Will Miriam Defensor-Santiago get the youth vote?

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Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has more than 3.3 million likes on her Facebook page as of January 19 this year. She also has 2.29 million followers on Twitter.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — If we base it on social media popularity, it would appear that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has the presidency in the bag.

The number of Santiago’s Twitter followers and the Facebook likes of her page roundly beats those of her rivals.

To give you a picture, Santiago has more than 3.3 million likes on her Facebook page as of January 19 this year. That’s nearly 1.4 million more than Vice President Jejomar Binay’s page, which has the second biggest number of likes on the social media site at around 1.9 million.

Santiago also has 2.29 million followers on Twitter, while only about 21,400 to 575,000 follow her opponents.

According to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), 37 percent — 20 million out of 54 million — of voters are aged 18 to 35, making the youth sector a potent force in the coming elections.

Comelec estimates that a candidate who can harness 75 percent of the youth vote will probably win.

Tech-savvy voters

More than half of Filipino millennials are online.

In-depth interviews of students, first-time job holders, and young professionals to determine the media habits of Filipino millennials in 2015 showed that 53 percent of young adults accessed social media in the previous month, according to media and consumer research agency Strategic Consumer and Media Incites, Inc. (SCMI). Nearly half of them belong to poor households, it said.

Campaigning on the digital space could help a candidate reach out to millennials, and Santiago seems to know her way around this platform.

The challenge, however, is converting the online support into actual votes.

Also read: Comelec to regulate online election campaigning

Political analyst Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit said the youth might not be serious voters compared to older people.

Another political analyst, Clarita Carlos, agreed, saying candidates who don’t have a party machinery might not get votes from this sector.

Most of the young people are “alienated,” she said. “They’re just interested in doing selfies,” she added.

“The challenge now is, who is the cutest in political ads, who can flood the television with all these ads until it's coming out of your ears, and what percentage of the voters are going to vote according to what the ads are telling them,” Carlos said.

However, touching on issues that concern young people might help get their support.

“At the end of the day, young people desire or are concerned with some issues. So anyone who can represent a better future will capture the youth vote,” Manhit said.

These issues include jobs, education, and social services. “They want a candidate who can truly represent that interest,” he said.

In the U.S., Barack Obama's strong digital campaign helped him win the presidential elections, Nate Lubin, a former White House digital director, and Benjy Messner, a data and analytics professional, said.

Citing the experience of the U.S. president’s campaign, Messner said Obama met millennials “where they were,” carrying with him a very strong message across social media platforms.

TV still king?

Despite her poor performance in nationwide surveys, Santiago has topped university mock polls one after the other.

In the latest poll conducted December 24 to 30 by the UPSE SIDHI, the official student publication of the University of Philippines School of Economics, Santiago got 73 out of 163 votes, or 45 percent.

She was followed by Manuel "Mar" Roxas II (19 percent), Grace Poe (15 percent), Rodrigo Duterte (15 percent), and Jejomar Binay (2 percent).

Santiago also took the lead in three other polls conducted by the University of Santo Tomas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.

Does this mean she has the youth vote? Manhit doesn’t think so because school polls are not done scientifically.

“As a political scientist, we use the quantitative approach. That's basically how surveys and polls are done. That’s the only scientific way you can analyze it,” Manhit said.

He said having a huge following on Facebook or winning mock elections in schools doesn’t mean you have the young voters already in your pocket.

“When you look at where Miriam is in (nationwide) polls she's still at around 4 percent of the population, which is really negligible. So if she gets the youth vote, she should be getting a substantial number,” Manhit said. “That means she's not really capturing the youth vote.”

He added that unlike in the U.S., campaigning on social media in the Philippines might have less impact, as TV advertising and interviews still have a bigger influence.

SCMI’s General Manager Jay Bautista made the same observation at the 2016 Media Outlook conference in Makati last December. Statistics from SCMI showed that TV still has the broadest reach among young people in the country. Ninety-four percent said they watched TV the previous day, while only 40 percent accessed the Internet the past week.


Manhit admitted that Santiago — a veteran politician — is articulate and charismatic. The challenge, however, is how to translate that into popular support.

“She's never won at the highest level of our Senate. She’s always in the middle of the pack,” he said.

It’s her third try for the presidency, after losing in 1992 and 1998.

Will the third time really be the charm for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago?