How many Filipinos prefer strong, dictator-like leaders?

The days of dictatorship in the Philippines are becoming distant memories, yet quite a few people are unconvinced about how well our return to representative democracy is working out. This is an area of vigorous, passionate debate that I don’t intend to leap into. With national elections coming up, however, where a vice-presidential candidate is the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a presidential candidate has flirted with calling himself a dictator (see tsun-Duterte in action here: yes! no!), let’s have a quick look at some not-so-old, perhaps-tangentially-related survey data.

The World Values Survey describes itself as “a global network of social scientists studying changing values and their impact on social and political life, led by an international team of scholars”. They get a bunch of countries to conduct a particular survey among their citizens every 5 years in order to compare them over time, and they’ve been doing this since 1981.

The Philippines participated in the most recent survey wave, from 2010 – 2014, with Social Weather Stations conducting the World Values Survey on 1,200 respondents across the country in various local languages from April 18-24, 2012. (See, it wasn’t that long ago.)

The WVS is huge. It’s a miracle of charm or of too much free time that anyone can convince people to sit around for an hour or two to answer silly questions. Here I want to concentrate on one particularly silly question:

“I am going to describe various types of political systems and ask what you think about each as a way of governing this country. For each one, would you say it is a very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad way of governing this country? – Having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.”

(or in Tagalog:)

“Ang mga kard na ito ay naglalarawan ng iba’t-ibang klase ng sistema ng pulitika at gusto kong malaman ang inyong opinyon tungkol sa bawat isa bilang paraan ng pagpapatakbo ng gobyerno sa bansang ito. Masasabi ba ninyo na ito ay talagang mahusay, medyo mahusay, medyo hindi mahusay, o talagang hindi mahusay? – Ang pagkakaroon ng isang malakas na lider na hindi kailangan ang kongreso at eleksyon.”

Let’s first look at the proportion of people from each country that was included in this wave who answered “Very Good” or “Fairly Good”:


The blue bar is the Philippines, and the black line is at 0.5. Above 0.5, more people think having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliaments and elections is good versus bad; below 0.5, the opposite. The Philippines is above 0.5. More people in the Philippines think a strong leader is a good thing – at roughly the same rate as Mexico and Turkey. At the top are countries such as Egypt and Russia; at the bottom are countries such as Poland, Germany, Zimbabwe and Ghana. The United States is chilling fairly close to the bottom, as is China, surprisingly. Remember that the survey was translated into different languages and it’s possible that question wording could have changed ever so slightly.

Let’s now zoom into the Philippines and look at the breakdown of responses across region, sex, and age group. Note that SWS employs a sampling design that deliberately selects 300 people from Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and makes sure that there will be exactly 600 men and 600 women in the sample.


First off: sex. The spectrum goes from red to blue as it goes from “Very Good” to “Very Bad” (associating “red” with “good” may be a bit confusing, but I think it’s appropriate considering the topic). There appear to be no appreciable differences between men’s responses and women’s responses.


Next: age group. It is commonly speculated that support for strong leaders is stronger (heh) among younger people, and weaker among older people. As the reasoning goes, older people remember martial law, and are thus less likely to pine for stronger leaders. That doesn’t seem to show up here, though. Across all age groups, the largest share of people go with “Fairly Good”.

What about income? Perhaps richer people benefited more from martial law and thus nowadays would be more supportive of strong leaders. It’s important to note that this isn’t true per se; the factor that determined whether you benefited from martial law or not was how much the state hated you, liked you, or ignored you. Nevertheless, many people today have gotten richer due in part to martial law.

Unfortunately, the World Values Survey only has a sort of “self-rated” income question where people are asked to place themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 indicates the lowest income group and 10 the highest income group. I think the intention was that each country would use their own data to define income ranges for each group, which they would then show to the respondent, and the respondent would identify the range in which their income fell. Looking at the questionnaire as administered by SWS, however, it looks like they just showed the respondents a scale from 1 to 10, which therefore isn’t very informative.


Nevertheless, I fit a simple regression line on the scatterplot* between self-rated income and preference for a strong leader. For the latter, “1” is “Very Bad” and “4” is “Very Good”, and so we would expect that higher income is associated with higher preference. However, the regression line is pretty much flat – the two measures are uncorrelated.


Finally, let’s look at islands/island groups. Here we actually do see what looks like a huge difference. NCR, the rest of Luzon, and Mindanao exhibit the familiar pattern we’ve seen in the above bar plots, but Visayas looks very different – more people in Visayas answered “Very Bad”. Oddly enough, more people also answered “Fairly Good” than “Bad”, so it isn’t as simple as more people in Visayas rejecting strong leaders who don’t have to bother with Congress and elections. If that was the case, you would expect more people to have answered “Bad” than “Fairly Good”. It looks more like Visayas has a fair amount of people of both “types”.

To conclude this quickie: Filipinos overall, assuming that the survey respondents are representative of the Filipino population, slightly lean towards having someone up there who doesn’t have to mess around with democratic institutions, but something’s up with the Visayas. This type of analysis isn’t going to tell you what – this kind of thing is called exploratory research, which generally means that you play around with data without any particular hypothesis in mind in order to find phenomena that are worth investigating further with proper methods.

I’m not going to draw a direct link here between responses to this question and the support we now see for candidates promising a certain brand of “stronger” leadership, but I think it’s at least suggestive.

* The scatterplot was “jittered”, meaning that small random numbers were added to or subtracted from each point, for aesthetic purposes. Otherwise you’d just see 40 points perfectly lined up along 1 to 10 on the x-axis and 1 to 4 on the y-axis, because both income scale and the preference for a strong leader here are integers.


One thought on “How many Filipinos prefer strong, dictator-like leaders?

  1. You nailed it Asintunado, proficiently and admirably (and scientifically with your use of the WVS database): we need to focus on the changing values and the impacts of these on social and political life. I know you have integrity, unlike some bloggers who have a “Donate to the cause” button on their blog sites for Paypal or credit card payments (that’s how payments to the hacks get unnoticed). There are bloggers who spent years trying to drill into the minds of Filipinos that what define us are the negative qualities like crab mentality, lack of discipline, etc. and therefore authoritarianism is in order. Unfortunately, bloggers like you, who spend your precious time making counter-arguments for the love of science and country, are a rare breed.
    My take-away from your graph with the age grouping is this: We need seniors with gravitas to also speak about the good Filipino values that pull us together in times of crisis–-bayanihan spirit, love of freedom, pakundangan sa kapwa, etc. We need seniors to inspire the young ones to go back to our history books and learn the correct lessons from there. We need seniors to call out the middle-aged ones when the latter lead the young ones astray.

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