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THE MIND OF THE POOR: A Post Election Analysis

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By: Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual
Caritas Manila, Executive Director

Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son and appellation of the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.,won our nation’s presidency by a landslide, in a remarkable reversal of fortunes for a political dynasty that 36 years ago was overthrown by the “People Power” revolution. Marcos Jr. secured around 60% of the vote in the 2022 national polls, giving him the stoutest mandate for president since his father’s rule. So, the question in everybody’s mind lingers — why did the poor (according to Pulse Asia Class D1 voters are around 8 out of 10 voters in the country) as this country’s majority voters choose Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to return to power?

By way of qualitative analysis, allow me share with you some insights into the “mind of the poor” vis-à-vis our May 8, 2022 Synchronized National and Elections. Here are the top 5 PSYCHE of the POOR which I have experienced in the course of my apostolate as an active Civil Society Advocate involved in the Cooperative and NGO sector:

 

MINDSET 1: WE NEED A STRONG LEADER TO BRING US TO THE “PROMISE LAND”.

Many “authoritarian populist” leaders outside the West — from Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Vladimir Putin in Russia to Narendra Modi in India — create their social acceptability neither from monetary promises nor from social conservativism alone, but also from a third commitment: to restore public order and state authority without the layers of bureaucracy.

According to Roberto Stefan Foa, “If we are to understand why authoritarian strongmen have won elections in so many developing democracies, we also need to acknowledge the void that such leaders claim to fill — namely, the erosion of political authority. In many such societies, corruption, criminality, and violence not only are pervasive, but have worsened over time, granting the ‘law and order’ pitch of leaders such as Duterte in the Philippines, Modi in India, or Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro a reach that goes well beyond mere cultural conservatives. In particular, their platforms typically resonate with a section of the new urban middle class that is self-made and upwardly mobile, situated outside the existing network of patronage politics, and frustrated at the persistence of urban crime, inefficient public services, and widespread clientelism and graft.” Thus, the imagery of the former strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr. now personified by his son, appealed more than the promises of Liberal Democracy campaigned by his staunch rivals.

This is why between seven and eight out of ten Filipinos continue to support Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs” despite its heavy toll in lives lost and rights violated (cf. Samantha Raphelson,“Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte Sustains Support for Deadly War on Drugs,” National Public Radio, 13 November 2017). A desire for authoritarian leaders in a state that is failing to contain corruption, conflict, or criminality will take on these attributes as its own in the minds of the poor. Moreover, the problem of “excessive bureaucracy” has disheartened the poor that they have become more pessimistic about the value of democracy as a political system, less optimistic
(1) Poor (less than official poverty threshold) Less than PHP 9,100. Low income (but not poor) between the poverty line and twice the poverty line Between PHP 9,100 to PHP 18,200 – Indicative Range of Monthly Family Incomes (for a Family Size of 5 members) [cf. Philippine Institute for Development Studies] that anything they do might affect public policy, and more willing to express backing for authoritarian alternatives.

 

MINDSET 2: UNDERDOGS ARE HEROES.

The “underdog effect” can be manifested in many facets of life (e.g. politics, business or other competitive contexts). Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants, entertains the reader with a number of rare underdog challenges and victories: dyslexics becoming highly successful entrepreneurs; an individual living in extreme poverty during the Depression-era who rose to become a legendary oncologist; an undersized novice girls’ basketball team succeeding through exploitation of opponents’ conventional tactics.

The lessons are that people are able to take reassurance from these individuals (and many others) explained by the “theory of desirable difficulties” (cf. Robert Bjork, 1988). This theory posits that successful individuals need to have those shortcomings because the fight to succeed against seemingly impossible odds is important for growth. This explains the importance for underdog status, but it does not account for why underdogs hold such a favorable appeal.

So, what made Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. an underdog in a campaign which obviously had the backing of the Duterte administration? Well, Marcos Jr became the most controversial candidate from his non-appearance in various Presidential Debates/Forums to his numerous cases, including a conviction over a tax-evasion case. He does not attack other candidates. This non-confrontational strategy has paid off, and handsomely in the image of an underdog. And instead of differentiating themselves by highlighting their record and capabilities, other candidates have engaged in a pack attack to try and take Marcos Jr down. So far, this has backfired towards the perception of truly being the underdog. We are fascinated with underdog fights. They pervade politics, but contemporary cultures have also embraced our fascination and support for underdogs in their own modern form of storytelling. For example, talent shows invite the viewer to become engrossed in an emotional life story of challenges and seemingly under resourced failures, only to then marvel at the perfect performance and ecstatic ovation. The poor supports an underdog like them for an underdog’s victory gives them a sense of hope that they too someday will be victorious as well.

 

MINDSET 3: IMMEDIATE SHORT-TERM RELIEF OUTWEIGHS A PROMISE OF A
FUTURE BENEFIT.

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) issued a study to determine the distribution of wealth in the Philippines. With the poverty line being a household income of P10,481 per month for a family of five, PIDS reported that 22% of Filipino households are presently living below the poverty line. Households earning between P10,481 to P20,962 are considered the low-income class and they constitute 35% of the population. Together, these two classes constitute 57% of the population. This is what French Economist, Thomas Piketty, calls “wealth inequality”. “All across the world, we see social movements demanding more economic justice, and we also see the need to rethink the organization of economic globalization in order to address social and environmental changes … The general problem that we are facing is the following: If we do not open up new perspectives in terms of social progress and economic justice, and if the “neoliberal centrists” keep pretending that there is only one possible economic policy (basically to the benefit of the most affluent), then we run the risk that the political discussion is going to be more and more about identity, which will provide a winning ground for the nationalists and the nativists” (Thomas Piketty).

Even the Holy Father, Pope Francis says that “while the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules” (cf. Address to new Vatican Ambassadors, May 16, 2013).

Thus, if Liberal Democracy has created an economic system which has become “OF THE 1%, BY THE 1%, FOR THE 1%2 ” (cf. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Vanity Fair, 2011) this will eventually create a social divide between the poor and the social elites to which the poor would readily gravitate towards the candidate who they feel is pro-poor and could readily give them the immediate financial relief they need and not the mere promise of economic prosperity which for them is too far from their reach due to this existing socio-economic divide created by liberal democracy. “There is a cultural snobbery of the educated, cosmopolitan, urban-dwelling, sophisticated people that make up elites in modern societies, towards people that have less education, that do not live in big cities, that have more traditional social and cultural values. There is a degree of justified resentment at that kind of disregard” (Francis Fukuyama, Identity Politics).

As such, the lofty promises of future economic gain to which the 36 years of the previous prospect of Liberal Democracy has remained as an “impossible dream” leaving the poor with the notion that what they can “get now” would be better than what they can “get later” considering the perceived empty promises of the past. Thus, the well-oiled grassroots political machinery of a BBM-SARAH tandem enabled the realization of this short-term relief for poor voters. And, though vote buying may be the “inherent” course of action to deliver this immediate interim relief, I will not conclude otherwise. But it is noteworthy to stipulate that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had received some 400 complaints of vote-buying with “supporting evidence” (cf. Robertzon Ramirez and Sheila Crisostomo, The Philippine Star, May 15, 2022) during the recently held polls. Let me emphasize that in a true democracy every citizen has the right to be elected to public office, subject to reasonable restrictions. Vote buying makes it impossible to meet these standards by penalizing potential candidates who are at an economic disadvantage especially minority candidates.

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