Monday, June 28, 2004

A strange Electoral Campaign in Venezuela

The early electoral strategy of each side, and a few numbers

Sunday 27, June 2004

Soon we will be half way in the time interval between the Recall Election on Chavez rule (August 15), and its announcement. Yet, the outside observer would be forgiven if she wondered about what kind of election we are running. Certainly this is going to be quite an atypical event, in particular in South America were strong leaders remain in office no matter, or are booted out unceremoniously. An atavism that resurfaces often, at least in the pro Chavez camp.

The pro Chavez camp

Once all the talk of "megafraud" was over, as begrudgingly Chavez admitted that there were indeed enough signatures, the first question for chavismo was to make people forget such a distasteful campaign and its ignominious failure, not to mention the lies. Thus Chavez launched the "campaña de Santa Ines" and a "Maisanta commando", digging into some mythological Venezuelan past to create an atmosphere of last battle and mobilize his troops the better. The idea of course was not to let his troops linger enough and wonder about one year of electoral tricks that failed.

Now the chavista verbal effort is littered with war terms, the organization includes "commandos" and "patrols". No quarters will be given to the opposition which is blithely associated with a plan from the US to invade Venezuela as soon as it can pull its troops out of Iraq. Or even earlier through Colombia. Amazingly some people are buying it.

But it makes sense at some level. Chavez, an incomplete soldier, yearns from the final battle that will eradicate his opposition. Democracy for him means that the other side waits until he is done with whatever it is he wants to do. More pragmatically, he knows that the numbers are not with him and he needs a rabble-rousing campaign if he is to have a chance at turning the tide. That strategy could indeed work out, or could backfire badly. But if it works out the opposition will be annulled for a few years, enough for him to set a system that could be broken with great difficulty. And foreign opinion will welcome him, and his oil, back as a democrat. That is, if he wins the referendum fair and square.

The anti Chavez camp

The Venezuelan opposition after having invested so much in the recall
election drive reached the desired goal a little bit tired. So far its campaign is not going full steam and that has started worrying a few analysts. But is this a matter of concern? After all the opposition does not have the financial back up that Chavez has, after he has grabbed 2 billion dollars to share around for vote buying. Its effort must be carefully targeted, with outmost efficiency as this is the last chance to remove Chavez in a peaceful way. Thus, before throwing the book at Chavez, a careful preparation is good strategy. Also, as a hodgepodge, the opposition needs time to assuage internal dissention until it can become fully efficient as it demonstrated in November and May when all was patched for the common goal.

In fact the opposition does not need to portray Chavez, we all know who he is. Its campaign must be centered in exposing Chavez voter buying actions, and in offering a more efficient and honest administration to replace Chavez. In this respect, the numbers do help the opposition. The opposition has the electoral capital, it only needs to make sure it is not dilapidated.

A speculation as to how is the Venezuelan electorate divided

Let's imagine a group of 100 Venezuelan electors whose behavior I will speculate about in the table below. From that table, it should become clear that the first priority of the opposition is to keep its voters motivated. It also should be clear that the uphill road is for Chavez, which explains in large part his early start (not forgetting that he loves to campaign and that is the only thing he seems to know how to do).

To understand the following table it is important to realize that signing up one's name with ID number is a very powerful act and it indicates a voter that is highly motivated. After all Chavez has now in his hand a list of all his declared opponents, and he has not been reluctant at using it. Considering all the pressures that people, or their relatives, have suffered in the public administration or elsewhere not to sign, or even to withdraw their signature, it is a safe bet to assume that a large chunk of the population did not sign for the Recall Election but will be very motivated to vote against Chavez. This is the big, big advantage of the opposition, no matter what polls say, as this kind of determination only plays for Chavez if these opponents stay home as it is very unlikely they will return to Chavez. The numbers (percentages) are rounded up to the highest or lowest digit as long as it favors Chavez.

Number of voters that will not vote no matter what, based on past patterns and even accounting for more motivated electorate than usual (recent abstention almost reached 50%). This is the chronic abstention. The other type of abstention is calculated at a 20% potential, as an ADDITIONAL abstention. This one is due to a possible lack of motivation of the likely voters as the campaign unfolds; but these voters are unlikely to switch sides.
Number of votes that the opposition needs to unseat Chavez (3.7 millions out of the current electoral roll)
Number of people whose signature was recognized, people that arguably will not change their mind until August 15 (2.4 million out of the current electoral roll)
Number of voters whose signature was not recognized but who did sign (actually that number is 1 or 2 point higher depending on the data versions)
Number of people that could not sign but who likely would go and vote against Chavez (1 for every 2 who signed, conservatively, 25/2)
Opposition potential, hard core voters
Votes that the opposition will get if there is no more than a 20% abstention within its ranks. (37 – 8).
Number of likely voters outside of traditional abstention and opposition core support (100 – 25 – 37; not 29 as opposition abstention would not go to Chavez)
Hard Core Chavez electoral support according to the average polls in the last year (my average, and I probably should put no more than 25). Even recent surveys, although closing the gap, show a 10% difference in favor of the opposition and I am only putting a 7% difference
Number of votes that constitute Chavez hard core supporters, if no more than 20% abstain (30 – 6)
Number of voters left to fight for (38 – 30). These are the ones that need to be convinced either way, the famous NiNi (Neither Nor), if they indeed exist
Number of voters that Chavez needs to have assuming that the opposition fails to gain any voter during its campaign (as much as 3.7 million and at least one more than what the opposition gets)
Numbers of votes that Chavez needs to add from this 8 NiNi to his hardcore base if the opposition does not manage to gain any (30 – 24)
Voters left, up for grab, where Chavez needs to gain at least as many as the opposition might gain (8 – 6). That is, Chavez needs at least 1 of these 2
What the opposition needs to gain to feel secure enough to beat Chavez no matter what (2 / 2). This would give the opposition 29 + 1 = 30
What Chavez needs to gain to feel secure enough to beat the opposition no matter what (6 + 1). This would give Chavez 24 + 7 = 31, ensuring his victory even if the opposition gets the 3.7 million votes.

Of course, this is only a scenario, even if it is a conservative one. Clearly all rests on whose side is more able to motivate its supporters, that is, what will be the final abstention figures, national or among supporters. However it should be clear that no matter what scenario one comes up with, Chavez needs to work more than the opposition. If that explains the early and combative start of his campaign it does not exempt the opposition to take its own campaign seriously. And it does.

From the numbers above the first objective of the opposition is to keep its voters motivated. The more of that 37% opposition potential goes to vote the more difficult it will be for Chavez to survive, even if he motivates his troops equally well. Unfortunately, for him he can only motivate them with more money, more social programs, just as the recently established "misiones" are showing their strain. Whomever he was going to tun into an unconditional supporter has been turned into one long ago.

As to the desired margin of victory, well, that is another story for a future post. It will depend on the respective campaigns and the legal tricks used by chavismo to "modify" the electoral results.

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