Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rough Bumps on the Road to Political Maturity

In preparation for the upcoming May election, Ateneo de Davao organized a voter education program called BlueVote. Most of our college students are of voting age, and almost all of them first time voters, too.

Can a voter education program make a difference? Does it even matter? At a time when political dynasties render election results fait accompli, BlueVote does come across a little quixotic. Cynics can sneer at such idealism, but then again, cynics never did make a change in the world.

Thus far, BlueVote's banner activities have consisted of a senatorial candidates forum and an electoral survey. As election day draws near, Ateneo will likely take part in poll watch groups as well.

While a senatorial forum sounds impressive, the rest of the world would probably laugh at the turnout. None of the leading candidates graced the event, and only Teddy Casino had any real name recognition among the six who came. I'm not even sure that we had media coverage for the forum.

Our electoral survey drew more interest, but for the wrong reasons. That led me to think that, even in mass media, we're still a long ways off from political maturity.

The BlueVote survey covered some 2,300 students and faculty, and 500 non-teaching staff. We asked, of course, who they would likely vote into the senatorial, congressional, and local positions. But we wanted it to go beyond just a mock vote, so we added questions on issues, influences, and preferences.

We got some pretty good results, too. For instance, we learned that, among the students and faculty, the Internet and social networking sites were a leading source of information for candidates and platforms; for our non-teaching staff, radio took its place.

Consistently for both groups, the main concerns had to do with the environment, access to education, health care, and graft and corruption. They preferred political leaders who were aware of the situation, had good track records with projects, and who were firm in implementing the law.

Perhaps strangely, charisma didn't figure much in the qualities of leaders they sought. They wouldn't vote for candidates just because of their family names, but they didn't strongly object to political dynasties either.

Our public presentation of the survey results drew reporters from the TV stations and the local papers. None of the findings I outlined above made it to any of the news articles the following day. Our survey made the front page headlines, yes, but only the parts about which candidates would take the top slots.

Yup, so much for moving beyond the politics of personality.