Exploring the Correlates of Presidential Satisfaction in the Philippines using the Misery Index.

AuthorCanare, Tristan A.
  1. Introduction

    Presidential approval has long been a measure of public perception of a president's job performance. It assesses and reflects the level of satisfaction the public has on the major policies and programmes of the president (Yi 2010). Approval ratings can affect the president's reform agenda; hence a high level of public support can have a positive impact on the president's ability to push reforms. Meanwhile, low approval can pose obstacles to the future plans of the president (Gronke and Newman 2003; Yi 2010; Wang and Cheng 2015).

    While robust empirical economic and political science literature on government approval and satisfaction ratings have existed for decades in developed countries like the United States, there is currently very little written on the subject matter about developing countries such as the Philippines (Berlemann and Enkelmann 2014). Hence the question, does economic well-being influence presidential approval in the Philippines? Or do the empirical results show otherwise? The objectives of this study are as follows:

    (1) To consolidate and examine existing data on presidential approval and objective and subjective economic well-being in the Philippines; and

    (2) Drawing from previous empirical studies on presidential approval, to use a quarterly time-series dataset from 1998 to 2019 and determine if common indicators of economic well-being are significant predictors of presidential approval.

    The paper will proceed as follows. The next section contains a brief review of literature and clarifies the emerging evidence on citizens' satisfaction and their possible drivers. The third section presents existing data on presidential approval in the Philippines from Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, two of the most established survey firms in the Philippines, as well as a recently developed measure of economic well-being, the Philippine misery index. The subsequent section discusses the methodology and statistical analysis of presidential approval and its relationships with the economic variables. We conclude with a discussion of the results and the implications in the fifth and final section.

  2. Literature Review

    There exists an extensive economic and political science literature on government approval and satisfaction ratings. In 1970, Mueller published one of the first studies of the determinants of US presidential popularity. Despite almost half a century of subsequent empirical research on the determinants of approval ratings, the main findings remain mixed. This is especially true for the role of economic variables (Berlemann and Enkelmann 2014); and more recent literature has also begun to emphasize myriad issues in interpreting survey results, including "bandwagon effects" and issues with access to (dis)information (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; and Rothschild and Malhotra 2014; Canare et al. 2021). Moreover, much of the literature has focused on the experience of the US and other developed countries, leaving a substantial gap in the literature on the developing world. The discussion in this section looks at the measures of popularity or approval ratings and the possible determinants over time.

    2.1 Survey-Based Measures of Approval

    Presidential approval often refers to the public's evaluation of the job performance of the sitting president. Brace and Hinckley (1992) referred to presidential approval ratings as the "new referendum" that plays a vital role in the exercise of the powers of the president. In many modern democracies, leadership support ratings play a key role in shaping the landscape for policy reforms and public administration.

    As popularity is not directly observable, survey measures have been employed to create proxy indicators that seek to reflect this concept. It is widely believed that questions on presidential approval are the most frequently asked question in political surveys (Lavrakas 2008). Varied questions to measure approval are a possible source of heterogeneity in the results of different empirical studies (Berlemann and Enkelmann 2014). In the US, studies typically use survey data from Gallup Poll, which started collecting data on approval ratings in 1937. The survey firm uses the question: "Do you approve or disapprove of the way [name of President] is handling his job as President?" in measuring presidential approval ratings, which has since generated extensive analyses. (1) However, a handful of studies (e.g., Dua, Smyth, and Taylor 1995; Smyth et al. 1999) have opted to use the survey data from the Survey Research Center (SRC) of the University of Michigan. SRC questionnaires have an explicit economic focus that differentiates them from the Gallup survey. SRC uses the question "As to the economic policy of the government--I mean steps taken to fight inflation or unemployment--would you say that the government is doing a good job, only fair, or a poor job?".

