particularly reproductive health has been under fire by the Catholic Church.

The government appears to have rebounded from its initial setbacks, and despite its inability to get on top of the news/spin cycle at times. Not even six months into its term, this could reflect the tremendous amount of support and goodwill from the public eagerly hoping in fact willing for it to succeed because of all the troubles besetting the nation. In my view, however, it is more than just that.

In a series of articles I have posted in this space over the past few weeks, I have been covering what I believe to be an auspicious confluence of events that indicate improving social and economic conditions in the countryside. This is what I believe is driving the unprecedented levels of support accorded to the government at this time. As the title suggests, it is the economy (not politics) driving PNoy’s numbers heavenward.

Consider the following pieces of evidence:

Exhibit A: the little heralded statistical bulletin that revealed an improvement of average incomes and a decline of social inequality among the different income groups between 2006 and 2009 was a breath of fresh air. After previous national Family and Income and Expenditure Surveys showed a deterioration, the latest round finally re-established the causal linkages between growth and equity that were observed under a previous period of economic expansion in the 1990s.

Exhibit B: the confidence of the investor community (some might call it exuberance) both in the local share and bond markets is creating a favorable environment for both the government and private sector to flourish. These investors are not pouring money into the capital markets out of altruistic reasons. They forecast robust growth over the next two to three years. They see the sustained remittances of Filipinos abroad stimulating local demand. They see the growing business process outsourcing industry, the revival of mining, tourism and the property sector.

They also see a government that has not overly blown-out its budget during the worst global financial crisis in a generation and has a strategy for boosting infrastructure investment through public private partnerships. Surely, this augurs well for the country in the medium term. Despite all these news reports, inflation continues to remain low indicating that the economy is still not firing on all cylinders meaning the central bank does not have to restrict liquidity through monetary policy.

Exhibit C: Manila making it to the top ten dynamic cities in a study by the respected Brookings Institute is welcome news. After being eclipsed by up-and-coming rivals in Asia including some of its rival cities within the Philippine archipelago, Manila finally stages a comeback. The study examined economic and employment conditions to identify the cities that were enjoying the most rapid recovery from the global economic crisis. Manila landed in 9th place, up there with Singapore and Santiago, Beijing and Shanghai, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro. If as urban theorist Richard Florida suggests, the wealth of nations is heavily dependent on its cities, then this bodes well for the country as a whole.

These three bits of the puzzle all point to one conclusion: the Philippine economy is gaining traction. Close to a decade of continued growth has finally produced positive results on the social equity front. The pursuit of socially responsible policies and programs such as health and education reform, the expansion of the conditional cash transfers program and the priority being placed on reproductive health in the legislative agenda, not to mention the roll-out of public-private partnerships next year, will boost the prospects for sustained growth even further.

It is too early to tell, but the return of the National Democratic Front to the negotiating table may bring an end to its decades’ long insurgency. The peace talks in the south continue to trudge along at a snail’s pace, but at least the parties remain committed as ever to the process which is set to restart in Malaysia. If the experience under former president Ramos is anything to go by, once the fruits of economic recovery take root, peace and stability cannot be far behind as social cohesion returns.

While PNoy cannot claim credit for the way the economy has weathered the economic storms of the past two years, he can at least take credit for continuing the policies and programs that have been proven to work. This is a sign of political maturity on his part. It also behooves the political operatives on the other side of the aisle to support him in his efforts to sustain these reforms. On top of all that, what PNoy brings to the table is something that the previous government despite its loads of managerial competence lacked, and that is political capital and legitimacy.

After public trust and confidence had ebbed to their lowest levels since the restoration of democratic rule, it is quite refreshing to see them return in a manner never before seen. In other places such as the United States, the nation that supposedly “tutored” us in democracy, public confidence has steadily declined since the Vietnam War era. The release of damaging reports in the past week by the controversial website Wikileaks will erode such confidence even further.

It is perhaps worthwhile recalling why such trust ratings are important. Trust is a measure of social cohesion, which when it breaks down, makes the business of governing all the more difficult. It is important over the coming years for PNoy’s trust ratings to rub-off on the government itself. When people trust their government, they are more willing to pay their taxes correctly. There is a greater level of civic participation and involvement when trust and social cohesion are present. Without these, gridlock and polarization result as what we witnessed in the aftermath of the US mid-term elections.

