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The Deceptive SWS Survey October 18, 2008

Posted by Maddog in Politics and Law, Prolife Issues, Religion and Social Issues.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) has weighed in on the debate over the anti-life Bill pending in Congress, and now known as HB 5043. Its latest survey, which received wide media coverage, is touted to be fair and free of bias. Sadly, in my opinion, the truth is otherwise.

The SWS released its third quarter 2008 Social Weather Survey, which was fielded between September 24-27. Acording to Mahar Mangahas, president and co-founder of SWS, in his article in the Inquirer (New Polls on reproductive health), had two modules relevant to the issue: “one module of three items done on SWS’ own initiative, and a second module of three items commissioned by the Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD), a non-government advocacy group.”

Mangahas goes on to say:

The SWS survey asked six questions on the RH topic, the first three of which were FFPD, and the second three being SWS’ own items. The first four items were a battery of Agree/Disagree (A/D) statements, with two of them phrased in opposition to the Reproductive Health and Population Development (RHPD) bill currently being debated in Congress, and with the two others phrased as affirmative to it. The fifth item asked whether the respondent already knew of the RHPD bill. The sixth item asked if the respondent favored it or not. I believe that the A/D battery, being evenly divided in slant, did not introduce affirmation bias to the succeeding items.

Mangahas notes that the first and third test statements of the A/D battery had “anti-RHPD” assertions, while the second and fourth were phrased as “pro-RHPD”. The fifth question consisted of informing the respondents of HB 5043 and asking them if they knew about it. The final question asked respondents their opinion of the Bill.

Dirty Tricks 101: Slanted Questions

I wish to take issue with the way Mangahas characterizes the questions in this survey. He imagines that the A/D battery of questions did not introduce any bias because two were slanted against the Bill and two were slanted for the Bill.

Why not look at the actual questions then? It will become apparent that overall the survey was not neutral at all and its questions and statements definitely introduced bias.

Here are the questions in the survey commissioned by the The Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD). On the SWS website, they are available as a single graphic at:http://www.sws.org.ph/pr081016bvis_08.gif

Q. 149: ANG PAGGAGAMIT NG LEGAL NA CONTRACEPTIVE TULAD NG CONDOM, IUD AT PILLS AY MAITUTURING “ABORTION” O PAGLALAGLAG (The usage of legal contraceptives like condoms, IUDs and pills can also be considered as abortion).

Mangahas claims this was a question with an anti-RH slant. But this question is ridiculously absurd because it contains a FACTUAL ERROR: Condoms are NOT abortifacient! The FFPD questions ignores this, and lumps together a non-abortifacient (condoms) with abortifacients (IUDs and pills). The statement is factually false and should elicit a “disagree” response from anyone who knows how comdoms work! Even an opponent of HB 5043 like myself would have to disagree with the statement as a whole. What a rigged question!!!

Q. 150: DAPAT MAGKAROON NG BATAS NA GAWING KATUNGKULAN NG GOBYERNO ANG PAMIMIGAY NG MGA LEGAL NA CONTRACEPTIVE TULAD NG CONDOM, IUD AT PILLS SA MGA TAONG MAY GUSTO NITO (There should be a law that requires government to distribute legal contraceptives like condoms, IUDs and pills to people who want to avail of them).

This is supposed to be a pro-RHPD item, according to Mangahas. And indeed it is. There is a subtle slant here. Calling such contraceptives “legal” may subtly imply approval and favor. It also hides the fact that pills and IUDs are only legal NOW because people (and Congress) is not aware of the abortifacient mechanism of pill and IUDs. The question does not hint at the fact that there is a real controversy over the abortifacient mechanism of pills and IUDs, and that this may make their distribution a violation of the Philippine Constitution.

Q. 151: KUNG MAGIGING BAHAGI NG KURIKULUM ANG ARALIN UKOL SA PAGPAPLANO NG PAMILYA, ANG MGA KABATAAN AY MAKIKIPAGTALIK NANG WALANG PAKUNDANGAN (If family planning would be included in their curriculum, the youth would be sexually promiscuous).

