If the surveys are to be believed, the May 9 presidential elections are over even before the first ballot is cast.

Former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr is elected as the next Philippine leader with more than 50 percent of the vote, a phenomenon rarely seen in the country’s electoral history since 1986 when his father was removed from power in a nearly bloodless, military-backed uprising.

Based on the latest Pulse Asia survey conducted in the middle of April, three weeks before the elections, Marcos had 56 percent voter preference against his closest rival, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, who had 23 percent.

Tracking the Pulse Asia polls, Marcos’ support level did not really move up or down, remaining at over 50 percent since October 2021 when Sara Duterte Carpio dropped from the race and opted to run for vice president.

It could be that Sara’s numbers went to Marcos. Her decision to run as his running mate boosted Marcos’ numbers.

Robredo’s numbers were also spectacular. From a single-digit support level in 2021, she improved to 23 percent, zooming past Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, who is the biggest loser in the survey.

He was the closest rival to Sara before the filing of candidacies in October, but slowly slid down as Marcos and Robredo gained supporters.

The latest survey showed Isko Moreno losing 4 percentage points to settle at 4 percent after he and two presidential candidates held an Easter Sunday news conference, where he called on Robredo to withdraw from the political contest.

Boxing icon and Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao even overtook him at 7 percent, a distant third in the field of 10 candidates.

But political observers and statisticians do not trust surveys. They say Robredo can pull a surprise victory, duplicating her feat in the 2016 elections when she came from behind to win an upset victory against Marcos in the vice-presidential elections.

Surveys are a snapshot of voter preference in the past, and that could change on election day. There were reports that as much as 14-18 percent of voters make decisions on election day itself, enough to change the survey results.

They may also have some basis on why Robredo still has a big chance of winning the elections. Some say the survey done by Pulse Asia was flawed.

For instance, the socioeconomic classes A and B were excluded in the survey because Pulse Asia said the gated villages could not be penetrated and were not asked.

A former government statistician said the Pulse Asia surveys underrepresented respondents who belonged to the age group 18-41, those who reached college education, and the economic classes A, B, and C, and over-represented those who did not reach college education and the economic classes D and E.

Robredo has strong support among the youth, the students, and the higher economic classes. If these respondents were asked, the former government statistician believed Robredo could overtake Marcos in the polls.

Setting aside the surveys, the energy on the ground does not confirm a strong and solid support for Marcos. If the surveys are really accurate, that would mean one in two people in a public market, in public transport, in offices, and in communities would support and vote for Marcos.

On the contrary, that is not the case. Robredo supporters outnumber those who openly support Marcos.

Since the 90-day election campaign started in February, Robredo’s political rallies have been packed with crowds who make their own way to the venues.

In contrast, Marcos hired buses to ferry supporters to venues and pay P300 to P500 just to pack his rallies. Marcos’ rallies and sorties are fewer in frequency than those of Robredo. He usually had three activities per week, compared with the vice president’s punishing daily rallies and sorties.

It was quite dizzying for Robredo to be criss-crossng the country. She has no time to rest because of the need to cover more areas to meet supporters and convince unbelievers to vote for her.

The energy and enthusiasm during Robredo’s rallies drowned the crowds in a Marcos rally, with the latter only forced to attend these organized events.

In ordinary and gated communities in Metro Mania, Robredo’s tarpaulins hanging on homes outnumber those of Marcos. The former senator’s political circle could argue that he has the support of the silent majority, the poor people who would not be as open and vocal like the vice president’s supporters.

But that could not be true. Even before she was elected as a congresswoman in 2013, Robredo has been working closely with the marginalized communities—farmers, fishermen, and urban poor as a non-government organization (NGO) worker.

When she was elected into office, she expanded her work to reach areas not seen by other national government officials. She went to disaster areas ahead of other government agencies.

That was probably the reason some local officials in Cagayan and Isabela provinces in the north have thrown their support behind her candidacy, breaking the so-called “solid north” for Marcos.

She also worked closely with various groups of indigeneous people, winning the support of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which governs the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and other IP communities in the Cordilleras and in Mindanao.

Apart from the surveys and paid trolls on social media, it is hard to feel ground support for Marcos compared with Robredo’s enthusiastic campaigners.

There is probably only one test to find out who has real public support—the result of the May 9 balloting. Will the surveys be proven accurate or wrong? Will the energy on the ground confirm Robredo’s groundswell and the momentum ahead of the elections?

The elections would probably be decided by Marcos’s money and machinery or by the people who will carry Robredo on their shoulders and defy dictates of local political leaders.