I travel by taxi a lot, and before the 1998 presidential elections in the Philippines I asked nearly all my drivers whom they would they would be voting for. Polling cab drivers is, of course, every lazy foreign correspondent’s way of “feeling the pulse of the country” and I don’t claim it is scientific. Manila cab drivers are nearly all male for a start, and they live in one of the world’s largest and most desperate conurbations, so their concerns will not be the same as those of the rural Filipinos who still make up the majority of the electorate.
Nevertheless, my 1998 taxi poll did predict a few of the results. It indicated that Joe de Venecia, the administration candidate, was not going to do well. In fact de Venecia finished a very poor second, only just ahead of Raul Roco, a candidate with almost no funding or party machinery.
It also indicated that Roco would do much better than his image as “the senator for women and youth” would suggest. Given that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of de Venecia’s votes were bussed in or in other ways “persuaded” to send their vote his way, Roco actually secured more “free” votes than de Venecia, which is what my taxi poll predicted.
However, the 1998 poll underestimated the power of Erap. I had plenty of pro-Erap drivers it is true, but nothing like the percentage that turned out for him in May 1998. The reason for this is probably that Manila taxi-drivers are, as a rule, knowledgeable and politically sophisticated, whereas Erap drew his real strength from the bakya crowd in the province.
So, it can be anticipated that the 2004 poll will not be representative of the national vote in at least two respects. First, it will underestimate the strength of FPJ (for the same reasons it did not reflect Erap's support in 1998) and second it will overestimate support for Lacson. The reason for the bias towards Ping is that (1) Lacson’s main attraction is a strong stand on law and order (which is a higher profile issue in the metropolis), and (2) when Lacson was head of the PNP he improved Manila taxi drivers’ lives in a very direct way by cutting down on policemen extorting money on street corners (virtually every pro-Lacson cab driver will tell you that he is voting for him because he cut down on ‘kotong cops’).
Having said all that, I would still expect that “One hundred taxis” will provide a reasonable indication of the relative strengths of Gloria and Roco and at least some indication of how FPJ and Lacson will perform, taking into account the in-built biases already identified.
So hold onto your hats and here we go – “turn on the meter please”.