We might know less than we think

By John Jared Garcia

Many of us in academia might consider ourselves as ‘intellectual elites.’ As such, during election season, we may be quick to label others as ‘bobotantes’ as we tend to condescendingly claim that their voting preferences are irrational and full of idiosyncrasies. It is equally problematic even if we do not say it out loud but subconsciously compartmentalize opinions that disagree with us as categorically ‘wrong.’ We then use this as justification to correct them since we see ourselves as ‘right.’

But are we always right? Are things always black and white? Is this attitude a sign of greater learning?

Adam Grant, a psychologist and a popular science author, would say no. In his hierarchy of thinking styles, this attitude will categorize us as contrarians and politicians, if not cult leaders. He argued that these are lesser forms of thinking as these are those who always find fault in others, failing to see one’s own limitations and missing out how complex life really is.

Therefore, we must not discount the possibility that we might be, in reality, lured by the fascinating appeal of elitism and extreme idealism that we tend to biasedly see others’ beliefs and opinions as inferior to us just because we perceive ourselves as more learned. We might fail to realize that most often than not, it is not a matter of varying intelligence nor a matter of what is right or what is wrong. Sometimes it may just be a matter of differing values and dispositions in life. What seems foolish to us can be someone’s everyday truth, for we may all be living in the same physical world and yet have different realities.

Therefore, rather than questioning their wit, I argue that it is better to ask why they vote the way they do. Or the question, how do people vote?

There are many answers to this question. One of them is the idea that we have different ideological leanings hence the differences in voting preferences.

Matter of Ideological Dispositions

Based on the survey results conducted by the former National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) Secretary-General Romulo Virola in 2020, a typical Filipino wants “a strong, decisive, people-cantered, honest, and conservative” leader for the 2022 presidential elections. I surmise that these qualities point to the conjecture that the majority of the Filipinos in 2022 would prefer right-wing populist leaders—a blend of conservative and populist style of leadership.

Conservatism is mainly characterized by the desire for order and security. In the Philippines, a study found out that most Filipinos seek social order and discipline among citizens. Furthermore, Conservatism can be correlated with materialism as materialists will more likely be concerned with physical and economic security. This is part of an explanation of why post-materialist values such as belief in human rights and press freedom are relatively unpopular in a country where contrastingly, the president is popular for openly proclaiming that he “doesn’t care about human rights.”

On the other hand, populism is a highly contested concept. But for simplicity, we can wrap the term with the belief that in society, two groups exist—the pure people and the corrupt elite. A populist leader would claim to represent the ‘unified will’ of the pure people and attempt to vilify the corrupt elite as the root cause of the country’s social ills. President Duterte is said to be a good prototype for this type of leadership. He is often characterized as a ‘fiery populist,’ or the ‘Donald Trump of the East’ due to his seemingly compelling and relatable rhetoric. His populist tendencies were evident when he took advantage of the protest vote against the perceived/alleged hypocrisies of the ruling liberal-democratic regime in the country which eventually catapulted him to Malacañang.

Now let us say that your preference tends to skew away from this type of leadership.  You would neither vote for candidates exhibiting populist tendencies nor have conservative leanings. Does your preference make you automatically right and the bulk of the population wrong? I argue that this is asking the wrong question as we should instead ask, “Why do most Filipinos disagree with me?” “What makes them favor a strongman over (for example) an egalitarian candidate?”

Manifestation of Socio-Political Reality

In my opinion, our country’s ideological leaning is partly a manifestation of its state of reality—poor, crime-ridden, and a haven to the corrupt. According to the Asian Development Bank data,  16.7% of the population is below the poverty line; about 17.6 million Filipinos are struggling to make ends meet. The Philippines also has a high crime rate as we placed at the bottom five of the order and security index ranking across the Asia Pacific region in 2020. Furthermore, the corruption rank of the Philippines relatively increased from 113 to 115 based on the Corruption Perception Index.

A state struggling to provide necessities, futile in fighting criminality, and infested with corrupt leaders eventually create dissatisfied citizens. These same citizens will habitually yearn for charismatic leaders who promise economic stability and physical security. They will vote for those they think can best represent their disgust against existing elite structures. As such, the result of the ballot is in part predetermined by the majority’s reality and who they perceive to be the candidate closest to that reality.


In other words, this theoretical explanation tells us that most Filipinos vote for right-wing populist leaders for the reason that our state is evidently conservative and is stuck in a position where it is still desperate for material and physical security. More so, this reality might be the reason as to why progressive candidates who fervently advocate for civil liberties are least preferred in the country as these candidates’ advocacies are the least of the citizens’ priorities (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

Other Explanations

Moreover, it goes without saying that this theoretical explanation is not fool-proof or is not enough. One can counter-argue that the Philippines does not vote based on ideological underpinnings but political patronage. This theory claims that Philippine politics subscribe to patron-client relations where political candidates are seen as patrons and voters are seen as clients. Elections are therefore perceived to be part of a more extensive ‘retail politics’ where money and favor act as the rules of the game. Another possible theoretical explanation is linguistic affiliation. It suggests that Filipinos vote based on cultural identification, and linguistic ties are seen as the primary determinant of electoral support.

There could be many explanations, as this topic is rich with contending theories and schools of thought. We have many rooms for discussion, leaving us with no excuse to settle with the lousy and condescending remark “eh kasi bobotante.” I believe that when you question someone’s wit, you are immediately closing doors for compromise and debate, which ideally should be the essence of elections and democracy.

Adam Grant in his work suggested that a learner’s mindset is at the top of the hierarchy. These are those who always think that “I might be wrong” rather than “I am right, and they are wrong.” In political discussions (or during elections where most political slugfest happens), learners are premeditated with the motive of understanding and compromise—with an open mind that the others might be right and they are wrong. They give everyone the benefit of the doubt as they realize that they might know less than they think.

Of course, we all have personal values that we deem to be non-negotiable. But it shouldn’t be used as grounds for condescension, bigotry and incivility—or else, no one will listen.

We must keep in mind that the bulk of the citizenry is your ordinary Juan and Maria dela Cruz who might politically disagree with us. And remember that the election is a numbers game. We need to be grounded in reality if we aspire for real change and progress in society. Lofty and noble ideals might bring us to greater heights, but without proper footing, we can never take our ascent.

John Jared Garcia, 21, is a Political Science student from the University of the Philippines Diliman. This article is in fulfillment of an incentive requirement for his Political Analysis course under Dr. Rogelio Alicor Panao of UP Political Science Department.