There has been that fake debate as to who really won the November 23 election. Chavez got more votes, but the big prizes were lost by him. You can go on and on with that (Chavez does, every cadena, reciting the list of town halls he won even if he did not). Or you can try to look for what makes Chavez so angry. One reason is quite easy to verify if you know where to look for: the opposition might be far from beating Chavez in urban popular districts, but it is growing.
Now, there must be a caveat with that observation: the popular districts where opposition vote grew in strength this time around are districts associated with more industrial and developed districts. Popular districts in more provincial cities do not show that shift, or at least not as clearly. To look at how true was the claim that the opposition is nibbling at Chavez strongholds I went to the biggest prize of them all, the Libertador district of Caracas.
Libertador is the biggest district of Caracas with roughly half of its population. As such it is the largest single municipal district of Venezuela. It is divided in parishes, the most famous ones of Venezuela perhaps as many of them have been the seat of major events, residence to famous artists or writers, and the scenery for interesting folksy events. But today as Caracas has become a huge constricted monstrosity, the parishes have long lost their charm and are simple areas where to pack folks. For the discussion required here I will divide the parishes in three kinds of districts.
There are the ones which are mostly made of “ranchos” (favellas, slums, shacks, etc…) and grouped together at the start of the table (ranked within each group from larger to smaller district). Such districts are not necessary only slums. For example Sucre has huge slums but it also includes the Catia district which is a lower middle class residential area established more than half a century ago. 23 Enero includes dozens of high rises but bad management and urban degradation has made some of these high rises barely better than glorified slums, joining in spirit the slums that grew around. We will call them R parishes, for “ranchos”.
As it is always the case in Venezuela, wealthy neighborhoods can be next to pauper districts. That reckless mix is one of the main characteristic of Venezuela urbanism. Even Altamira and Los Palos Grandes do not escape it. Thus the second group, parishes that are dominated by ranchos but that will have at least a very significant chunk occupied by middle class districts. Let’s say for the sake of the argument these lower middle to middle class districts can be between 40 and 60% of the population in these districts. We will call them RH parishes, Ranchos and Homes. This category is important for the discussion next because in such type of parishes you do have some mix of people living in the two worlds that you will not get in, say, Chacao. The hard core chavista voter in such parishes might be more influenced by non Chavez “values” than in an R parish.
Finally there is a third group of districts in Libertador where ranchos exist but are clearly in limited areas. However there is one very important thing to know about Libertador: there is no wealthy area of note. That is, upper middle class is limited to a very small area within San Bernardino. All the upper middle class of Caracas resides in Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo districts. This is the unique feature of Libertador: it goes from underclass to middle/middle class, and that one is limited to parts of San Bernardino, El Recreo and San Pedro with a ghetto of sorts in El Paraiso. The rest is from lower middle class to indigence. This third group of districts we will call them H parishes because the majority of people live actually in a real designed homes with basic services.
Luck has it that there is enough of these parishes in each group that we can look for meaningful trends. The table below tries to describe the current political situation. The first column gives the rank of each parish according to its total vote cast (political weight, not population necessarily). The second column is the parishes divided as explained above, top the R ones, middle the RH and bottom the H (red highlight those won by Jorge Rodriguez of chavismo). Three even groups, each one including major parishes by population. The third column is the total votes cast in each parish.
The first observation is that indeed R parishes went red as expected. So did the RH parishes though we cannot fail to observe that in these parishes the PSUV had trouble reaching the 50% mark. In the H parishes the opposition fares better. Note that Catedral is a strange red glitch. Very few people do actually live in this parish which is the seat of ministries and institutions. Apparently most of its voters actually reside elsewhere and might be public employees or misiones folks that register there provisionally.
Now I have looked only at the party votes for the PSUV and the three opposition vote getters: Primero Justicia, Un Nuevo Tiempo and Accion Democratica (AD of the pre Chavez era). Although there is a significant chunk of the rest of the oppo vote it is too dispersed to study here. Taken separately none of these opposition parties looks too good in front of the PSUV which has successfully sucked in almost any “left” vote. But that would be a little bit too simple. To begin with in only 5 of the 22 parishes does the PSUV gets more than 60% of the cast votes. In fact in 10 parishes it gets LESS than 50% of the votes cast, even if Rodriguez still wins in two of these. Geographically at least the PSUV advantage is not that overwhelming.