There as here, the economy accounts for the direction of public sentiment one way or another. Let us hope with the coming of a new year, that the economy continues to hold up in order to allow certain reforms, political, economic and social, some space to move forward and some oxygen to breathe.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, Cory and Noynoy (before they turned against GMA) as well as those who voted GMA in 2004 believed in the bottom of their hearts that GMA was clean and was to remain clean until the end of her term. Interesting, isn’t it, that people’s perception of cleanliness/integrity changes as a president stays longer in power?

    • Anonymous

      Had PresNoynoy followed deLima’s IIRC recommendations instead of doing “… my friends are my friends are my friends”, who knows how much more popular PresNoy would be among those who voted for Perlas or those who voted for Jamby?

    • Bert

      “Apparently, Cory and Noynoy (before they turned against GMA) as well as those who voted GMA in 2004 believed in the bottom of their hearts that GMA was clean and was to remain clean until the end of her term.”

      Yes, agree, UP n.

      But those people erred, then changed their mind and ways when they came to see the light that GMA was not what they thought her to be. Nothing interesting there, the people’s perception is wise and natural… and ocular. Not evolutional.

      • Bert

        Those people thought that GMA had taken a bath, until they found out she just washed her face, :).

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, Cory and Noynoy (before they turned against GMA) as well as those who voted GMA in 2004 believed in the bottom of their hearts that GMA was clean and was to remain clean until the end of her term. Interesting, isn’t it, that people’s perception of cleanliness/integrity changes as a president stays longer in power?

    • Anonymous

      Had PresNoynoy followed deLima’s IIRC recommendations instead of doing “… my friends are my friends are my friends”, who knows how much more popular PresNoy would be among those who voted for Perlas or those who voted for Jamby?

    • Bert

      “Apparently, Cory and Noynoy (before they turned against GMA) as well as those who voted GMA in 2004 believed in the bottom of their hearts that GMA was clean and was to remain clean until the end of her term.”

      Yes, agree, UP n.

      But those people erred, then changed their mind and ways when they came to see the light that GMA was not what they thought her to be. Nothing interesting there, the people’s perception is wise and natural… and ocular. Not evolutional.

      • Bert

        Those people thought that GMA had taken a bath, until they found out she just washed her face, :).

  • Bert

    I have no exhibit to show, but I think it’s still the euphoria being felt by the people, having now a feeling of cleanliness after being mired in ‘mud’ for 9 years of living under the administration of GMA.

    • Anonymous

      You mean the last 6 years of GMA administration. Cory, Noynoy Aquino, MLQ3, cv-Jugo and many other were pleased enough with GMA’s first 3 years that they voted for her in 2004. And Cory and Noynoy turned against GMA only after the GMA admin CARPed Hacienda Luisita.

      • Bert

        You mean, UP n, GMA was clean before she gets dirty?

    • There is that, Bert, but I believe it is more than just that. In the past, the government reported growth figures, but people didn’t feel the growth. Now, I think the opposite may be happening. All the rating agencies are upgrading their forecasts because of anecdotal evidence emanating from the field. These are more than just green shoots. There is a genuine sense that this growth is every bit real and not just spin.

  • Bert

    I have no exhibit to show, but I think it’s still the euphoria being felt by the people, having now a feeling of cleanliness after being mired in ‘mud’ for 9 years of living under the administration of GMA.

    • Anonymous

      You mean the last 6 years of GMA administration. Cory, Noynoy Aquino, MLQ3, cv-Jugo and many other were pleased enough with GMA’s first 3 years that they voted for her in 2004. And Cory and Noynoy turned against GMA only after the GMA admin CARPed Hacienda Luisita.

      • Bert

        You mean, UP n, GMA was clean before she gets dirty?

    • There is that, Bert, but I believe it is more than just that. In the past, the government reported growth figures, but people didn’t feel the growth. Now, I think the opposite may be happening. All the rating agencies are upgrading their forecasts because of anecdotal evidence emanating from the field. These are more than just green shoots. There is a genuine sense that this growth is every bit real and not just spin.