Democracy’s ups and downs


The people’s assembly

(Part 1)

The 2022 Fourth Quarter Social Weather Survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations revealed some very interesting information about Philippine democracy and how people view democracy. Let me go through the results first before offering my insights.

The survey, conducted on Dec. 10-14 last year, found a record-high 89 percent of adult Filipinos satisfied with the way democracy works in the country. According to SWS, which has been tracking this type of data since 1991, this number is 11 points above the 78 percent in April 2021, and three points above the previous record of 86 percent in September 2016.

The same poll, patterned after the Eurobarometer surveys and is also in standard use in Latin American and Asian barometer projects, also revealed that 60 percent of Filipinos prefer democracy compared “to any other kind of government,” while 26 percent said that “under some circumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable to a democratic one” and 15 percent saying “for people like me, it does not matter whether we have a democratic or a non-democratic regime.”

These results, at its face value, seems to suggest a strong democratic preference among Filipinos. But it is important to note the nuances in the numbers as they were presented by SWS. For one, SWS said in its media release that there seems to be a correlation between the levels of satisfaction with the way democracy works and the conduct of elections:
“Satisfaction with the way democracy works had peaks of 70 percent in September 1992, 70 percent in July 1998, 69 percent in September 2010, 86 percent in September 2016, and the current record of 89 percent in December 2022, related to the successful presidential elections of 1992, 1998, 2010, 2016, and 2022, respectively. For the 2013 and 2019 senatorial elections, 80 percent in June 2013 and 85 percent in June 2019 were satisfied with the way democracy works.”

It is easy to understand why. Elections are the strongest manifestations of democracy. This exercise of suffrage is the foundation of the notion that power belongs to the people. So, it is no surprise that right after elections the collective democratic adrenalin of people are high. You just voted and a new government has just been formed, long live democracy!
But more importantly, it is also noteworthy that this sentiment about democracy does fluctuate. For instance, the SWS noted that during the two times they did the survey during the time of the late President Corazon Aquino, the level of satisfaction with democracy were 45 percent (1991) and 50 percent (1992). During the term of President Fidel V. Ramos the lowest rating was 46 percent (November 1994) and the highest was 70 percent at the start of his term in 1992. In President Erap Estrada’s time the highest was 70 percent in July 1998 but it dipped to its lowest in December 1999 at 41 percent.

The administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had the most number of polls on this subject matter. The lowest recorded was 28 percent in November 2003 while the highest was 68 percent in June 2010. During President Noynoy Aquino’s time the highest level of satisfaction with the way democracy works was at 80 percent in June 2013 while the lowest was 59 percent in June 2014.

It was during the time of President Rodrigo Duterte when the levels of satisfaction with democracy was very steady at between 78 percent to 86 percent. The latter, of course, was the previous high. The first survey done under President Bongbong Marcos’ administration beats this record with a nearly 90 percent rating.

The level of satisfaction with the way democracy works has oscillated between a low of 28 percent to a high of 89 percent. How do we explain this variance? Does this mean that support for democracy is, at best, soft? And what does this tell us about the future of democracy in our country?

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