Every election since I have started this blog I have dared to publish an electoral prediction. I have been usually proven wrong, but not that much. After all if I made a mistake on the margin through some last minute wishful thinking, I still gave Chavez winning by 5% last December. However one thing that I got pretty good has been the general regional trend, with rather good predictions on where Chavez is stronger or weaker, even as he won everywhere. Remember, I am the blog of the provinces, not of Caracas.
So heck, even if this is the worst possible type of election to hazard a prediction I figure out that I had not much more to lose but much fun to gain. Because it is indeed a lot of fun to play with numbers. So there is the methodology I used.
First I did not pay much attention to polls except for the clear indication that the NO option has been steadily growing. That means, my predictions will be two: Chavez best possible result and a scenario where the NO actually wins but by a narrow, if clear margin.
Second I started from the result of 2006, ignoring changes in registered electors. For starters I have assumed that there will be a 7 % systematic abstention considering that it is not a presidential election. I should have use a higher figure, probably closer to 15-20% but since abstention this time is more likely to punish chavismo I decided to be moderate and only put a 7%.
Third I decided to be modest about local effects. Thus I divided the country in regions, too busy this time to do a state by state study as I have done in the past. Only in some regions I decided to penalize chavismo enough to create a possible scenario where the NO could win.
Fourth, I have assumed that the opposition will be mobilized enough and should get back its 2006 number. Yes, many oppo will abstain but many chavistas will vote NO so it is not such a wild guess. After all too many people are pissed up at the lack of milk and they are willing to cast a punishment vote since Chavez will stay for another 5 years in office.
Fifth, I have put the final result not in final actual result but on what share of the country they do represent. That is, if you want a referendum of the harshness proposed to succeed you need at least 40% of the country behind you. that this 40% represents 405 votes or 90% is irrelevant, you need 40% of the country. At least in my most humble opinion.
Of course, all of this assumes that votes will actually be counted, that the opposition and the students will be able to put electoral witnesses everywhere, that the CNE will not cheat, etc, etc....
The first graph is just a summary of the December 2006 result. Note, I have rounded things up and focused only on Chavez and Rosales. On the right side column, in purple I assumed what would be the votes actually cast next Sunday, and added a first set of regional corrections. For example I have increased even more the abstention rate of the Andes or Caracas or the Llanos but left at a modest 7% the Industrial center (contrast "expected votes" with "my corrections").
In 2006 Chavez was reelected with 46% of the possible voters which gave his election a mandate quality. But it seems that he has gone too far and the mandate seems to have cracked quite a lot.
Thus we go to the first scenario: the one I think is the maximum that Chavez could get in the present circumstances, assuming that polls messed up big time again. Still possible as Venezuela becomes increasingly more difficult to poll. Basically you get the opposition vote as before and thus abstention penalizes more chavismo than opposition. People do not want to vote against Chavez and thus they stay home.
There is thus a general increase but no dramatic, of the opposition vote. Only "oriente" and "industrial" increase more than the others because of the defection of PODEMOS which holds the state houses of Sucre and Aragua. In Zulia the Rosales vote is maintained but there is sharp drop of chavismo due to the strong regional feeling of the area that is not looking favorably to more control from Caracas.
The final result is a meager SI victory with 2 million less votes than in 2006. With 34% of the country only backing his project and 30% strongly mobilized against it, and the likelihood that abstention will tend to decant towards the opposition as the implementation of the new rules is felt by the people, the prediction is for increased difficulty in ruling the country. The outcome will be repression or general chaos, or both.
And thus we get to the scenario of a possible NO victory. It is quite simply an exaggeration of the preceding scenario. you will observe that I did not increase much the NO vote, just in the "Industrial" and "Zulia" regions. Why? Because they are the regions where there is real jobs, where people want money, not 6 hours week, where decentralization has had the most positive effects. In particular for the strong regional feeling of Zulia.
What makes the difference in this scenario with the above one is the chavista defection by an increased abstention, a melt down of sorts. The column titled "missing votes" is my prediction of the chavistas that just cannot bring themselves to vote NO for their love of Chavez. It is not that much, but with an extra 535 abstention and an additional few votes for the NO side, this one wins by 200 000 thousand. small but already difficult enough for the CNE to fudge if the opposition manages to assist to 50% of the voting center at counting and auditing time.
I think this scenario is what is reflected now in current polls, a narrow NO win. I think it is a fair bet to say that any reduction of the abstention of the one I assumed here can benefit 2 to 1 the NO vote. The NO can win, polls and mood are for it, you can sense it even with the chavistas one might know: they are going to vote SI but without any enthusiasm and might even switch to NO next Sunday. The excesses of the campaign are probably now counterproductive and if the students fill up the Bolivar on Thursday and Chavez fails to do so on Friday, all bets are open. In fact the students have dared to challenge, to fill it up WITHOUT buses from outside!!! Any bus filmed on Friday for the SI campaign closing will be bad propaganda for chavismo.
As to what happens if the NO wins? Nobody knows. Will the government gracefully accept that its project has run its course and that now it is time to tone down and start managing the country? Will they do fraud? Can Chavez govern for the next five years? What will happen with the National Assembly whose constitutional project has been rejected by the country? How can it keep pretending it represents the whole country after such a rejection of the 36 articles they included without discussion? Clearly, even though Chavez still will have 5 years ahead it will require great skills and diplomacy to manage them. I am afraid he does not have them and we are headed with more trouble. As I wrote a few days ago, it does not matter what the result is, nobody is the winner.
And the last question which I still ask myself: will they cancel the election before next Sunday if polls do not improve?
PS: a small note. In my NO victory scenario, the NO wins 51 to 49%. The latest Datanalis poll, who predicted 53 to 26 in favor of Chavez last December is now calling for a 50 to 40 in favor of the NO. Quite sobering! So, when the results come, I hope that my very modest spread is taken into account by some over critical readers. My gut feeling prediction? The NO will win by a spread of at least 5% and the government will not be able to refuse its acknowledgment. Then, all bets are open.
PS2: The Hinterlaces poll is not as assertive as to a possible NO victory. It conditions it to electoral participation. I suppose at this point I need to resort to Pascal gamble on the existence of God to convince people to go and vote: even if you do not believe in the CNE, if by luck you were to vote and the NO passes you will have a wonderful reward, a much, much bigger reward than staying home and not voting.