Monday, March 20, 2006

The Consultores 21 poll

I have stated often enough that since the Recall Election of 2004 I have lost trust in any polling company in Venezuela, with the exception of Keller and a couple of other ones such as Consultores 21, but still preferring Keller. Consultores 21 released about a week ago its latest poll and the political world seems abuzz with it. I did not want to discuss it, thinking that at this stage in the game a poll is useless, but I have received 3 copies of it in the mail (!) and several other mails with people asking my opinion. As if I knew anything… (1)

Since this is the first time that I have received a piece of news from so many different quarters I decided to take a second look at that poll and comment on it. But before I comment let me again restate why I do not trust polls, or, rather, why I do not think that they are relevant to the current situation.
1) Since the Recall Election and the Tascon/Maisanta lists, I would like to know how polling companies correct for people legitimately afraid of stating clearly what is it that they think. At the very least this should increase the polling error, probably more than the admitted 2.58% of this particular poll (not to mention that I am bothered by these two decimals: since when did polling got to be an exact science?).

2) After the recall Election there was a feel of “forever” with Chavez. That probably gave him a higher than normal post electoral boost. Not to mention being awash in oil money which generates the hope that Chavez will deliver, no matter how much his cronies are stealing. Subconsciously people bet on the perceived “winner” and for a country which roots for the Brazil selection at the world cup more than they did for the Baseball selection that lost last week, well, you know…

3) The total disarray of the opposition is certainly not something encouraging for the people to come out and look associated with that band of losers. A general lassitude probably gives an extra few points to chavismo as many do not even bother looking to the other side.
On all of this as I have written already that it can only be changed when the opposition presents at least one viable option. Or perhaps two or three, but at least something. Why the opposition is unable to do so is another story that I have already addressed and not worth coming back here. This being said, let’s move on to the parts of the poll that I found interesting and even revealing.

The general mood of the country

I will start with the last slide of the poll, the one that tries to evaluate where do people stand (note: click on some slides to get a bigger view).

No surprise here, this blogger gave Chavez ALWAYS a hard core support of at least 25-30%, even in the darker days of early 2003. The poll gives a 22% in the red circle. Somewhat more surprising, but still predictable, was the 33% of “conditional support” to Chavez. I would have expected this to be equal to the core support but I suppose that I see there the cumulative effect of two years of out of control populism. Perhaps the less than expected hard core comes from such items as his spending spree across the world?

No matter what, Chavez indeed starts his reelection bid in good posture, though the 10 million are definitely a pipe dream as a 55% of the electorate with 100% voting would give him 8 million at best. With a 40% abstention? He is down to 5 million at best!

But what is more interesting here is to see how the opposition has lost ground at the level of the hard core opposition. This one which I used to place at least at 30% (40% in 2004) has collapsed to 8.5%. All those people that used to march relentlessly have now shifted to conditional or to “mistrust both” of the grey circle. This is the price to be paid from not being able to claim fraud in August 2004, from not being able to recognize Chavez victory either, from playing Chavez game, etc, etc… I was tempted to look at the high Chavez numbers as weak, as not as high considering that he is occupying center stage alone, no one criticizing him as hard as he should be. But that grey circle is too big to allow me to say that: the opposition really has a problem that it needs to address fast.

Problems with polling

Now that we have seen the general mood of the country I would like to go on with a slide that particularly interested me as it shows the difficulty of making meaningful polls in Venezuela. In this slide the pollster looks at the reasons why people did not vote in December 2005. Apparently only 50.7% really agreed with the opposition withdrawing. Yet, if 43.9% disagreed, and 32.4% disagreed strongly, only 25% went to vote anyway. Huh? How can the pollster explain this contradiction? There is another slide where they asked people, whether they voted or not, who would have they voted for and 60% said for the chavista parties. Yet, again, let me stress out that only 15% of people did go and vote for a chavista candidate. There is also a surprising statement from Consultores 21: if there had been a massive participation chavismo would not hold a majority in the National Assembly. How can they write that with the numbers they show?

I am surprised that the pollster did not put an explanation as to these contradictory result. For the time being I will assume that it is simply a matter of voting problem in Venezuela (or a clerical error).

The problem of the opposition parties not hitting the streets

This slide illustrates quite well the results of not doing the leg work required by political parties to gain votes. In the prostrated state of post RR, only Primero Justicia has tried to do some proselytizing and it shows. Facing the official MVR awash in money and gifts, it still manages to get a 12.3% in the polls.

Still, I find this slide not very helpful. Un Nuevo Tiempo and Proyecto Venezuela are really regional parties and it is dangerous to put them in a general poll. Still, there is an item of interest and it is the collapse of AD which I have mentioned a lot in the past and still does not seem to gather the notice it should get. UNT is born from an AD division and together with AD they add to 10.6%. If anything this indicate to AD that the way to follow is to place its destiny in the hands of Manuel Rosales, Zulia’s governor.

