The election season formally starts on Feb. 9 and here is where things stand.
Mar is stuck. He is heir to a still very popular President. In 2004 he topped the Senate race with 19 million votes, a record for any elected position in our history. He is considered honest, experienced and hard working. Yet, after an initial bump from P-Noy’s endorsement, he languishes in the polls with no visible momentum.
Grace Poe’s fate is hanging on her DQ cases. This has affected her focus, her funding and her poll numbers. Although Grace is ideologically closest to Mar, her supporters shifted to Binay not to him. They believe the Liberal Party is behind the DQ cases.
Duterte has shot out of the gate despite his wackiness, limited national exposure and money. He needs to upgrade his policy credentials, organization and funding to become a serious contender.
Binay has returned as the leading candidate even as the corruption cases pile against him and his family.
1) Why is Mar’s campaign not gaining traction despite all the positives?
2) What accounts for Duterte’s emergence as a serious contender despite all his craziness?
3) What explains Binay’s renewed popularity?
For an answer to these questions we might look at what is happening in the U.S. where the Presidential elections are now in full swing. There are some similarities with our politics. Like P-Noy the Obama Administration is considered to be relatively successful. It brought back the economy from the worst economic recession since 1929. It ended the disastrous Bush forays into Iraq and Afghanistan. It passed a universal health care system. Yet despite these accomplishments some of the main contenders for President are the anti-thesis of everything Obama represents. On the Republican side, the leading candidates are Trump and Ted Cruz, two extremists who promise to undo all the Obama programs. In the Democratic Party, Bernie Saunders, a self-avowed “Socialist”, is seriously challenging Hillary Clinton for the nomination even as Mrs. Clinton vows to pursue many of Obama’s programs. Why are voters riling against the incumbent?
Davis Axelrod is the strategist who successfully engineered the 2008 presidential election of Obama, a neophyte, African-American, first term Senator. In a NY Times op-ed piece he explains the current developments in U.S. politics. His thesis: Candidates are defined by the incumbents (whatever their accomplishments) as much as they are by the candidates themselves. Voters look for leaders who possess traits not present in the current President. Thus they voted for the studious Obama because he contrasted with the impulsive Bush. Now they want Trump, the bombastic maverick, because he is the opposite of Obama, the thoughtful President.
We see the Axelrod theory in the Philippines. Cory, a homebody, replaced Marcos, the strongman. FVR a steadfast, military man succeeded Cory, the coup-prone housewife. Erap, the flamboyant actor, followed FVR, the disciplined West Pointer. GMA, the educated technocrat, came after Erap. PNoy, an honest man, followed GMA, a reported crook.
In essence, voters look for change in their leaders whatever the latters’ accomplishments. If one believes in this Axelrod theory, the key to the elections is to be what P-Noy is not or, more exactly, not to be what P-Noy is.
Grace Poe is a change from P-Noy in that she is associated with the image of her father, a larger than life Filipino.
Duterte is everything the President is not, crass, uninhibited, pointed, outrageous.
Binay is a man of humble beginnings who contrasts with the aristocratic backgrounds of both Mar and PNoy.
Now Mar has chosen to be in the image and likeness of the President. If you follow Axelrod, this decision to brand himself as P-Noy, version 2.0, is the exact opposite of what he should be doing and may explain his inability to gain traction. To get out of his rut he needs to stop positioning himself as the alter ego of the President and his Daang Matuwid. People are not interested in a hand-me-down, recycled ideology. Mar must be his own person, define himself on is own terms as a serious candidate with serious intentions.
Mar also needs to go negative on his principal opponent with his ads to burnish his image as a tough guy. With only 3 months left, that is the only way to generate the 5-10 point bump that will get him to within the statistical margin of error. It is not in his nature nor his upbringing to do so but now is not the time for political correctness. So no more subliminal messages and high-fiving with Daniel Padilla, bro. Just take out the gloves and go for the jugular.
It may be a case of too little to late. But if Mar can get to within 5 percentage points of the leading contender with the LP machinery, the money and a little help from his friends and PICOS, he may just pull it off.