Mangahas says this question had an anti-RHPD slant. But does it? There is another subtle deception at work here. In the first place, does anyone really object to family planning? Even the Catholic Church promotes it! Family planning, taught properly with regard to moral values, does not promote promiscuity. What is controversial are the METHODS taught for family planning. But, again, there is no hint of that in this question at all. If one did not know the background of HB 5043, one would be moved to agree with the statement. So how can this be construed as being slanted against HB 5043?! On the contrary, it seems subtly designed to elicit a response that will be seen as in favor of it, as Mangahas’s later interpretation of the result shows!

Here are the questions ion the second module of the survey. These are the non-commissioned questions, done by SWS on their own as a public service.


Q. 152: Ngayon po, mayroong akong statement o pangungusap ukol sa kasalukuyang mga debate sa pagaplano ng pamilya. Pakisabi po kung kayo ay sumasang-ayon o hindi sumasang-ayon sa mga statements o pangunghusap na ito. Pakilagay lang po ang kard na may pangungusap sa naaangkop na lugar sa rating board na ito. (LUBOS NA SUMASANG-AYON, MEDYO SUMASANG-AYON, HINDA TIYAK KUNG SUMASANG-AYON, MEDYO HINDI SUMASANG-AYON, O LUBIOS NA HINDI SUMASANG-AYON). “DAPAT MAKGAROON NG BATAS NA GAWING KATUNGLULAN NG GOBYERNO ANG PAGTUTURO NG PAGAPPLANO NG PAMILYA SA KABATAAN.”

Mangahas says this is also a pro-RHPD question, and it definitely is. It contains another subtle deception: the debate isn’t about family planning since none of the main protagonists is really against family planning per se. Even the Church teaches that families should be planned. The contentious issue is about HOW families should be planned and the methods used. HB 5043, its critics say, promotes the use of artificial and abortifacient contraceptives and mandates that the youth should learn to use such methods. If people aren’t aware of these issues, they would hardly have reason to object to the statement. Taken alone, without prior knowledge of the issues, even I would agree to it!


Q. 153: Ang “Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2007” ay isang panukalang batas sa mababang kapulungan ng kongreso na magbibigay ng katungkulan sa gobyerno na magtaguyod ng programa ukol sa responsableng pagpapamilya o responsible parenthood sa pamamagitan ng sapat na impormasyon sa publiko at pagakakaroon ng mga ligtas, legal, mura at de-kalidad na serbisyong na pang-reproductive health sa mga taong may gusto nito. Dati na po bang ninyong alam ang panukalang batas na ito? (DATI NANG ALAM, NGAYON LAMANG NARINIG).

This item asks whether people knew of the Bill beforehand. This does seems neutral at first. But look at the very favorable description of HB 5043! It gives no hint of the controversy surrounding it. There is no mention that it promotes artificial contraceptives or the fact that doctors and health workers will be compelled to distribute or promote them. In fact, tt does not mention any of the negative or controversial aspects of the Bill. It only mentions what sounds good about it like “responsible parenthood” and free, high-quality reproductive health services, and giving sufficient information. This sets up the next question, which has the same description of the Bill, and may condition respondents to register a favorable response.


Q. 154: Ang “Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2007” ay isang panukalang batas sa mababang kapulungan ng kongreso na magbibigay ng katungkulan sa gobyerno na magtaguyod ng programa ukol sa responsableng pagpapamilya o responsible parenthood sa pamamagitan ng sapat na impormasyon sa publiko at pagakakaroon ng mga ligtas, legal, mura at de-kalidad na serbisyong na pang-reproductive health sa mga taong may gusto nito. Kayo po ba ay PABOR o HINDI PABOR sa panukalang batas na ito? (SHOWCARD) (TALAGANG PABOR, MEDYO PABOR, HINDI TIYAK KUNG PABOR O HINDI, MEDYO HINDI PABOR, TALAGANG HINDI PABOR).