The prospects of PJ, in spite of recent troubles, are still good. The three parties indicated by circles do share some basic origin and ideology and added together reach a respectable 18.2%, in spite of 1.5 years of difficulties and empty war chests.

Where is Chavez at?

In one of the most interesting slides for me (out of 50+ slides) there is this one where in blue we see the trend over the years of people that seek new leaders and in red of people that think that no leader outside of Chavez is necessary. It is amazing to notice that in the best of times the Chavez-for-ever wish never went above 40%. For recall I indicate the low popularity moment of July 2003, after the strike and the moment where the Misiones started doing an effect. It illustrates nicely that populism still pays in Venezuela. The recent little surge is probably due to the extra spending for the December election, but also from the more glaring than ever problems within the opposition. It will be interesting to see how the blue line of people wising for someone else than Chavez moves as the campaign starts in earnest by July. As to the democratic implication of 40% of people that see no need for other leaders? Keep reading.

So, if Chavez is the leader, what are the qualities sought in a Venezuelan president?

Inevitably the candidate names are what people are interested in, even if we do still wonder about the worthiness of campaigning and voting. Consultores 21 obliged by asking and giving us the useless slide above. Why do I call it useless? Because by December 2005 the candidates with a purple cross had all but declared officially that they would be out of the race. The ones with a purple circle are probably going to bail out anytime soon. This leaves an appreciable 45% open to be shared between the already running (red crosses) and the ones likely to run (red circles). That 45% makes this slide useless as even William Ojeda could pick up enough to appear suddenly with 5%! Still, there are two tidbits of useful information. The 6 months of crisscrossing the country have paid off for Borges who gets 30% of opposition preferences. The role of Rosales in December has positioned him quite well with almost 18%, as predicted here. Though of course it remains to be see how much of that 18% is outside Zulia.

The other slide of interest is what people want the next president to deal with, to be like, in case it is not Chavez. I have marked with color coded crosses which are the issues according to what is perceived politically. In green, what could be said are center right issues (opposition?). In red what would be center left issues (chavismo?) And in aqua what could work for both sides. I have added the totals and displayed them. As a form of wishful thinking it is fair to say that the country is evenly split as far as the main concerns of the Venezuelan elector. However, wishing to get a real job, no matter what the fudged governmental statistics say, is an indicator that it could favor a center right option which is usually more credible on such promises.

Yet, there is a very perturbing element which I resisted putting down as black swastika. 8.8% of voters want someone like Chavez, someone who would be tough on people that surround him, someone who would like to see the opposition disappear. This I did not like at all. Are we seeing the birth of an out of control fringe? Not to mention that this can only vote for Chavez and will expect payback! This has to be linked with the 30 to 40% that sees no need for a different leader than Chavez. Are we discovering that 40% of Venezuelan are of an authoritarian nature? Now, this is a scary result.

Will we vote?

This study is all fine and dandy but will people vote in December 2006? Too early to tell but the slide below does make us wonder. This question looked into the opinion of people as to automatic voting or not (meaning electronic voting). 47% do want to vote electronically but 50% are dead set against it. No surprise there. The interesting data comes from the split results and I have surrounded with purple the two worthy of note. The red columns indicate those who wish to retain electronic voting, and the blue those who want to do away with it. It is remarkable that even within the group that trusts (confia) Chavez, 25% want to vote manually! Even graver for the future of democracy in Venezuela is that only 10% of those who side with the opposition still like electronic voting. This is a major problem that the CNE must face if it wants people to find their way back to the ballot box, no matter what chavismo and international observers say. The distrust in the voting system, justified or not, is too big, even if trust reaches 47% on electronic voting. It should be 90% of people trusting, be it electronic or manual !!!!!!!!!!!

The poll really does not bring much new information to the readers of this blog. They all knew that Chavez was ahead, that nobody wanted to vote, that the opposition is a mess. It is nice, in an odd way, to see it confirmed.

However the poll indicates also something which I have written: Chavez can be defeated, even this year. With no one in front, with all the money he is getting to spend as he pleases, he still dropped from 70 to 50% in a few months. The problem is that this drop is not improving the opposition chances. Simply put, the longer people wait to hit the streets, the longer the organization for an electoral campaign lasts, the easier it will be for Chavez to breeze back into office. But more on that in a later post.

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1) Quico seems to be more into polls than I am and already he had published something. I found about it when this post was written and I was finishing the "art work". I did not read Quico opinions on the Consultores21 poll before I posted my own. Not that it would have mattered much, I am probably disagreeing with him :-) But that is good for the readers.

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