There are two key things Americans learned from the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in 2016: (1) traditional pre-election polling is no longer reliable and (2) Google search activity provides better insight into voter preferences than social media engagement. That these lessons were mainly learned in hindsight accounts for much of the shock everyone felt following Trump’s ascent to power. Everything that the Democrats relied on to guide their campaign failed and all the buzz that their traditional media drummed up failed to convert.
Analyses of what really happened and what American voters were really thinking in 2016 using Google search data revealed disturbing realities about American society that failed to show up in the radars of the mainstream: that Americans were still profoundly racially-prejudiced and that a deep-seated distrust — even disdain — for coastal “wokeness” prevailed in the heartland electorate. The reason Google search data proved to be a lot more reliable is because people have a more intimate and more private relationship with Google. Social media was, the Democrats found out too late, a data pool of delusion.
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Google users enter their most private thoughts, fears, and desires into that iconic search box. Compare this to posting and liking stuff on Facebook and one would appreciate the stark difference in the frame of mind users apply when interacting with both sites. On Google Search, users are not performing before an audience. It’s just Google serving information to individuals looking for answers to their deeply-personal questions. On Facebook, on the other hand, Netizens are essentially grandstanding. They exhibit themselves dressed in their Sunday best, surrounded by smiling kids and spouses and they “Like” stuff that makes them look trendy and “woke” before their politest circles. On Facebook, no one admits to reading the New York Post or, amongst “woke” Filipinos, perusing the pages of Bulgar to get their daily briefs.
The obliteration of the Philippine Opposition in this year’s election is, in essence, a repeat of the same failure that crushed the Democrats in 2016. The Opposition candidates and their “woke” cheerleaders were too enthralled by the massive volumes of “Likes” and “Retweets” their snowflakery was getting on social media that they essentially addicted themselves to the validation they were getting preaching their “woke” culture to their little chi chi choirs. In much the same way an artificial echo digitally-generated by a karaoke machine makes one’s singing sound better, Netizens’ use of digital filters (blocking, muting, unfriending, and mass-reporting) to ensure that they only received their preferred feedback and engagement effectively trapped them in sense-dulling digital echo chambers.
What is interesting in the Philippine setting, however, is how accurate traditional polling turned out to be — standing in contrast to the dismal performance of the same in the US. Perhaps this attests to just how relatively inconsequential the insight social media contributes to the important effort of reading the pulse of the broader Filipino public. This could be because, though Filipinos account for a huge chunk of the planet’s social media activity, this activity fundamentally differs to that of Americans in that there is proportionally less personal “research” Internet users do through Google Search in the Philippines. In this regard, traditional polling — for all its flaws — still provides relatively better insight than “social media analysis”. Add the fact that not as many ordinary Filipinos interact as intimately with Google as their garden-variety American counterparts and it is easy to see just how utterly-misguided many Opposition “experts” were in relying on social media to guide campaign strategy.
It was easy to see what Filipinos really cared about or, more importantly, did not care about. Filipinos cared very little about things the “woke” Opposition held dear like the nebulous notions of “human rights”, “gender equality”, and “decency”. Campaign strategists would have done better analysing the sorts of jokes ordinary Filipinos laugh at or even, for that matter, what television shows they tune into regularly. Even their state religion reveals timeless truths about the Filipino character. Roman Catholicism is, after all, a formidable edifice of a national belief system that espouses intolerance to any form of independent thinking, deviantism in sexual orientation, and questioning of authority.
Indeed, everything about the profound nature of the Filipino character runs counter to the “woke” culture Opposition snowflakes bandy around in their quaint soirées. Even more bizarre is how Opposition “thought leaders” looked to the other side of the planet for their intellectual allies. That, too, was an epic fail. Though Filipinos are avid consumers of Hollywood culture and the laughable caricatures of liberalism its products showcase, the reality is that the Philippines remains deeply southeast Asian in character. There are essentially no southeast Asian leaders who got on board with Filipino “liberals” as they, themselves, apply strong leadership to governing their respective countries.
The fact is, the world-renowned Yes-Means-No and No-Means-Yes manner with which Filipinos express themselves does not lend as well to textbook data-driven analysis as their more forthcoming Western counterparts. Political “analysts” need to tailor their research methods (if any) more closely to the local situation and rely less on the “wisdom” of their intellectual overlords in the New York Times and The Economist. Perhaps the good old reliable sense of seasoned marketers of laundry bars like Mr Clean and Tide would provide far more actionable insight to future election candidates than the “woke” pontifications of recent products of the country’s chi chi state and Jesuit-run universities who haven’t quite filled the grown-up suits they bought with their parents’ credit card extensions.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.