Restarting the SWS surveys
By Mahar Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 23, 2020 at 5:06 am

There was no Social Weather Survey in the first quarter this year, for the very first time since 1992. Just as SWS was about to go to the field in mid-March, the office lockdown and public transportation shutdown began. It interrupted the 28-year-long stream of SWS quarterly surveys, all done on nationwide probability samples by the mode of face-to-face (F2F) interviews, which is the gold standard in survey research. Field workers normally go to 240 or more sample spots (barangays) across the country, in teams of two. The barangays are pre-selected at headquarters, by probability sampling; then dwellings, and respondents within the dwellings, are sampled in the field by systematic walking and listing techniques.

The market research industry has long had protocols for minimizing F2F health hazards, to both interviewers and respondents, by means of personal protective equipment and sanitizing techniques. The main impediment to standard F2F operations is not COVID-19 itself, but the present restraint on public transportation. Once the transport problem is solved—but no one can predict when—SWS will endeavor to resume its tried-and-true operations again.

Scientific surveying by mobile phone. In the meantime, SWS has just completed its first Social Weather Survey for 2020, by mobile phone mode (“SWS Mobile Phone Survey on COVID-19, May 4-10, 2020,”, 5/21/20). This is a non-commissioned survey, funded internally by SWS as a public service at this critical time. It focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but maintains prime well-being indicators such as Hunger, for linkage to historical SWS series.

For some time, SWS had been preparing for the contingency of surveying by mobile phone. Since 2017Q4, it has been compiling a database of mobile numbers of respondents, in regular quarterly surveys and ad hoc survey projects, who gave permission to survey them again in the future, by phone. This database grew to 31,661 numbers, corresponding to households in all 17 regions of the country.

From the database, SWS aimed to survey as many respondents as possible—sampling one working-age adult per household by the last-birthday method—during the period May 4-10, 2020. It succeeded in completing 4,010 interviews, consisting of 294 in the National Capital Region, 1,645 in Balance Luzon, 792 in Visayas, and 1,279 in Mindanao. Within each area, data were weighted by sex (50-50 males-females) and regional population. This gives sampling error margins of plus/minus 1.6 percent for the Philippines as a whole, and 5.7 percent for NCR, 2.4 percent for Balance Luzon, 3.4 percent for Visayas, and 2.7 percent for Mindanao.

Families suffering from hunger doubled from December 2019 to May 2020. The May 4-10, 2020 survey found that 16.7 percent of families nationwide (estimated 4.2 million families) suffered involuntary hunger at least once in the last three months. Hunger was Moderate (suffered only once or a few times) for 13.9 percent, and Severe (suffered often or always) for 2.8 percent. Every percentage point amounts to over 200,000 families.

The national Hunger rate doubled from the 8.8 percent of families hungry (estimated 2.1 million families) in the Social Weather Survey of December 2019. It is at its highest since the 22.0 percent hunger in September 2014.

The reason for the hunger is not a shortage of food, but the severe disruption of families’ earning capacity. The survey found almost all families receiving some assistance, but obviously the assistance was not enough to prevent the increase in hunger.

For more details, see: “SWS May 2020 COVID-19 Mobile Phone Survey: Hunger among families doubles to 16.7%,”, 5/21/20.

Contact [email protected]

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.