TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Sudirman Said and his running mate Ida Fauziyah, candidates for Central Java governor and deputy governor, were one example. Prior to election day, most survey agencies predicted that the pairing would get no more than 20 percent of the votes. Quick count, however, suggests that they managed to receive 40 percent-only 17 percent behind Ganjar Pranowo and his running mate Taj Yasin.
Another example is the quick count result for the Sudrajat-Ahmad Syaikhu ticket in West Java. Their electability or popularity was estimated at less than 11 percent by most survey agencies. But the candidate pair, endorsed by Gerindra and the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), pooled in more than three times the prediction.
There are several analyses that can be used to explain this phenomenon. The first is the possibility that survey agencies failed to capture voters' aspirations. Respondents managed to "fool" these agencies by giving answers that did not represent their sentiments. This explanation makes sense, as in some areas, the number of undecided voters were relatively small. Most voters even said they were certain about who they would vote for. In other words, quick counts should have reflected candidates' electabilities.
Another possible reason is that underdogs had given a last-minute push with or without the help of parties. In West Java and North Sumatra for example, Muslim clerics joined the campaign to support Sudrajat-Syaikhu and Edy Rahmayadi-Musa Rajekshah. This was touted to be the contributing factor to the candidates' surge in popularity. The result of exit poll interviews, performed moments after voters left voting booths by the survey agency Indikator Politik Indonesia in West Java, revealed that voters elected Sudrajat-Syaikhu because they were regarded as men who would "fight for their religion."Quickcount shows that the pair managed to win the hearts of voters, especially those who had not yet made up their minds. Clearly, religion remains a decisive factor.
In Central Java, the Sudirman Said-Ida Fauziyah campaign team's last-minute work helped propel their champion's popularity. Fighting inside the ruling party, The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)'s voters base, Sudirman and Ida managed to steal votes in the regencies of Brebes, Kebumen, Tegal, and Purbalingga Regencies. The PDI-P which supported Ganjar Pranowo-Taj Yasin-admitted to being caught unawares, after realizing it too late.
Other than in West and Central Java, the underdog phenomenon also occurred in North Sumatra, East Kalimantan, Lampung, and South Sumatra.
In the case of West Java and Central Java, this success is attributable to Gerindra and the PKS. Using the issue of religion, the PKS managed to help Sudrajat win votes in West Java. In Central Java, Sudirman also got a boost from the National Awakening Party (PKB), where his running mate Ida Fauziyah is from.
Both the PKS and Gerindra are supporters of Prabowo Subianto in the 2014 presidential elections. This should raise alarms for incumbent Joko Widodo and the PDI-P to gear up for the 2019 presidential election.
The result of this year's regional head elections-held in 17 provinces, 115 regencies and 39 cities-is proof that popularity does not guarantee a win. Incumbents, whether they are presidents, regents, or mayors should not rely too much on surveys. Government heads, as they should, must focus on plans to prosper the people.
Of course, there is no harm in observing survey results to have some idea of what the public wants. But we should keep in mind that a populist attitude is not always good for everyone. Popularity rises and falls all the time, and leaders should not so easily let survey results determine their policies.
Polls should be addressed wisely. A leader must not decide on a policy solely for the sake of winning votes. President Jokowi, for example, who is often perceived as someone who is unpopular among Muslims, should not create policies just to win their sympathy.
At the end of the day, a leader's quality is judged from the result of his or her long-term performance-something that is not always reflected in popularity surveys.
Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine