For a certain generation, re-elected Senator Juan Ponce Enrile will always be known as the former martial law administrator and the inveterate coup plotter. But for the 2010 elections, Enrile won on a campaign pitch that he is a man committed to the text generation.

Gusto ko, happy ka!” Enrile declared in campaign advertisements.

The fact that the wizened Senate president, 86, would try to appear perky in colegiala-speak, spoke volumes of what candidates were ready to do to cross the generation divide. And who can blame them?

Roughly half of the 50 million registered voters in the country are 18 to 33 years old, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec). This means that candidates as old as Enrile and former president Joseph Estrada, 73, must try to connect with a generation buzzing about Facebook (“Mafia Wars!”), Super Junior (“Sorry Sorry”), and Jejespeak (“hELloEH pOeZZ”).

The idea of a youth vote has always been a concept inviting and uncertain, interesting and nebulous at the same time. Its pivot is a premise not quite proved that there is such a voting bloc in the first place.

Is the youth vote like a women’s vote, where voters’ shared interests do not necessarily translate into shared candidates? Or is it more like the much-vaunted Iglesia ni Cristo vote, the closest the Philippines has to a command or bloc vote?

According to the results of mock polls conducted at three leading colleges – the University of the Philippines (UP), the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) – it appears like the youth in schools have common interests and ideals, but certainly no common candidates.

At least in the media, the story has largely been repeated: that of the supposed power of the youth to tilt the vote for or against certain candidates. These mock elections have been accorded front-page treatment, and the “winners” projected as idols of the young and the idealistic.

For a while, Senator Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero was touted as the presidential candidate who had successfully cornered the youth vote, until he backed out of the presidential race in November 2009.  The event somehow triggered a free-for-all fight among the candidates for the so-called youth vote.

Gordon tops in UP

In the string of campuses of the UP, long known as the hotbed of activism, Bagumbayan party standard-bearer Richard Gordon consistently scored much higher than he did in the voter-preference surveys of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia. Gordon topped the first round of Botong Isko 2010, an online mock poll conducted among UP students in March; 31.23 percent of the participants voted for him. Gordon continued to clinch the top spot in April and May, getting a stunning 54.76 and 57.98 percent of the votes, respectively.

In Botong Isko, SWS and Pulse Asia survey-frontrunners Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party and Manuel Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party tailed Gordon and administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr. However, Villar topped the third round of another set of mock polls conducted in UP by the Alpha Sigma fraternity in March.

The first round of the Alpha Sigma mock polls was held in September 2009, with then presidential hopeful Escudero snagging the top spot. Come December, Escudero had dropped out of the race, allowing Teodoro to claim first place in the second round.

Reality vote

Yet in the latest partial unofficial tally of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) based on the election returns provided by the Comelec, Gordon only sputters to fifth place, with only 467,627  votes, compared to the 13.8 million votes of frontrunner Aquino. In other words, Gordon only got the approval of 0.9 percent of the total registered voters in the country.

For the UA&P’s mock surveys, Teodoro was hailed the winner, taking 44 percent of the total votes cast by the students last March. In contrast, the KBP’s latest unofficial tally of the actual May 10 elections showed Teodoro trailing poorly with 3.7 million votes.

In UST, erstwhile hopeful Escudero was the leading candidate in August last year with 24.2 percent of the vote. The university however had a new frontrunner in December –  Ateneo de Manila graduate Aquino, with 33.2 percent of the vote. Teodoro, Aquino’s second cousin, was not far behind with 32.5 percent. In the last UST mock polls held in February, Aquino and Teodoro scored a “statistical tie.”

Same, different

Curiously, students from all three universities cited the same reasons for choosing different candidates – intellectual competence, track record, political will, honesty and integrity.

UP journalism student Franz dela Fuente voted for Gordon in the mock polls because he believes in the “no non-sense” governance the former mayor of Olongapo City promises. Dela Fuente believes in Gordon’s brand of leadership, integrity, competence and experience.

Journalism fresh graduate Rupert Mangilit says Villar’s success in business proves his work ethic and capability, qualities that could lead the country to its “much-needed economic facelift.”

“A self-sustaining economy is what the country needs to achieve progress, and Villar’s experience in managing a multi-billion Filipino-owned powerhouse may help bring the country to take the first steps toward national industrialization,” says Mangilit.

On the other hand, Renze Santos, an Electronics and Communications Engineering student, says he was undecided during the mock polls, but as May 10 drew closer, he was already leaning toward Noynoy Aquino.

“I chose Noynoy because he has the best chance of winning over Villar. Apart from that, (I have no other reason),” says Santos, adding that Villar should not be president because of the C-5 double insertion scandal.

Identification

Mock polls in UP may deviate from the results in national surveys, but frontrunners Aquino and Villar still sit somewhere near the top. Estrada, who aced Villar in the polls toward the end of the campaign, is one of the bottom-dwellers here.

Environmentalist Nicanor Perlas, Sen.  Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, Olongapo City Councilor John Carlos JC” de los Reyes, and Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva were the tail-enders.

UP Political Science Professor Perlita Frago-Marasigan says UP students could identify more with candidates who are UP alumni. Villar, Teodoro and Gordon are all UP alumni.

Frago-Marasigan says students may have frowned upon the slew of black propaganda from the Aquino and Villar camps. Gordon, on the other hand, seems to portray an “idealistic” image that many UP students could identify with. His image as chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross echoes volunteerism, the essence of the Oblation, UP’s symbol of selfless service for the country, she says.

