The Vote of the Poor27.04.10
Aired on April 27, 2010
Narration by Baben Lumapas
THE VOTE OF THE POOR
Some of us have become so cynical about the political process that we have acquired deep-seated prejudices about some of its actors. The poor, for instance, are thought to be unable to choose their leaders in a way that is helpful for a democracy. This is a myth. There is research to disprove it.
In 2004, the Institute of Philippine Culture of the Ateneo de Manila University published a study that received some coverage in the run-up to that year’s election. The key finding? The vote of the poor is a smart vote. What does this mean?
The study conducted focus group discussions with different groups of poor people from around the country. What they found was that the poor were more discerning than is commonly believed. For example, participants felt that leadership involved competence, integrity and respectability. They wanted leaders who were willing to make difficult but fair decisions. They wanted leaders who were righteous people. They believed in the value of choosing good leaders not only for themselves but for the sake of the wider community.
But the study also showed disturbing findings. Like a number of our fellow citizens, the poor have become very cynical about the electoral process. They accept cheating as “inevitable” and tolerate the practice of vote-buying—even if they say the practice is wrong. They hesitate to protect the ballot, saying that it is not worth the effort. They become confused about the way elections work.
However, there are two findings which we would like to note: first, the poor believe that an election is an occasion for a reversal of roles, where the better-off court their favor rather than the opposite. Second, it is clear that while they find cheating inevitable, elections remain meaningful for them.
This gives us some hope as a democratic society. Poor people make choices we can live with, choices that we too wish for our leaders. We have seen how they have voted wisely when there are genuine alternatives, as in places like Naga or Isabela. Those of us who are more educated or in more comfortable circumstances may need to appreciate that when you are poor and nothing changes whoever gets into power, it is a perfectly rational choice to see elections as an opportunity for income generation.
So let us not dismiss the voice of the poor.
All of us need help in making better choices and making sure our votes are protected. That is how elections can become truly meaningful for everyone, rich or poor.
It is not a small thing that the poor see elections as at least one occasion where they are courted by those who are better-off and powerful. This reversal brings to mind the kind of change that happens when people are truly subject to the King and his kingdom. It will mean, says Mary in the Magnificat, the ‘overthrowing of the mighty and the lifting up of the lowly.’
May we see in this election such welcome reversals, when those who are mighty are overthrown and the meek and lowly find themselves powerful and taken seriously.
The study cited herein is The Vote of the Poor: Modernity and Tradition in People’s Views of Leadership and Elections (Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University, 2005).