MY TWO CENTS’: The Willie Ong phenomenon and lessons for candidates

My Two Cents by John Tria

As the canvass of the 2019 midterm elections proceeds thoughts turn to how social media may have played a big part in forming voters minds.

Campaigning online is a given and has been practiced since the 2007 elections. Youtube videos and social media posts are a platform viewed by about 70 million Filipinos who have social media accounts. 

The 7 million or so votes of candidate Willie Ong is a testament to social media power. Despite not having the same mainstream media exposure and few sorties, he still managed to get the votes, putting him just a few million shy of a win. Commenters opine that if he did join a larger slate, he could have won.

But apart from the former senators in their lineup, almost all of the opposition slate got lower votes than Ong. 

Why may that be?

Three reasons come to mind. 

One, Ong’s message was clear, credible and positive. As a doctor long known for and often ready to help others with their health problems, he bore the credibility to champion health issues and in advocating health policies. Many if his former patients swear to his kidness and expertise. 

He thus speaks with authority and people listen and trust him. This shows that he has high engagement with his voters. They also helped in campaigning with him. This cannot happen if you are not credible to them.

He conducted his campaign with this as his currency and avoided slinging mud. This protected his credibility. Even when opponents tried to downplay his campaign, he did not dignify them.

The third reason was his clever use of social media. Having estavlished his credibility, His 10 million or so followers clearly delivered amplified it to the hilt.  Joining him was his doctor wife who also does the same online medical advocacy. This tandem makes the effort a strong and wholesome one. This draws voters.

On the other hand, members of the opposition slate campaigned long and hard, complete with all the publicity gimmicks and freauent negative campaigning to gain attention. They were mainstream media’s darling, portrayed as David waging a hopeless battle with a goliath.

But despite their exposure , however, voters turned away from them. Florin Hilbay and Gary Alejano come to mind, their large social media followings and frequent media exposure failed to deliver for them. Unknown independent candidates had more votes than they did.

I guess voters know of them, and because social media empowers them to have a deeper look at them, they didn’t like what they saw and didn’t vote for them. 

It was just too much politicking from people not seen as credible and trustworthy.  This trust matters to many voters. For example, in the speedboat stunt they did, voter reaction was to see them as doing something that cannot be achieved. 

Can they seriously convince voters that if elected, they could force China out of the disputed islands? It was a big insult to their intelligence.

Worse, members of the opposition slate would publicly berate those who didn’t choose them. Read up their statements following the endorsement of religious groups like the El Shaddai. They spoke like frustrated and scorned candidates. This was amplified by their social media support base, which turned off even more voters.

Even their promotion of university mock polls at the end of the campaign showing them may have backfired. This tells voters who made up their minds not to vote for them that they are making a mistake in doing so.

After this, will voters feel good about voting for them?

As expected, that didn’t go to well with many voters who felt insulted by their words and actions. The last Pulse Asia surveys prior to the elections show how voter disgust at them kept them out of the winners circle.

The lesson for senatorial candidates is that people don’t just vote for your issues. They vote for you and whether you can be trusted to carry out what you say. Willie Ong got this, and got voter appreciation.  

The opposition slate said too much for their own good, yet sounded like mouthpieces without much credibility.

In this age of walking the talk, credibility matters.

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