Next I decided to invent an index of opposition penetration. To make it more difficult I only added the votes of the two more recent parties, PJ and UNT, not AD. Then I looked for which parishes the PJ plus UNT total represented at least 30% of the PSUV vote. The reason is simple, if for three chavista you have one new opposition, in that district the opposition will have a basis upon which to build up. That does not mean of course that a parish like La Pastora with an index of 51% will vote opposition tomorrow, but it means that chavismo will have to start working at keeping districts where the index I made up reaches 30%. Some of these districts cannot be taken for granted anymore by chavismo. Only 5 parishes highlighted in pink have that penetration index below 30% and can be considered as pro Chavez safe for the foreseeable future. In all the other districts the opposition has of now a political base and thus we can say that indeed, the opposition has penetrated chavistas strongholds such as La Vega or Santa Rosalia. True, small amounts but real amounts and thus a new worry for Chavez.
Let’s note in this table that UNT ALONE is able to beat the PSUV in San Pedro. Note also that I marked in bold blue all parishes where PJ or UNT reached 12.5%, that is 1 voter in 8 which indicates also a creation of a political base for the political parties that reach that number. Note that UNT reaches that feat in La Vega and Santa Rosalia, two R parishes. Let’s also observe that in Macarao and Antimano which have perhaps the highest percentage of ranchos of Libertador the PSUV still barely make it 69% and 72% respectively. True, a good victory in absolute terms but a weak one as both district should be closer to 80% than 70%. Chavez does understand the meaning of that not so slight shift.
To go further in this study I simplified the above table by removing some districts, keeping only symbolic parishes in each category. In the next table I looked only at the difference between the 2004 and 2008 voices. In 2004 the opposition abstention after the post referendum trauma gives of course a very low result for Melo, its standard bearer. But Bernal running for reelection did have a poor result too: 192 K less votes than Rodriguez two Sundays ago. Stalin Gonzalez makes a very decent score and gains MORE votes than what Jorge Rodriguez gained from Bernal result. Not surprising perhaps but when you look at the consequences on the voter advantage you realize that these gains of Stalin are significant, the more so that I only included the vote of PJ; UNT and AD, to make things more challenging for the opposition to look good. If I include the other small parties that supported Stalin, the results would look even more favorable for the opposition. In red parishes where Rodriguez gained more over Bernal than Gonzalez over Melo. And in blue the reverse.
The last two columns of that table thus represent the advantage of the chavista vote in 2004 and the advantage today of the PSUV vote over AD/PJ/UNT. For example Sucre in 2004 had a 9,5 voter advantage for chavista voters. This advantage has now been cut down dramatically to 2,7. Good, very good even in a normal democracy, but still very worrisome for chavismo.
Finally, to see if really the opposition has made inroads, albeit weak in places, we need to look at the vote variation over recent years. Something by the way that few politicians discuss as all get out with egg on their face. I have kept the same parishes as the previous table since the question is whether opposition made inroads, not how many of those they did (I just have no time to look in details at so many districts). In the chosen parishes in 2004 the opposition wins only 1. In 2006, the apogee of Chavez, Rosales manages only two. But lo and behold! in 2007 seven of these parishes voted NO, as well as the whole of Libertador! This time around the opposition manages only 3 of these districts, still better than 2004 and 2006 (reminder: the opposition wins in 8, see first table above).
The story here of course is the clear evidence of a chavista vote who said NO in 2007 but who returned to the fold, in part, in 2008. But only in part, which is what bothers so much Chavez. Why can we say that? Chavez got a staggering 658 K in 2006. But in 2007 he lost an equally staggering 40%! We can say that this is a real loss and that many chavista voters crossed the line to vote NO because the NO vote is higher than the Rosales vote of 2006, by 11%. In 2008 Stalin fails to recover the Rosales vote (-4,6%) or the NO vote, which tells us that chavistas who voted NO did not vote opposition. But did they vote for Jorge Rodriguez? Maybe not: Rodriguez also fails to recover the Chavez vote of 2006 (-27%). Of these 180 K missing votes in the Chavez camp, how many are just plain local election abstention and how many are disgusted chavistas that actively stay home?
In the heartland of sorts of chavismo, in the slums to low middle class neighborhoods of downtown Caracas chavismo has won but the opposition progresses in significant ways. Also a large segment of the chavista vote is not reliable anymore for Chavez. Perhaps as much as 100.000 Caracas voters will think twice before voting for Chavez in any future election. They will likely vote NO for the next amendment. Or abstain, but not vote SI. The massive support that Chavez had in Caracas at one time does not exist anymore. We knew it when we saw how many buses were required to fill up chavista rallies. But when we look at the numbers in the table above we can see that the busing bill is not going to go down any time soon.
That is why Chavez is so angry. He knows how to read electoral results and he sees that his support remains strong but is weakening. But even worse than that, the Chavez support is becoming more conditional, high winded speeches are not enough anymore to drag chavistas to the polling station: real results are finally demanded by more and more chavista voters. It is these results, these trends that can also be found in other areas, that worry sick Chavez and demand he gets reelection faculties because without the possibility of reelection he will soon become a lame duck and become just a big ineffective scarecrow.