Monday, October 24, 2005

Shifting polls in Venezuela: update on the general situation

For the last two years polls in Venezuela have been notoriously unsatisfying. If they all tend to put Chavez higher up, the reasons of it and the trends are all over the board. There might be several reasons for it. For example, since the Tascon list many might have decided to say that they are neutral or even support Chavez. After all confidentiality seems inexistent in Venezuela. Others simply see no possible change in the horizon and stick with Chavez for lack of option or primal conservatism.

However since the general outlook on Venezuela I wrote in July, a few things seem to have altered the board game. Oh, nothing totally dramatic, Chavez is still leading everywhere, but significant enough changes that a partial update of that post is a must. Thus I will discuss first how polls seem to be shifting lately and then how this is affecting the electoral strategy of chavismo, as seen in the latest battle over whether Las Morochas are valid or not.

New polling data shows Chavez losing support

An adequate subtitle would be: and nobody is gaining from it. This trend has been observed for the last two months. I will just look at the latest results published from one pollster that I respect, Keller and associates, and another from Seijas who I find more "commercial" (I ignored Datanalisis of last week because I think personally that Datanalisis polling is made with the intention of directing the discourse of the opposition with the agenda of the pollsters; I might be wrong but this is my blog and that data can be found in other blogs).

The Keller Poll

The first striking result is that the Electoral Board, CNE, is everyday more discredited. Even a large segment of Chavismo now thinks that the board should be replaced and that ballots should be counted, as the only way to bring back general trust in the Venezuelan electoral system. An open question that seems to allow to poll people with some accuracy was to ask chavistas and antichavistas alike "What would increase trust in the CNE". 51% of chavistas think that changing the CNE and opening the ballot boxes would help. Anti chavistas add up to 74% for the same question. It is quite clear what needs to be done to please the voter.

The other alarming prediction is that the abstention for the December legislative election points to an historical 80%!!! That is, neither chavistas nor anti chavista are planning to move their butt to go and vote. I am not too sure about the methodology there, but one thing is certain: when the umpire is so discredited, there is little incentive to go and vote and any poll with a reasonable methodology will reflect that. Period. It would seem that chavismo high handed methods to silence its internal minorities are starting to have their effect. Keller reports that an astounding 32% of chavistas distrust the electoral system. Note: Keller predicted a 68% abstention in last August vote, quite close from the result obtained.

The Instituto Venezolano de Analisis de Datos poll

This is also confirmed in the new Seijas poll who says that 60% of the people have no or little trust in the CNE! However, in what is know the norm in Venezuelan polling contradiction, the voter participation would be in the 50% range, nevertheless demonstrating that abstention crosses sprightly party lines.

But that poll is more interesting to read as it try to prey into the reasons why the support of Chavez is eroding. For example we can find the following things:
  • 33.4% want Chavez to end in 2006 and 17.2% to end in 2012. Only 40.7% want the now all but official 2021 deadline. Are people starting to think that enough of Chavez is enough?
  • 82.4% are in favor of private property of car and home (yes, the debate is that simplistic). But 43.4% are opposed to the land grabs made by the government lately. This is more already than the opposition "results" of last August.
  • But we do have a bourgeois country even if poor: 67.3% are for the private property of more than one house and more than one car, contradicting upfront Chavez unfortunate words on "why do we need cars?"
  • 55.2% of the polled folks state that they have received NO benefit from any of the Misiones. Which means that many have received little benefit. Hence the lowering of Chavez numbers?
The poll tries to go further into the ideological make up of the country. The results are interesting though rather contradictory among themselves:
  • 95.9% think it is good that "Venezuelans own property", which goes smack against Chavez declarations that to be rich is bad (while he himself lives in Oriental Satrapies Splendor)
  • A military regime is totally decried by 67.7% of the polled, just demonstrating a growing uneasiness with the amount of military that we see everywhere in the government. This should be perturbing for any democrat.
  • However more intriguing is that if 39.6% do not know where they stand in politics, 33.5% qualify themselves as on the right while only 17.7% see themselves on the left. Center left and center right respectively count 3.8% and 5.5%. It seems that indeed a minority of hard core chavismo in the 20% is trying to force the country into a mold it does not like. That it is succeeding for the time being is another story, what matters now is that if we were to base ourselves on the self defined people, the right should be in office. Uribe style?
The poll goes into a lot of other questions but these fall into the category of beauty pageant and I will pass except for one: if elections were held today Chavez would get 51.6%. A clear win still, but down more than ten points in barely 3 months!

