Will this be enough for Chavez to win next Sunday?
This blackberry picture is taken Avenida La Paz of San Felipe, around 10 AM Tuesday. In it you can see a PDVAL truck distributing selected food items at bargain prices. This scene repeats every morning, with people standing in line every morning to get whatever item the truck brought in that day. This has been going on now for weeks and the reason why I decided to take a picture is that they have added boldly the SI sign that until now was more discretely placed, since it is forbidden by the CNE. This picture encapsulates perfectly well what the Bolivarian revolution has become: a system to reward the faithful, to teach them to stand in line patiently, to express adequate support if they wish to keep receiving subsidized items, and without any institution to enforce the rule of law, or rather selective as to whom the law is applied. In short: a society of consenting beggars.
The question this time around is whether this crass populism will be enough to carry the day next Sunday? Because after ten years of such strategy we can start to wonder how long until people start getting tired of watching their leaders driving by in expensive SUV with SI written on their windows in washable white while they stand in line for food.
But how to evaluate this exhaustion? The polls during this latest campaign have been contradictory, and I am talking about the serious polls. There seems to be a slight edge in favor of the NO but this is dubious as no clear trend can be seen. The NO started high and fell on the harshness of Chavez campaign. But when this one started using violence against students, and blackmailing the country, the NO did not prevail again but the SI stopped growing. In other words this election has become the most emotional of our elections since 1998, as if it were possible to become more emotional than 2004 or 2005. Probably the fate of the election will be settled on Sunday as people reach the voting station, a cheap truism come true.
I have been trying to predict the result but after many complex and fascinating tables I realized that it was in fact quite simple. Thus I will divide my predictions in two sections: first the reasonable approach to it based on what I have been writing since the previous elections and then take a few wild guesses as to the emotional factors that may change my numbers.
The raw reasonable numbers.
The advantage this time around is that we have a very fresh result, the regional elections of November 2008, and a not so fresh result but a result very related to the actual vote, the December 2007 referendum result. I have added up what I consider the opposition vote and the chavista vote. I rounded them up and did not pay attention to the occasional mini candidate so my numbers might not quite match those found elsewhere. All numbers in thousand of thousand.
In 2007 the opposition got a clear 4505 (and probably more if the CNE had published the results, still not done). In 2008 there is a weak retreat to 4382. It is lower than what can be seen elsewhere because I did not include minor stuff. This is improved if we add a few minor candidates and also by the dissidence of chavismo, 362, one step away from opposition to Chavez. Chavismo did better going up from 4379 to 5570. As such we can have our starting point in the third column for 2009: Chavez has 5570, the opposition its vote share plus half of the dissidence for a total of 4563 since it is difficult that the bitterness of Chavez onslaught on the dissidence can be easily forgotten. I estimate 2 million abstention votes up for grab as those still “missing” from Chavez from 2006. The other abstention I consider chronic abstention which is unlikely to be much motivated this time around, thus I base my “potential vote” on 2006 presidential data.
That 1007 votes advantage for chavismo perhaps looks good but it is not. In previous discussion of the 2007 result I calculated that the abstention within the opposition was compensated by about 500 000 votes from chavismo that went NO in 2007. In November 2008 a lot of these folks either stayed home or went back to chavismo, but there is absolutely no guarantee for chavismo that they will not go again for the NO. On the other hand a more energized opposition who has been able to score a few successes since 2007 is less likely to suffer from abstention. Thus the first question is how much of these 2 million votes still missing can Chavez recover to compensate for what he is going to lose.
In one of the tables I did I calculated the states where Chavez had recovered the most versus the states where he recovered less of his 2006 votes. I also recall that I wrote that the result he got in November 2008 is a peak for him, considering the intensity of the campaign and how he involved himself into it. So yes, there might be some room to improve a little further but in some states where the recovery was lower. But even pairing it all up I still calculate that Chavez can only add 318 votes to what he got last November. His potential grand total, or maximum vote he can get Sunday will thus be 5570 + 318 = 5888. But to this you must remove a natural abstention of, say 200, and wonder about what would happen to the 500 that abandoned Chavez in 2007. Clearly, many of them might have got back for the regional election but many will vote again NO. Let’s estimate this total at 350 that will go to the opposition and 150 that will abstain. Thus I predict that chavismo SI will not go above 5888 - (200 + 500) = 5188.
The opposition starts with 4563 once we have speculated as to where the “chavismo” dissidence might go. It will not lose 500 this time around as it is more self confident and thinks that voting can actually achieve something. So let’s just assume a 150 abstention. And to this we can add the 350 that comes from chavismo that says NO. The total is thus 4563 – 150 + 350 = 4763. Thus my second prediction, the NO will get at least 4763 votes. The difference between the potential NO and SI is suddenly much less daunting. But chavismo wins by 400. But that I am not predicting.
The subjective factors.
As such if we use rational election follow up chavismo would win by 400. But will it? This election is marked by two factors: an emotional content beyond what we have ever seen and an opposition which has found again, for all its still permanent failures, a reason to fight. Besides with 3 new governors and the Caracas Mayor it gets more media exposure and spokespeople. To this you add an obscene campaign and unbearable pressure from chavismo and there is no telling how that rather meager 400 000 votes will in fact play. I for one think that watching how ungraceful chavismo was in its Miranda, Carabobob, Tachira and Caracas losses might provoke enough chavista to stay home, or even vote for the new governors and mayors as a way to force the government to listen to them and cooperate in solving problems. All polls reflect an exhaustion of the electorate of the constant fighting, pretty much a union factor among all political tendencies. Also the undue pressure on public workers will probably make many of them get their revenge at the ballot.
How all these very subjective factors play, it is rather difficult to measure. For once many serious pollsters are talking of a “hidden” voter, as they confess unable to really give reliable numbers. The atmosphere in the streets seems to go for the NO (not in Yaracuy where the political suicide of the opposition last November allow me my third prediction in that the SI will win here with 58% of the vote). Still the only campaign we see is the SI as it even appears at Globovision. But the NO campaign is there if anything by news of students arrested in Barinas, Tachira, and Carabobo.
I think that the Chavez campaign has been too much for the country and that it will backfire and that the opposition will get much more than the 4763, enough to overcome the NO but in yet another close result that will not settle anything. In the tables I tried to do to account for these speculations I came up with this result: a NO victory by less than 150 000.
I did calculate that almost two weeks ago, just three days before the Datanalisis poll that put the SI/NO on statistical error, meaning that the SI was winning by the narrowest of margins. I am sorry that I had not published my calculation then because Datanalisis would have agreed with me and I would have scored big. Oh well… However my numbers explain very well why the opposition message in the closing days of the campaign is for all to go and vote and stay to count the ballots. Clearly a 150 000 lead must be watched and nurtured as much as possible because it would be very easy for chavismo to cheat if given a chance.
But I do not want to sound pessimistic, I think that the opposition is going to do better than expected in all the states it won last November, and probably carry Barinas and Caracas/Libertador. As such the victory of the NO could be as high as by 400 000 votes which would represent a 4 to 6% respectable spread. But I am conservative in speculations and stick with my first call of 150 000, with more votes for each side than in 2007, as my final prediction.
In truth, of all predictions I gave in recent elections, this is the one I feel the least good about, meaning that anything can actually come out from next Sunday ballot. Clearly, if my predictions are proven wrong by the NO winning by 400 000 or more, I will not be upset. After all the dismal show of chavismo in Caracas today gives me hope that I might be dead wrong :)
As for what it will all mean, you will need to wait for my Saturday post.