Survey of Victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan Defies Preconceptions
February 5, 2014
It is perhaps unusual for survey research to provoke demonstrations denouncing the results, but that is precisely what happened last month when Social Weather Stations issued a survey release showing that victims of Typhoon Haiyan, “Yolanda” in the Philippines, were more satisfied with President Aquino than were other Filipinos (who already gave Aquino a “good” satisfaction rating). This finding flew in the face of media narratives about the government’s failure to adequately respond to the disaster.
The dominant political family in Tacloban City, the most urbanized area struck by the storm, was the first to mount a critique. Tacloban’s mayor, Alfred Romualdez, who has been feuding with Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas since the beginning of relief operations, had just made up with the government when his cousin, Congressman Martin Romualdez, denounced the survey. A demonstration was held in Tacloban, joined by the leftist Makabayan political bloc, to belie the results.
This is perhaps an indicator of how important periodic public surveys are to the Philippine political discourse. High-quality probability samples are regularly taken and made public by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, hitting the front pages of newspapers and airing on television. This is not to say that all political actors actually believe in the magic of surveys. A prominent recent example of skepticism was embodied in the 2010 presidential candidacy of Gilberto Teodoro, Jr., the anointed successor of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. His survey results were always low – in multiple rounds, neither Pulse Asia nor Social Weather Stations had his standing above 10 percent – but his backers were confident of a win. In the end, he got 11.36 percent of the vote (coming in fourth), which is one more demonstration of the ability of scientific surveys to accurately reflect public sentiment.
It is with this in mind that The Asia Foundation in the Philippines funded a special sampling strategy for the regular Social Weather Stations quarterly survey. Generally, SWS has a total sample size of 1,200: 300 people each for Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, the Visayas in central Philippines, and the southern Mindanao region. In the December 2013 round, our support enabled another 350 people to be added to the Visayas sample size since that was where the majority of the typhoon damage occurred. As a result, SWS was able to gather a statistically representative sample of victims of Haiyan.
The results made it clear that the victims of Haiyan had their own voice, and one that surprised many observers. Since the area devastated by Haiyan was already one of the poorest in the country, it is not surprising that 72 percent of victims rated themselves as “poor” (whereas 52 percent of the rest of the citizenry did so). Similarly, 20 percent reported having gone hungry in the past three months compared to 15 percent of other Filipinos. Yet, as I pointed out earlier, Haiyan victims gave President Aquino a net satisfaction rating of +54 while non-victims gave him +48.
Another finding that caught the attention of the media is that respondents rated help from foreign countries and private agencies more highly than assistance from the national government. Of course, this depends on what spin is applied – as SWS reports, the rating for national and local government was “very good,” behind the “excellent” of the foreign countries and private agencies.
The special sample allowed victims of Typhoon Haiyan to not only express their views of the national government and relief efforts, but also to describe their experiences and what they suffered, including injuries, psychological trauma, and loss of possessions. The questionnaire also included their experiences with the collective efforts to help them. The Asia Foundation will be working with Social Weather Stations to produce a publication that explores all of these topics.
But perhaps it is best to end this brief blog post on a truly hopeful note: 96 percent of victims and 95 percent of non-victims are hopeful that areas devastated by Haiyan will recover. It is no wonder that international assistance providers praise the resilience of Filipinos in the face of disaster.
Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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