Sunday, June 19, 2005

Polls and where Chavez really is

Poll wars are of course a frequent occurrence, with whichever side is on the losing end trying to find excuses. Venezuela is certainly no exception. In 2002 and 2003 when polls gave Chavez a meager 30 to 40 % vote intention, his partisans dismissed them with all sorts of weird reasons. This ignorance of polls is in part responsible for the stubbornness of chavismo early 2002 with the results we all know. When polls improved for Chavez in mid 2004 then the opposition started to disregard them, obtaining the disaster it reached in August.

These days some polls give Chavez 70% and some of his supporters do actually believe he will reach 80 or more, perhaps 100%, a la Castro or Saddam. Far from me the desire to discuss such polls these days. I think that the situation is very delicate, that polling is rather difficult as many folks prefer to say what they are supposed to say to avoid trouble. After all, that is only one of the sequels of the Tascon list, fear to be marked as an opponent to Chavez and find yourself barred from many services that a citizen has the right to expect.

It does not help that the weakness of the opposition allied with a bevy of social programs from chavismo make a rather amorphous mass support a system which is giving them straight handouts while no other option is offered.

In other words, any serious opinion poll these days is a futile exercise. That does not stop Datanalisis to step in blithely. Its CEO, Luis Vicente Leon has been polling a lot since the referendum whereas his colleagues have been more circumspect, as far as I can tell. But I do have my personal misgivings with Datanalisis since last year. I have had some problems with its methodology as I read it on the newspapers, and I also find that its owner seems to have a hard time to hide his desire to follow a political career. Simply put, he is too often on TV. When pollsters lead politicians, or worse, become politicians, you know that nothing good can come of that.

Thus the research that appears today in El Universal is not the type of news that this blogger monitors. However, as I looked more at the data shown, I realized that this study was more interesting for what it did not say than for what it actually says. What I see is that the hard core of chavismo is the same today as it was 2 years ago. Well, maybe more, but certainly not as big as what a 70% approval would suggest. Note: unfortunately the numbers published in th erpint edition do not appear on the Link. Thus all the numbers reproted below are reproted as seen on the printed edition of El Universal today.

The first interesting result is that 60.4% see the country in a positive outlook situation. Soon a year after the recall election the figure is basically the same as that electoral result. The article states that this is only product of the misiones and a few shows such as the land seizures which have had apparently a lot of psychological impact though no discernible benefit. There will be no benefit for quite a while anyway, as it takes a while to plant and harvest but that has not stopped a few to applaud the naked land grab.

This 60.4%, by the way, comes to shore up my problems with Datanalisis. In two subsidiary questions, the economic outlook is seen as positive by 55.9% and the political situation positive by 53.5%. Huh? How can the global number be 60.4% positive while the two main index that comprise it are 5% below? But let's not get distracted as the good part comes next.

The first interesting part is that for all of Chavez propaganda efforts and Leon fancy interpretations, the people are quite clear which are the main problems of Venezuela. 68.4% are dissatisfied with the fight against corruption, 84.1% with the job creation and 87.6% with personal security. In other words, chavistas and anti chavistas coincide more than what Chavez might feel comfortable with!!!! The only two "good" areas where they coincide, though to a lesser degree, is with a 71.5% satisfaction with education (nobody discusses anymore Mision Robinson) and 63.1% on health (apparently Mision Barrio Adentro dos bring dividends).

These numbers gave me the idea that somewhere inside was the hard core of chavismo support. Indeed, how come that 26.5% of the people still think that Chavez is fighting corruption when corruption is experienced by anyone who must deal with public administration; or that 31.3% think that social security is doing great when all reports point out at how difficult it is to obtain that the government starts paying your retirement, or when people observe the 6 years delay in its promise to offer a new comprehensive system for unemployment and retirement.

More hints for what I was looking for came from a third part of the survey: the approval rating of people and institutions. In a stunning result, the approval rating of institutions held by chavismo varies from 20.6 to 30.2%!!!!!!!!!! That is, not even 1 in three Venezuelans trust the folks put into office by Chavez, not even the governors elected in the pseudo-landslide of October 31 2004: 28.6%. How can we explain that? In particular when Chavez himself is at 52.3% (a contradiction by the way with the 60.4% reported above). Curiously the media is at 59.1%, the commerce and private industry are at 55.3% and 48.3% respectively. And the most despised Catholic Church, in semi-permanent battle with chavismo, holds the highest approval ratings of all, 68.4%!

Thus the magic number: 32%. The same number that his blogger reported a year ago for the hard core Chavez support, the hardcore that would not be swayed by nothing from his love and devotion to El Surpremo (1). This is the big problem of Chavez lately. Half of what is supposedly supporting him (the difference with the 60 to 70% approval to that 32 % irreducible one) are voters that are literally bought by the handouts of the Misiones. Any slackening in the handouts and soon that 70% can shrink to very uncomfortable 50%, or lower. The Revolution is probably very far from being ingrained in a majority of Venezuelans as these are doing what they have done all through history, vote for whomever gives them free handouts. The numbers are clear, the majority support of Chavez does not blind folks to his two major failures: job stagnation and incredible personal insecurity with a crime wave that seems not to have an end in sight.

Well, perhaps that Datanalisis study is not very good, but at least it carries a great lesson for the opposition if it cares to look at it: the weakness of Chavez are clear to all except that 32%. Forget about them and go and build up a real counter campaign for those who still retain a healthy observation skill.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

1) In a rather long article with a table rather difficult to understand today, I did write that I estimated that Chavez core support, hard core that is, was 30%. Today's article reiterates my observation then as still valid today. Sorry, I could not help but pat myself :-)

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