The Debatable Impact of Presidential Debates

IMG Sources: Rappler, Scout magazine, Esquire; Edited by Christina Salazar

Two high-profile debates/interviews of the Presidential candidates have recently been held- one with Jessica Soho, another with Boy Abunda. Another- the KBP Presidential Candidates forum- is ongoing as I write. 

But what is the impact of these debates on the approval ratings of the Presidential candidates? The two political analysts which I cite frequently in my columns- Former Senator and veteran campaign manager Serge Osmeña III and political scientist Dr. Julio Teehankee- argue that a candidate’s position in issues and policies is supplementary to their marketing. The electorate looks at the candidate’s character or image first (mabait ba? Matulungin?) and that perception can be either reinforced or weakened by their performance in debates. 

Candidate Loren Legarda’s performance in the 2010 Vice-Presidential debate and the subsequent decline in her ratings is instructive. In that event, audience members were given a gadget called a Wireless Audience Response System (WARS) which had two buttons: one button meant that they felt the candidate gave a truthful answer; the other button meant the opposite. 

On the issue of improving education, Candidate Loren Legarda answered that she filed a bill to raise the salaries of public-school teachers. She declared that it languished in the Senate Committee on Education, which was then chaired by Mar Roxas. Only 38% of the audience believed her. On her lack of executive experience, Candidate Legarda stated that she had implemented various projects- tree planting, negotiations with Communist rebels, scholarships, etc. But only 40% believed her response. 

In both cases, the audience found Loren Legarda to be insincere and untrustworthy. This reinforced the perception that Legarda’s decision to run alongside Manny Villar was a marriage of convenience. According to Mark Thompson: “Legarda’s credibility was undermined by her apparent opportunism in becoming Villar’s vice-presidential candidate although she had not too long before been bitterly attacking him for corruption.”

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