SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Here's one October surprise in the US presidential race: The Philippines could be a Red state. Not ?Red? as in leftist or communist. But as in Republican Red, as opposed to Democrat Blue.
I kid you not.
A Gallup Poll survey conducted in the Philippines in late May found 28 percent of respondents endorsing Republican John McCain -- and only 20 percent in favor of Democrat Barack Obama. A slim majority, 52 percent, had no opinion or refused to respond.
The Philippines thus earned a distinction as one of a handful of countries ? the others include Georgia, Laos and Cambodia ? where McCain is more popular than Obama.
Compare that with the results in other Asia-Pacific nations where Obama is the preferred candidate by substantial margins: 66 percent to 15 percent in Japan; 64 percent to 14 percent in Australia; 50 percent to 24 percent in South Korea; and 21 percent to 11 percent in Singapore.
On a global scale, the Gallup Poll survey in 70 countries from May to September found Obama leading McCain 4 to 1. Which reinforces earlier polls showing Obama as more popular overseas than his rival, a perception made even clearer by the warm reception he received in Europe during his visit there last summer.
Still, it's worth drilling down on the Gallup Poll survey on the Philippines, which surprised even the study's authors.
?McCain's eight-percentage-point advantage over Obama in the Philippines bucks the trend observed in most countries, but it is difficult to discern why he garnered more support outside Manila,? the study said. ?Both men have ties to the Philippines that may trigger name recognition, but McCain possibly could be benefiting more from Filipinos' warm feelings toward the current Republican leadership of the United States -- unlike many other populations around the globe, most residents (66%) approve of U.S. leadership.?
Filipinos have ?warm feelings? toward the Bush Administration? Now, I had to read that a few times to let it sink in. But I still was puzzled why a substantial majority of Filipinos would approve of a US administration that is now being rejected by a stunning majority ? more than 80 percent ? of Americans?
On McCain's slight edge over Obama in the Philippines, media exposure appeared to be a critical factor, the report said. McCain beat Obama 2 to 1 in Luzon, not including Metro Manila, and Mindanao, and he had a slight lead in the Visayas. But in Metro Manila, where residents are exposed to more campaign coverage, Obama rules with 40 percent, against McCain's 30 percent.
Nearly half the respondents also said they expected the election to make a difference to the Philippines. Roughly a third, or 27 percent, said it wouldn't, while 24 percent said they didn't know or refused to answer.
?The Philippines and the United States share strong historical ties and maintain close bilateral relations, which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seeks to further expand,? the Gallup Poll report said. ?The United States has also traditionally been the Philippines' largest source of foreign investment and is one of its largest trade partners, so Filipinos have a vested interest in the next U.S. president's policy toward their country and their economic and diplomatic partners closer to home.?
In any case, these survey results will not likely play a significant role in an election campaign where the key issue is the rising anxiety of ordinary Americans about the US economy. Despite the growing expectation of an Obama victory, some polls still show a tight race, and it's such an unusual election year that anything can happen.
Still, the Gallup Poll findings on the Philippines were striking.
One of the first things that came to mind was: If the Philippines indeed had become the 51st state of the US, as some Filipino politicians once dreamed, McCain would be in a much stronger position in his fight with Obama. That's because each state is entitled to electoral votes based on population.
For example, California, with a population of roughly 36 million, has 55 electoral votes, all of which are expected to go to Obama. With a population of roughly 80 million, the Philippines would be entitled to more than 100 electoral votes. And with those votes in the bag, McCain could simply kick back and not bother campaigning in such battleground states as Florida and Ohio.
Then again, McCain may find campaigning in the Philippines a tough challenge. For one thing, there?s the potential confusion in campaigning in a would-be Red state where his slogan may not sit well with another political group routinely harassed and branded Red, communist Red.
McCain?s Philippine stump speech may go something like this: ?My friends, you all know that my record shows that I always put ?Country First.? Or as you say in this great state, ?Bayan muna.??
Copyright 2008 by Benjamin Pimentel
Bay Area journalist Benjamin Pimentel can be reached at www.bpimentel.blogspot.com