This idealistic image also means a balance between boldness and civility. To be favored by the Iskolar ng Bayan, a politician must argue with reason, but avoid cynicism, adds Frago-Marasigan.

“The youth can identify with the most idealistic candidate. One who says that change is possible. One who does not say that this is what is really happening, we cannot do so much about it,” she says.

As for Teodoro, Frago-Marasigan says UP students identified with his image of intelligence, one-half of his slogan “Galing at Talino.” However, Teodoro’s ties with the Arroyo administration may have pulled him a few points short of Gordon.

“If you listen to Teodoro’s speeches basically he would be saying ‘Yeah that is true but we cannot do so much about it.’ So that can easily turn off the youth,” says Frago-Marasigan.

Colliding cousins

In UST, chemical engineering student Jennifer Suarez said she voted for Aquino because she “sees his sincerity.”

“I believe that Sen. Aquino is honest and open and he has what it takes to end or at least lessen the corruption in our country,” says Suarez.

Ivan Anyayahan, a third year Journalism student says that he voted for Teodoro because he is smart.

“He also had confidence on the things that he promised that made me think he is sincere,” says Anyayahan.

Political Science professor Edmund Tayao of the Faculty of Arts and Letters says many see Aquino as the “moral” choice because he is the son of democracy icons Benigno Aquino Jr. and Corazon Aquino.

Tayao points out that the popularity of cousins Aquino and Teodoro “reflects the youth’s idealism in that the choice reflects a consideration of both capacity and integrity.”

 

For the UA&P, Teodoro was hailed as the winner, taking 44 percent of the total votes. Out of the university’s voting population of 2,281, at least 1,076 cast their votes in electronic voting machines in six days.

A bar topnotcher with a Masters degree from Harvard Law School, Teodoro was perceived to be intelligent, capable and trustworthy.

While Teodoro had an overwhelming lead among student voters who composed the great majority, Aquino was preferred by most of the university’s faculty and staff, including janitors and security guards.

Flawed method

Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes says respondents in the pollster’s surveys base their choice largely on the image the candidates wanted to project. In contrast, he notes that university students choose candidates based on the notion of competence, whether real or claimed.

According to Frago-Marasigan, neither Botong Isko nor the Alpha Sigma polls may be considered to be representative of the “youth vote.”

First, UP is not representative of the youth vote. Second, Botong Isko is not even representative of the so-called “UP vote.” The turnout for the first round of Botong Isko was only about 12 percent in the Diliman campus and eight percent system-wide. The later rounds drew even fewer participants.

Any conclusion from such a small chunk of the student body would only be representative of those who participated in the mock polls, says Frago-Marasigan.

The first round of the Alpha Sigma polls employed the same method, although willing students cast their vote in booths set up by the fraternity. The third round of the Alpha Sigma polls was more representative, after the fraternity employed the stratified random sampling method to gather respondents. This last poll drew 8,468 students or 38 percent of UP Diliman’s 22,597 students.

Frago-Marasigan believes that to derive credible conclusion on UP’s voting preference, a poll must gather over half of the total population at least.

Holmes agrees. He estimates that there are about two million university students in the country, or less than a third of the seven million voters within the college age bracket of 18 to 24.

However, Holmes says it is not the size of the sample that mattered but the way the respondents were selected. In all scientific surveys, all members of the population should have an equal chance of being selected for the sample.

Some mock polls did not choose respondents by random sampling. In the Botong Isko, UST and UA&P polls, students voted voluntarily.

“It’s a self-selection process because people who would participate there are people who are inclined to express what their preferences are. So in that sense it cannot be deemed as representative of the school,” says Holmes.

No ‘youth vote’

The idea of a “youth vote” is something that Holmes holds in doubt. In fact, he notes that the Philippines cannot be considered to have an “electorate,” a part of the population that shares similar attributes and position on issues.

Like other age groups, the youth is not organized into one voting bloc.

“My sense is that it is not certain, and you do not have a large group of individuals who may be in school or out of school who (are) articulating such issues so that the candidates can respond to them,” says Holmes.

Arnil Paras, a political economy professor at UA&P, agrees with this analysis. Candidates seem to be targeting the youth as a voting bloc that could swing the elections to their favor, but the assumption “has no historical basis in the post-Marcos era,” he says.

“No presidential candidate has won thanks (solely) to the youth. Will the 2010 elections be the first?” asks Paras.

Useful process

While experts question the relevance of the results of the mock polls in schools, they agree that these mock polls still serve a greater purpose.

The value of the mock polls derives from the process rather than the results, they say. In asking students to cast their votes in mock polls, the student body is encouraged to discuss, debate, and scrutinize the candidates. As a result, students become more politically aware, engaged, and involved.

“It is really (about) getting the students more engaged in issues and in politics in general,” says Holmes.

“I think more than the results of the survey, the value is that the students, since they are new citizens, are able to really participate in the exercise,” says Frago-Marasigan.

While there is no evidence that all the respondents in the mock polls actually voted last May 10, the process served as a constant reminder to all students that being passive observers is no longer an option.

Civil engineering student Myria Cernechez, a Gordon supporter, affirms this.  “Some are hesitating to vote for a certain candidate because they’re afraid that their votes will be wasted but I don’t think that should be the case. I would rather support someone for his credentials and convince others to vote for him too.”