The contours of the October vote are getting clearer as we advance in the campaign. Still, as it is always the case in any election, there is what one calls "battleground" or "key states" which are the ones to watch. I think that this time around the ones to watch are Anzoategui, Bolivar and Lara. Let's start with Anzoategui and Bolivar, in the Eastern part of the country, where I think that not only the election will be decided but also the margin of victory (1). I am not considering Miranda or Zulia which are a given for Capriles. If he loses there, there is no point about worrying how he does elsewhere. Also Aragua should remain Chavez while Carabobo will go opposition, each one with comparable margins thus cancelling each other. Hence my choices below.
All the graphs are designed from the same CNE, electoral board, data: presidential result of 2006, governor result of 2008 and legislative result of 2010, as the most motivating elections so as to have the lowest abstention number (which as you will see varies widely). When the opposition goes divided I add it all up (Lara and Bolivar 2008, Lara 2010).
Anzoategui seems to be a state that chavismo lost, and thus unlikely to recover in October, and certainly not with the dismal campaign of Chavez so far. The interesting thing there is that if the drop in chavismo votes in 2008 could be correlated with the large increase in abstention, that excuse does not hold for 2010. That year the abstention decreased somewhat but chavismo kept losing votes while the opposition gained enough of those to beat chavismo. That is, there is a real proof that there is a soft core chavismo vote that can be gained by the opposition. On the other hand, in a state as mistreated by the regime as Anzoategui has been, that it retains 280.000 votes is a testament on how hard core is the hard core chavismo vote. Let's say that I think Chavez will get these 280.000 suckers in October and that any opposition further increase will come from a decrease in abstention.
Our next stop is Bolivar, where chavismo seems losing ground more and more. But let's not anticipate and just look at the recent historical trend.
A priori we have the same story than in Anzoategui: a huge increase in abstention is translated in a huge drop in the pro Chavez vote. However, in 2010 the abstention decreased and the recovered votes seem to have been split evenly between the regime and its opposition. Again, it seems that there is a soft chavista vote which is migrating toward the opposition. The last two years give no reason for chavismo to hope for a better result than what it got in 2010. In fact, this time around, the opposition should win that state, even if by no more that 20-30.000 votes. You have to remember that Bolivar is heavy in trade unions and if those right now are against Chavez, a few grants are enough to turn them back to chavismo, at least in part, at least enough to avoid a further decrease in votes. Still, the basic damage has been done and Bolivar is not anymore a chavista vote reserve.
In Lara the situation is more complex because there we have a bona fide division of chavismo and if indeed a not insignificant part of chavismo is willing to follow break away Henri Falcon to the state house that does not mean they will abandon Chavez altogether in October. That is, in this historically rather leftist state, there is a chance that Chavez may retain the 2010 vote and even improve on it. This being said, the division there has irremediably compromised the status of Lara as a vote reservoir for chavismo: this one will be lucky if it ekes out a razor thin victory. Still, my bet is that Capriles will carry the state by at least 50.000, making this the biggest possible upset/loss of chavismo which should have never been threatened there. But political errors have a price and chavismo committed too many in Lara.
We can summarize the impact of these three states in the next slide.
In this slide I simply added the differential between chavismo and the non-chavez vote. These three states by themselves gave Chavez in 2006 an appreciable surplus of more than half a million votes, around 20% of Chavez 2006 margin. But if we were to extrapolate straight the 2010 result to next October, through 2006, an idiotic exercise but bear with me, the result would not be 7.3 to 4.3 but 6.6 to 4.9 (a shift of 700.000 votes). Add Miranda, Zulia, Caracas and Tachira to get a Capriles victory. Nueva Esparta, Merida and Falcon give you the icing of the cake. Monagas and Sucre make it a landslide.
But I digress. The point of these graphs is to bring home the notion that to win in October either Chavez or Capriles need to carry AT LEAST two of these three states. Why? Because they have a voting weight and because they are the most telling of electoral trends since they represent three different political situations that may converge nevertheless in Capriles favor. If Capriles leads/carries the three of them, even with narrow margins, then it will mean that he wins/won the election
1) When I covered the primaries of the opposition I wrote that the result would be played in the Eastern, Oriente, of Venezuela. The result did not illustrate it as well as I wanted because the alliance between Leopolodo Lopez and Capriles threw the election for Capriles and hid Lopez progress there. Still, Perez did not do well in Oriente, indirectly confirming that the margin of victory of Capriles was decided there (never mind that Voluntad Popular of LL did good in the area in other primaries).