The first consequences of these recent polls

The first impression that one gets is that maybe chavismo is now not in such a hurry to hold parliamentary elections in December. Indeed, realizing that the speeding up to the left of the "XXI Century Socialism" that started in earnest in August is already weakening the government. They suddenly realize that if victory is still a given in December, the so intensely desired 2/3 majority might now be out of reach. The aggravating factor was that the opposition, discredited and all, still managed to put its own Morochas and thus might be dampening the effect of this electoral fraud. I have described how the Morochas are a major flaw in the present Venezuelan system. Practically, if one side runs under two political parties created for convenience but in fact the same thing, instead of only one as the proportional system historically in place in Venezuela required, well, then their votes count twice for all practical purpose. Incidentally, I allow myself some patting on the back as to date you will not find as good an explanation on how the Morochas work in Venezuela as the one I posted in July(end of self congratulation).

Chavismo obviously bet that the opposition would not decide to cheat with Morochas the way chavismo did in October 2004 and August 2005. But they did. As the polls go down, and even worse, abstention seems to keep going up, worry settles in chavismo. Chavez has been craftily working hard at shoring up his international image. An election to have Venezuela become "XXI century socialist" where nobody voted would be a major set back for his international image at a time where he is shamelessly trying to become Castro's heir.

So the surprise this week came when apparently the Chavez appointed high court decided to evaluate whether the Morochas are legal or not. Some like Blyde of Primero Justicia (El Nacional interview today, no link) think it is only a masquerade. Others think that actually the government has decided to strike down the Morochas. Thus it would get a convenient excuse to postpone the elections and perhaps even unite them with the presidential elections where the parliament would ride on Chavez coattails. Constitutionally this seems difficult as these elections must be separated; however putting them close enough would allow for Chavez to combine both campaigns.

Thus it seems that suddenly new important factors have changed the application of what should have been originally a fool proof strategy had Chavez waited for his XXI century socialism for after the December 2005 elections.

The mish mash of political parties in Venezuela

Yet another factor might be playing in the background: the solidity of the political parties, even including the pro Chavez MVR. Yes, even the MVR who ranks well below Chavez in polls and owes its apparent strength only to Chavez (who regularly reminds the non entities that comprise the MVR leadership that they owe their job to Chavez).

El Universal publishes an Expediente where the basis is an older poll of August by Liderazgo y Vision. There is no point to go into the details except to observe that the opposition parties are in dire need of an aggiornamento, and that the MVR itself needs some more grounding. Just some of interest:
  • 38% would like the creation of a political party on the right. What has always lacked in Venezuela since 1958 and which has probably has caused many of the social democrats to evolve somewhat to the right in their conversion to populism.
  • 68% think that primaries should be the rule when selecting candidates for election.
  • Stupendously, 38.4% consider themselves to be right wing, 28% at the middle and only 11.8% on the left!
  • Even among those who professed to belong or sympathize with the MVR, 29.3% thought of themselves as being on the right! To the 35% on the left and the rest not taking a position.
When one looks at this last poll result, one wonder if the methods should be questioned or whether the Venezuelan voter has become that dysfunctional.

All in all, we suddenly find enough reasons for political parties to be weary of elections. This is going to be interesting to follow.

PS: this post can also be read as a supplement to Quico's post of Sunday.

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