    Aside from variations in the source of data (and their underlying questions), surveys also differ in frequency. This can also help explain differences in survey results because more frequent surveys can coincide with specific political or economic issues; for instance, quarterly surveys coincide with GDP figures, while monthly surveys coincide with employment statistics (Berlemann and Enkelmann 2014).

    In the Philippines, the top two polling firms, Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, have regularly conducted presidential approval surveys. SWS uses net satisfaction rating as the measure of presidential popularity, generated by subtracting the percent dissatisfied from the percent satisfied. Net rating is commonly used worldwide in measuring both sides of the presidential opinion, such as with the United States' Gallup, France's Odoxa and Australia's Newspoll. Measured every quarter since May 1986, SWS data on net satisfaction ratings span thirty-three years and cover six presidents (Social Weather Stations 2019b).

    Meanwhile, Pulse Asia conducts the Nationwide Survey on the Performance and Trust Rating of the Top Philippine Government Officials in which respondents rate the performance of key officials such as the president, vice president, and senate president, among others. Unlike SWS, Pulse Asia uses the approval rating as the measure of presidential popularity. Approval rating is the sum of the percent who responded that they truly approved of the performance of the president (percent truly approve) and the percent who responded that they somewhat approved (percent somewhat approved). Pulse Asia first published the approval rating of government officials in 2001 (Pulse Asia Inc. 2017).

    2.2 Determinants of Approval Ratings

    To better understand the ratings, one approach has scholars turning to time-series aggregate (as opposed to individual) data to examine the different determinants of presidential approval (see Mueller 1970; Monroe 1979; Ostrom and Simon 1985; Edwards, Mitchell, and Welch 1995; Jaung 2002; Berlemann and Enkelmann 2014). These studies look at the association between presidential approval and macroeconomic variables such as inflation across time. However, most of them fail to provide information on individual context, preferences and behaviour. Macroeconomic indicators therefore explain only a part of presidential satisfaction (Edwards, Mitchell, and Welch 1995).

    According to Gronke and Newman (2003), the literature on the determinants of presidential approval can be divided into three major waves. The first wave of studies built on the arguments of Mueller (1970) and focused on the downward trend of presidential approval. Meanwhile, the second wave was driven by the development of more sophisticated empirical and theoretical methodology. Using more rigorous estimation techniques, the second wave of studies aimed at proving the validity of the findings of earlier research on approval ratings. These studies also computed the exact timing of the effects of the explanatory variables and examined whether respondents are prospective or purely retrospective. Lastly, the third wave of studies investigated data for different subgroups and the level of the individual. Furthermore, the last wave made use of subjective macroeconomic measures rather than just objective economic indicators.

    The notion that economic factors are important determinants of presidential approval has been widely accepted. Moreover, it is understood that citizens hold their government accountable for economic outcomes (Cohen 2004; Berlemann, Enkelmann, and Kuhlenkasper 2014), and voters favour incumbents who are competent in running the economy (Voeten and Brewer 2006). However, Berlemann and Enkelmann's (2014) review of seventy-three US empirical studies reported that neither unemployment nor inflation--the two most studied economic indicators--were consistently significantly linked to presidential approval. Aside from unemployment and inflation, other economic variables such as output gap, government deficit, trade deficit, stock market performance and defence spending were also considered in presidential approval models. However, studies employing other economic variables have remained scant. In contrast, Mueller (1970), Berlemann, Enkelmann and Kuhlenkasper (2014), and Burden and Mughan (2003) all found evidence that economic variables do affect presidential satisfaction in the US. These variables include unemployment, inflation, government spending, trade balance and import price index.

    For non-economic variables, four broad categories have emerged: time-in-office, political variables, war-related variables and event variables (Berlemann and Enkelmann 2014; Mueller 1970). Studies on time-in-office gave rise to the concept of honeymoon effect, or the idea that public officials enjoy relatively stronger support in their first few months in office (Chappell and Keech 1985). Mueller (1970) referred to the time-in-office variable as the "coalition of minorities" variable, citing that...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT