As a companion to my previous column (“Robredo has not moved the needle in the election campaign,” The Manila Times, March 19),
I will essay today an explanation of why Ferdinand “Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. has taken such a commanding and possibly insurmountable lead in the presidential race. Election Day (May 9) is now only 48 days away; it will take an extraordinary event (like a tragedy or a miracle) for anyone or any force to deny him the prize.
Hitting nail right on the head
Pulse Asia research director, Dr. Ana Tabunda, who chooses her words carefully and precisely, pinpointed the heart of Marcos’s dominance when she told a program host at ANC that Bongbong Marcos has captured the imagination of the voters as a key explanation of why he has such a staggering lead in the pre-election surveys.
She cited as other reasons:
1. BBM’s access to resources that enable him to sustain his presence in social media, his caravans and the record crowds in his rallies;
2. His name, which is a highly popular brand in national politics; and
3. The benefits from association with his father, former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and his record of leadership.
Tabunda said this was the first time that they in Pulse Asia were seeing one candidate winning a majority percentage of the electorate.
This surpasses what happened in the 2016 elections, wherein then candidate Rodrigo Duterte only attained 40 percent of voter preference in April, a month before the balloting. The deficit gap with the second placer then was about 20 percent.
Today, the gap between Marcos and Leni Robredo is 45 percent. Making up that gap may seem theoretically possible, but it would be highly difficult.
Capturing the imagination of voters
Beyond just the numbers, the big factor behind the Marcos phenomenon is the way the candidate and his message have captured the imagination of voters and the nation.
The English idiom or expression, “to capture someone’s imagination,” means (1) to hold one’s interest or spark one’s creativity; (2) to interest someone in a lasting way; to stimulate someone’s imagination.
BBM’s personality and character has earned him a very loyal following. His message of unity, while seemingly simple, has clearly resonated with voters of all regions and all classes,
BBM’s preference for person-to-person campaigning is a winning strategy.
BBM believes his “unity” theme has resonated with Filipino voters in sharp contrast with the negative campaign against him by opponents. Filipinos are tired and frustrated by the endless wrangling in national politics and the disconnect on policy issues,
Columnist Marichu Villanueva says that at a Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, Marcos got a bit irritated by a reporter who declared that the presidential elections would reprise the May 2016 VP rivalry with Mrs. Robredo.
BBM said firmly: “Too much politics. Enough na. It’s time to get to work. Let’s do the politics until May 9, then finish na… Gawin na natin trabaho natin. Ang dami naghihirap…Kaya nga unity kami. Tama na’ yan. Pag- aawayin mo pa kami.”
As of his count last Wednesday, BBM said the UniTeam have spent the past 54 days of the campaign period to spread the message of “unity” as the core value of the platform of government they have been presenting to the nation.
Rivals talked about BBM at Comelec debate
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the resonance of the Marcos campaign is the way he has also captured the imagination and obsession of his opponents and rivals for the presidency.
They spend most of the time now coveting his high standing with the voting public, demonizing BBM and his family, particularly his father, and devising ways to deny him victory at the polls.
At the phony Comelec debate on Saturday, March 19, which Marcos skipped, the nine other candidates spent their time talking about Marcos and taking shots by turns at BBM.
They seemed to collectively settle on the subject of collecting billions in estate taxes from Marcos, supposing they win the election. Incredibly, this only betrayed their respective ignorance of inheritance and estate taxes.
Marcos SR left BBM no inheritance, because the estate was frozen or sequestered by the Cory Aquino government by decree. There is nothing for them to pay until they inherit the estate.
There is a big chunk of money lodged in a Singapore bank, which still cannot be touched by either the government or the Marcoses.
In his book, The New Prince (Renaissance Books, New York, 1999), political strategist Dick Morris has some advice regarding political debating. He wrote: “A political debate between candidates is about ratifying your issues and the issues in the campaign, and looking good on camera while doing so. The trick is to make your content and your issues predominate.
“In this struggle to dominate the content and subject matter of the debate, attacks on one’s opponent serve not merely to besmirch him but to distract him from talking about his own issues.”
In Saturday’s debate, Bongbong Marcos dominated without attending the event BBM and his issue won the debate without taking part. Marcos was the name remembered most by the sparse views online.
In the vice-presidential debate on Sunday, March 30, again an absent candidate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, became the focus of six other present candidates. Her absence became the story. One candidate Walden Bello took to singing off-key. No one landed a punch on Sara.
Strategic use of internet
Many are bewildered by and uncomprehending of the commanding and dominating lead by Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio in the campaign so far. They strive vainly to find an explanation of what is happening on the campaign trail.
One explanation, I daresay, is the UniTeam’s knowledge and understanding of the great potential of the internet for effective campaigning and political communication.
Alone among the candidates, Bongbong Marcos and his team have established a very strong presence on the World Wide Web for their campaign. They can reach the entire archipelago in an instant. They can communicate one on one with Filipinos at home and abroad.
They have generated a level of excitement and enthusiasm for their campaign that is perhaps unrivaled in Philippine history.
Barack Obama was the first candidate for president to widely harness the power of the internet and online communications to win election to the White House.
There is a case study online on e-marketing that discusses “Barack Obama’s Strategic Use of the Internet” in his presidential campaign. I quote from it the following:
“When it comes to elections in the United States, young voters are the toughest demographic to reach. Instead of watching television, younger people are turning to the internet and their mobile phones for entertainment and for interacting with their friends. Savvy brands that want to reach this market are turning to the same channels.
“The Obama campaign realized early on that without the traditional support enjoyed by the other candidates, it would need to find new ways to raise funds and reach voters.
“The best way to reach these ‘people like me’ is to use existing social connections and social media. The Obama campaign used this to create a social network that supporters could use to self-organize events, connect with other supporters, and receive feedback and support from the campaign.”
What UniTeam has done right
Bongbong Marcos and his campaign team are using much the same formula in designing and executing a clear-eyed and focused strategy to use the Internet strategically to win the May election.
Marcos Jr.’s online presence is unrivaled by his opponents. He has a good campaign website or BBM vlog that reports his major appearances and public statements, a lucid explanation of his positions on key issues.
There are plenty of popular bloggers who are aligned or committed to the campaign, and they are very entertaining and have a huge following in the country and abroad. You will find in them all the latest media reports on the campaign and the latest surveys.
Whenever there is a new controversy or development, they rise in unison to defend the UniTeam’s campaign and to blast the other pretenders to the presidency.
No other campaign comes close to this online.
It is possible the other candidates have only a dim understanding of the internet.
Morris has this final advice to impart: “The key is not just to use the medium but to understand it — to grasp its message, an inescapable impression the media conveys.
“Instead of the one-size-fits all television campaigns that have dominated modern politics, the internet in general — and email in particular — has made possible a conversation between the voters and each candidate about issues and ideas. The interactivity of the Web means an end to ‘I talk, you listen’ politics.”
The campaign of Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio is a good example of this new politics and new political communication. No wonder they are not only leading, they are dominating.