Column: Five assumptions about 2016

Published on June 24, 2014.

Malacañang may not be ready to admit it, but the 2016 campaign has already started in earnest. I would like to review certain assumptions I used in previous elections, to test whether they remain valid (as I obviously thought then) or they need updating.

In “The vice presidency is subtraction” (4/7/09), I suggested that a presidential candidate’s choice of running mate was primarily a tactical decision. “Since the snap election [of 1986], the principal role of the vice-presidential running mate has changed. To be more precise, since 1986 the winning presidential candidate’s decision-making process for selecting a running mate has turned from addition to subtraction … the main value of the vice presidency in election politics is tactical: It provides a presidential candidate the best way to sideline a strong rival.”

If survey front runner Vice President Jejomar Binay shares this view, we should expect him to look for a running mate among his strongest rivals for the presidency. This, rather than the plunder and graft cases which have brought Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to the Camp Crame custodial center, may be the real reason Binay is (reported to be) considering other candidates. Sen. Grace Poe may be the ideal get; she looks like the only politician capable of beating Binay for the presidency one on one. But former president Joseph Estrada can use the same arithmetic to his son’s advantage; a threat to run against Binay (credible, in a multi-candidate race) might force the Vice President to run with Jinggoy instead.

I realize that actual campaign dynamics do not turn on single causes. In “The sheer inadequacy of single-factor analyses” (5/21/13), I warned against giving in to the reductionist temptation: Focusing on a single cause to explain everything, as many of us were tempted to do after Poe’s startling first-place finish in the Senate race last year, is ultimately misleading. “But if there were millions who voted for Grace for reasons unrelated to FPJ [her father, the late Fernando Poe Jr.], how can we say Grace’s win was only, or primarily, a sympathy vote for ‘Da King’? We need account for only a million and a half, or maybe 2 million, votes. That is the difference between first place and second in the Senate race. Take away those votes, and Grace wouldn’t have topped the Senate contest. And if Grace had not topped the Senate race, there wouldn’t be any talk now about sympathy for FPJ.”

We should beware, then, of the easy analysis, the glib takeaway—or, indeed, even an honest politician’s sincerely preferred version of the complicated truth.

The celebrity factor remains a formidable campaign advantage. In “Do you trust Villaquino?” (3/2/10), I followed conventional wisdom and noted that sheer popularity remains a font of forgiveness, for all sorts of personal and official sins. “This kind of acceptance is not unique to Estrada; Ramon Revilla, an infamous womanizer, was elected to the Senate twice; Fernando Poe Jr. admitted in the middle of his own presidential run in 2004 to siring a child out of wedlock, but still received, post-Garci, almost two-fifths of all votes cast. Call it the equity of celebrity.”

That equity is precisely what Revilla’s most famous son, Sen. Bong Revilla, now also in Camp Crame on plunder and graft charges, is banking on, to get him out of legal trouble. And that is why Revilla continues to indulge his much-diminished faction’s hopes of a presidential run. If the field is crowded enough in 2016, who knows? He may even pull it off.

In “The 20-percent presidency” (5/26/09), I proposed that the 1987 Constitution all but guarantees a plurality presidency. “There are two kinds of presidential mandate: the 20-percent presidency and the 40-percent presidency. The inevitable multi-candidate race in 2010 will follow either of two templates: the 1992 elections, which saw four evenly matched candidacies (with two more viable enough to end up with at least 10 percent of the vote), or the 2004 elections, which were marked by two candidacies of relatively equal strength. (With a little help from Garci, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won with 39 percent of the vote, against Fernando Poe Jr.’s 36 percent.)”

Three months after that column came out, the election landscape changed completely with the death of former president Corazon Aquino. But despite the extraordinary surge in sympathy for her son, the winning share of the vote topped out at (only) 43 percent.

The 2010 vote was primarily one of contrast; even though the incumbent was barred from running, the elections were in a very real sense an anti-incumbent race. In the same “Villaquino” column, I theorized that survey ratings on trust meant Sen. Noynoy Aquino should run against a noncandidate, rather than a former survey leader: “the tactical lesson for Aquino would then be to distinguish himself from [former Senate President Manuel] Villar. He can do that by campaigning, not against Villar or other presidential candidates, but against President Arroyo herself. After all, the reason he was drafted into a presidential run was because he suddenly appeared to a grieving nation, last August and September, as the exact opposite of the President. This means, or so it seems to me, that he should stop banging his head against the wall of Villar’s trustworthiness, and sharpen the contrast with Arroyo.”

Despite the criticism against President Aquino (some of it well-deserved indeed), I find it hard to credit the notion that the 2016 elections will be a referendum on him. It’s still early stages, but 2016 might turn out to be not about change, but continuity.

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

One response to “Column: Five assumptions about 2016

  1. Pingback: Column: Roxas’ path to victory | John Nery | Newsstand

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