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Who’s voting for ‘Bongbong’ Marcos to be the next Filipino president?

Approval of President Rodrigo Duterte correlates closely with support for the son of Ferdinand Marcos, this survey finds

Polls ahead of Monday’s presidential election in the Philippines continue to show Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, with a sizable lead.

Marcos’s electoral appeal — despite his family connections — has surprised many observers in the Philippines and abroad. What do we know about those who express their intention to vote for him?

Our research on this question draws on data from the March face-to-face election survey conducted by Pulse Asia Research. [Note: One of the authors is president of this Philippines-based survey firm.] While no survey is without its critics, the March survey was a nationally representative sample of 2,400 Filipinos, offering insights on voter intention. This analysis relies on the survey’s detailed poll breakdowns by group.

We find that the strongest predictors of voting intention are candidates’ regional ties, along with voters’ political attitudes — particularly how they feel toward Ferdinand Marcos and the period of martial law during his dictatorship, as well as their views of the current president, Rodrigo Duterte. By contrast, while there’s some evidence that generational differences and class divides affect vote choice, these factors, perhaps surprisingly, appear less salient.

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Voters support favorite sons and daughters

Consistent with the maxim that all politics are local, one of the strongest predictors of vote choice in the upcoming election is whether the survey respondent is from the same region as a particular candidate. By far the strongest Marcos supporters are those who hail from the Marcos family’s home base in the Ilocos region — 81 percent of Ilocanos indicated that they intended to vote for Marcos.

The strongest opposition comes from voters in the Bicol region, home to Marcos’s chief opponent, Leni Roberdo. Only 9 percent of Bicolanos said they would vote for Marcos. But Marcos scored high among voters from Mindanao, the home region of his running mate, Sara Duterte. To put this into context, a voter from the Ilocos region is nine times more likely to vote for Marcos than is a voter from the Bicol region. As we shall see, regional differences account for much more variation than either age or socioeconomic status.

What about political attitudes?­­

We also looked at three sets of political attitudes — how voters see the current president, who is ineligible to run for another term; how they feel about the late Ferdinand Marcos; and how they feel about martial law during his tenure. The survey data suggests that approval for Duterte correlates closely with support for Bongbong Marcos. Duterte, whose “war on drugs” and other strongman tactics have been controversial, is also the father of Marcos’s running mate, Sara Duterte. Among those who strongly disapprove of Rodrigo Duterte, only 16 percent intended to vote for Marcos, compared with 76 percent of those who said they were strong supporters of the current president.

Respondents’ views about the late Ferdinand Marcos and the martial law he imposed from 1972 to 1981 are among the strongest predictors of vote preference in this election. Voters who had negative or strongly negative views of Ferdinand Marcos were much less likely to support his son, while more than 80 percent who strongly approved of Ferdinand Marcos were likely to vote for the younger Marcos. Similarly, zero respondents who held strongly negative views of martial law supported the current front-runner, while only 18 percent of those with negative views of martial law were likely to vote for the younger Marcos.

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Are younger voters more likely to support Marcos?

More than 30 years after the People Power revolution in the Philippines brought the Marcos dictatorship to an end, a common narrative suggests that younger voters seem keen to elect his son as president. A popular explanation for the success of the younger Marcos is generational divide — younger voters didn’t directly experience the violence, corruption and instability of the Ferdinand Marcos regime. The educational system, some Filipinos argue, has done a poor job of educating younger voters about martial law and Marcos’s rule. Pundits also note the savvy targeting of younger voters via social media by the current Marcos campaign. If true, we would see much higher levels of support for Bongbong Marcos among younger than older generations.

But age appears to be a modest predictor of support for Marcos. Voters who are 65 or older are the least likely to say they will vote for him (43 percent), while younger voters — particularly those under 45 — are somewhat more willing to support the dictator’s son (59 percent). Even so, a majority of respondents in every category but those ages 65 and older expresses support for Marcos. And when we look at age alongside other factors in a statistical model, it’s only a weak predictor of vote choice, again with the exception of voters 65 or older. In other words, age does predict support for Marcos, but compared with either regional ties or political affiliation, it is a much weaker predictor.

What about socioeconomic divisions?

When we compare voting intentions across socioeconomic groups, we don’t observe substantial differences — whether rich or poor, urban or rural, respondents support Bongbong Marcos at about the same rate. There does appear to be a modest connection between education and voter attitudes — those least likely to vote for Marcos are voters with less than a high school education (46 percent).

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Support for Marcos rises steadily as educational attainment increases, peaking at 61 percent among those with a vocational degree. Again, it’s worth noting that these differences pale in comparison to the substantial variation we see in terms of regional ties and political affiliation.

In a few days, Filipinos will head to the polls. Their decision about who should serve as their next president seems to depend largely on their views about Ferdinand Marcos and his dictatorship, and their assessment of the current president.

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Dean Dulay (@deandulay) is an assistant professor of political science at Singapore Management University.

Allen Hicken (@a2hicken) is a professor at the University of Michigan.

Ronald Holmes is a professor at De La Salle University in Manila and president of Pulse Asia Research.

Anil Menon (@armenon_memorie) is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan.