Senator Manuel Villar or his closest rival, Senator Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III, would win the presidency if the elections were held last month, results of a survey conducted by Pulse Asia Inc. show.
Although finding himself in the midst of a political storm over the C-5 controversy, Villar, the standard-bearer of the Nacionalista Party (NP), managed to continue his surge in the ratings game.
In contrast, Aquino's ratings continued to go down in the Jan. 22-26 Pulse Asia survey on voter preferences for national positions.
With a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, Aquino and Villar were statistically tied about four months before the May 10 elections.
This was the first time since Aquino declared his presidential bid in September last year that Villar surmounted the former's commanding lead.
Compared with the December 2009 survey, support for Villar improved by 12 percentage points (from 23 per cent to 35 per cent), while support for Aquino declined by 8 percentage points (from 45 per cent to 37 per cent).
Asked about the decline in Aquino's numbers, Pulse Asia president Ronald D. Holmes said, ''Perhaps there were certain things that were not done, certain steps that were not taken which contributed to the erosion of support for Noynoy.''
The survey was not commissioned by an outside entity. Pulse Asia conducted it on its own.
Pulse Asia asked 1,800 representative adults the question: ''If the coming 2010 elections were held today, whom would you vote for as President of the Philippines?''
It made use of a ballot that conformed with the latest Commission on Elections- sample that was available before the survey was conducted.
Respondents were asked to indicate their preference on the ballot, which listed the names of the candidates for the national posts alphabetically.
In a press release, Ana Maria L. Tabunda, Pulse Asia chief research fellow, said Aquino and Villar enjoyed virtually the same voter preference in the survey.
The only other presidential candidate with a double-digit voters' preference was former president Joseph Estrada of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, who got 12 per cent.
Compared with the December 2009 survey, support for Estrada declined by 7 percentage points.
Voter preferences for the other presidential candidates did not register marked changes.
Former defence secretary Gilbert Teodoro got 5 per cent; Eddie Villanueva, 2 per cent; and senator Richard Gordon, 1 per cent.
Receiving less than a per cent were senator Jamby Madrigal (0.5 per cent), JC de los Reyes (0.3 per cent), Vetallano 'Dodong' Acosta (0.2 per cent), and Nicanor Perlas (0.05 per cent).
Six per cent of the respondents did not have a preferred presidential candidate at the time of the survey.
Tabunda said Aquino led among Class D (40 per cent) and among the elderly aged 65 years and over (42 per cent).
On the other hand, Villar enjoyed the lead in the 25-34 age group (42 per cent), she said.
''Voter preferences for the two leading candidates are essentially the same across the other socioeconomic classes and age groups,'' she said.