Here the positive description of the Bill is repeated. It stands to reason that hardly anyone would disagree with this unless they had prior knowledge of the controversial aspects of HB 5043.

The last two SWS questions are clearly NOT NEUTRAL. They both contain a very positive and favorable description of HB 5043.

Look at the two questions which were supposed to be slanted against the HB 5043, as Mangahas claims. Read them. They are NOT slanted against HB 5043, as explained earlier.

In fact, all the questions are subtly slanted in FAVOR of HB 5043. NONE of them really acknowledge the controversial nature of the issues raised against the Bill. They only mention “family planning”, “reproductive health”, “responsible parenthood”, etc. which are all GOOD and POSITIVE things. Even the assertion about contraceptives being considered as abortions was botched because of a built-in factual error.

A truly DECEPTIVE survey indeed!

Is this the best we can expect from an organization that has been in this business since 1985? I am extremely disappointed.



1. DJB Rizalist - October 21, 2008

Moderator’s note: This comments section is meant to be used for intelligent discussions, not for hurling insults or unsupported accusations. I have edited out such offending sections as indicated.

Manny, you said: “If the Bill passes and contraceptive use becomes widespread, we will then see ever-growing numbers of contraceptive failure cases. More women will astart clamoring for some “remedy” when their beloved contraceptives fail to “protect” them all the time. Then we will see more abortions and call for legalized abortion!”

Perhaps you would like to supply some kind of proof (such as links to authoritative studies or reports) that sustain your assertion that contraception will lead to more abortion and not less.

Regarding the SWS survey, I do believe this is the umpteenth time that a survey has shown overwhelming public support for reproductive health measures. Certainly ever since the AIDS epidemic hit, the Catholic Church’s position has become more and more untenable.

But I don’t really see why you folks are getting your panties all in a bunch, the president is sure to veto the bill anyway and we can continue to multiply like rats and rabbits, [offensive and unsupported accusation deleted]

Take for example this US New Report that abortion in the US, where contraception was invented in modern times, is the lowest it has ever been in living memory!

The position you take is illogical and contrary to evidence–[offensive and unsupported accusation deleted]

2. Maddog - October 21, 2008

On the SWS survey: it could also be the umpteenth time they used deceptive questions. What makes you think the results are going to be different if the questions are just as slanted?

The link between abortion and contraception has long been established. Here are a couple of studies.

(1) A study published in the August 18, 2000 British Medical Journal shows that teens who consult with medical professionals about contraception actually have a higher rate of pregnancy than those who don’t. Of 223 teen-age girls who became pregnant, 71 percent discussed contraception with a health expert in the year before they became pregnant. Brian McGuire, “Sex Education Can Backfire, Says British Study,” in the National Catholic Register, Vol. 76, No. 36, September 3-9, 2000, 1.

(2) Another study found that “over 80 percent of young women who have had abortions are contraceptively experienced.” Stanley K. Henshaw and Kathryn Kost, “Abortion Patients in 1994-1995: Characteristics and Contraceptive Use,” 28 Family Planning Perspectives 140, 145 (table 2) (1996)

And the Guttmacher Institute has consistently reported that over half of women who have abortions are currently using contraceptives. So much for contraceptives reducing abortions!

On the US abortion rate: Let’s not forget that it first went through the roof, peaking in 1981, and that there has been only a slow decline over 15 years (in fact there ahs been a worldwide decline). This decline, however, cannot conclusively be attributed to contraceptives. There were contraceptives in 1981 too and they did nothing to slow down the abortion rate. In fact, I would argue that they increased it.

The current decline is likely due to (1) New methods that allow persons to cause abortions without clinical methods, known as “medication abortion”. Examples of these are emergency “contraceptives” and RU 486 (the abortion pill, mifepristone). Such abortions are far less likely to be reported at all, and this seems to be the case as the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute notes. (2) The US (and other countries) has a growing pro-life movement that has begun to chip away at the abortion behemoth. Its recent successes are also a very important factor. (3) The Guttmacher Institute reports that there have been more legal restrictions to abortion in the US over the years, as well as new legal burdens on providers. It also reports a decline abortion providers and access to them. (4) Finally, there is also the effect of widespread use of abortifacients. Even though they cause perhaps millions of early-term abortions, such incidents are not reported as abortions, if they are reported at all.

It seems pretty obvious to me that your claims aren’t really supported by the evidence.

3. wawam - December 18, 2008

based on the results of this SWS survey, the key conclusion is that there is an overwhelming support in favor for the RH Bill – across the board, in all demographics and across all geographies.

the other key conclusion is that support is so overwhelming that even catholics are significantly in favor of it.

the philippines is a highly divided country. the division is clearly apparent and deep on almost all national and political issues. but not on the RH Bill. it is a rare and signigficant moment that filipinos are strongly united in their support of the RH Bill.

4. Maddog - December 18, 2008

Thanks for the comment, wawam.

You have drawn two conclusions from the survey. Let me point out, however, that these would be valid conclusions IF the survey questions were free of bias. But the sad fact is that the survey questions DID introduce bias — lots of it — as I have proven in the article.

So any conclusions, based purely on a biased, deceptive survey, are themselves not valid. They may eventually be shown to be correct in the future, but certainly NOT by the SWS survey in question.

5. kumustaka - March 31, 2009

i am a researcher and technically there is nothing wrong with the questions because a data gatherer/researcher may pose “wrong” questions to check knowledge level of respondent; so if the “wrong” question is answered wrongly i.e. the respondent agrees to the wrong question then the researcher can surmise that at that level the respondent is not aware of the true purpose of condoms. the catch in the questions is that respondent/the average Filipino should know through and through – kahit baligtarin pa ang mundo – what RH is all about otherwise he/she will fall for the trap. it’s like NSAT or NEAT questions, the student would have to understand the question before saying it is true or false. to be fair with sws, i think the org is peopled with persons knowledgeable about research. the challenge is for audiences of these reports to know what is actually being presented rather than what is superficially being shown. which in other words implies that the average Filipino – whether respondent or part of the audience – need to be thoroughly informed and initiate personal study on public issues such as RH. cheers! :)

Maddog - April 1, 2009

Thanks very much for your comment. Yes, posing a “wrong” question might be justified IF the point of the survey was to check the knowledge level of respondents, as you pointed out.

Unfortunately, that was NOT the intent of the survey, and neither was that the purpose for which the survey has often been cited.

I note that Mangahas claimed that there was no bias introduced by such questions, saying:

“I believe that the A/D battery, being evenly divided in slant, did not introduce affirmation bias to the succeeding items.”

As I have shown, however, the questions were NOT evenly divided in slant at all, despite Mangahas’s claims. It is therefore his characterization of the questions and the survey in general that I dispute.

Ultimately, the survey’s final question was to determine the extent of support for the Lagman bill. That is what this survey has been used for: to make it appear that there is overwhelming support for the bill even among Catholics).

As such, the questions ARE wrong and DO introduce bias in favor of the bill. The survey is deceptive and is being used to deceive.

6. Maddog - January 27, 2010

Poll thumbs down reproductive bill

NINETY-two percent of Metro Manila residents have rejected the controversial Reproductive Health bill pending in the House of Representatives, former Environment Secretary Joselito Atienza said Friday.

The results of the Filipino Family Survey, conducted by HB&A International-ARO Research Group with 500 respondents from Dec. 2 to 9, showed that Filipinos “overwhelmingly” gave the RH bill, authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a thumbs down, Atienza said.

7. Into the Light: What Majority? « Filipinos for Life - April 7, 2011

[…] would know that one can construct almost any survey to come up with certain desired results. Manny Amador and Julio Meridio show how the above surveys accomplished this. But even without these thorough […]

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