Sunday, December 23, 2007

The 2007 result: the surprising abstention

Can the CNE results be trusted?

This is not an idle question. If the CNE announced that Chavez lost, then by all means he lost!!!! But was that the margin of victory?

This question is rather easy to answer. First, nobody has come out yet with any evidence that the numbers are really that far off from what the CNE said. I mean, by the time all is in it is possible that the difference widens to somewhat more than 2%. But that is all. After all, polls announced that the SI victory would be very narrow, that the NO victory would be narrow and getting wider as abstention decreased. Abstention having increased from December 2006, it is not surprising that the NO victory was narrow, even predictable.

No, the real question here is the abstention. The number not only is double than the one in 2006 (not really surprising for a ballot where Chavez was not directly at stake) but the CNE reports two numbers!!! As if one could go to a voting station where only someone could vote on one question, not the two ones. I mean, the number of valid votes could be different, but the number of abstention should be the same: people did go or did not go to vote.

I think it all comes from the very sloppy way the CNE works, and probably a deliberate sloppiness. So, to cut short to any wild speculation I will give now my very own conspiracy theory.

The problem, the possible cheating part of the CNE, is the electoral rolls. Those seem to be very inflated and could have been created to allow some ballot box packing. But this would be possible only IF the opposition does not bother counting ballots or is not allowed to count all ballots. This probably worked quite well for chavismo in 2004, both the referendum and the local elections for Carabobo and Miranda. It might have even worked some in 2006 to improve the margin of victory. But this time even though all centers were not duly monitored by the opposition, enough of them were, courtesy of the student participation, and that blocked any possible electoral fraud scheme.

The lesson is very simple for the opposition: it needs to mount enough of a machinery that at least 50% of electoral centers are duly monitored at all times by opposition legal observers/witness.

The regular chavista abstention

The next observation is that chavismo is missing its votes very regularly across the country.

Chavez lost 34% of its vote count from last December in the Andes region but lost 45.7% in the Guayana region. The spread does not even reach 12%, easily accounted for some regional variations, and up to a point to the local strength of PODEMOS, former unconditional supporters of Chavez.

Clearly Chavez has lost 1 voter in three and this is a lot in any standard, and even more so as he tried to turn the vote into a plebiscite on his persona. We can easily extrapolate that a third at least of the chavista electorate is a NiNi electorate, only in for Chavez as long the advantage it receives compensate any disadvantage. Here, clearly, for whatever reason, the advantage were far from compensating the probable annoyance. The reasons? Tired of crime? Not enough milk on the shelves? They actually read the reform and did not like it? They are tired of voting?

No matter what, we find again that magic number of chavista voters who will always vote for Chavez, a number always established at around 30% in this blog. Yet… A significant chunk of chavista voter Sunday 2 was voting under coercion. Too many were afraid that a Chavez loss would mean losing their job, or their relatives jobs/"becas". Too many were not sure whether the secret vote still exists in Venezuela (Tascon list exerts its ravages as much within chavismo as within the opposition). So, what is the real hard core chavismo today? Probably less than 25%. Sunday 2 it was around 27%. On December 2005 it was as low as 20%. The ones forced to vote for Chavez might be as much as 5%, hence my 25% top.

The lesson for the opposition? There is 20-25% of the country that will never be convinced by any message this one can put up, unless there is a general collapse in the image of Chavez who would push these voters into abstention or another messianic leader, certainly not to vote for any democratic opposition leader. The good thing in it is that it should simplify some the opposition discourse. This one should only bother targeting the now floating 20% of the Venezuelan electorate. As usual, electoral victories are won in the center, no matter how relative that center might be.

The very irregular opposition abstention

The abstention in the opposition existed. The debate between voting and not voting exerts too much of a strain and must be resolved. That organization allows for surprising electoral victory should be the best argument now to bring back to the fold the chronic abstainers.

The table above shows that in two areas the opposition got less votes than what its unified candidate of 2006, Manuel Rosales, made. This includes Zulia, the home state of Rosales where he is down by 8.5% (at least by current CNE numbers as of this typing). This is quite paradoxical. But there are some explanations available.

First, as mentioned above, the constant argumentation by some opposition sectors that the CNE is always cheating and that we should never vote has a toll to be paid. You cannot make hundred of thousand of people not vote for 2 or 3 elections in a row and suddenly make them go back to the ballot box in barely two weeks. That is exactly what happened in the last two weeks of the referendum, campaign when finally some die hard abstention promoters suddenly turned their jacket. Too late for many voters. I do not think that this was the case in Zulia, where Rosales always preached the ballot option, but it certainly was the case in other areas.

Second, at least in the case of Zulia, there were not enough chavista NO supporters available to compensate the abstention of the opposition vote. For example if we look at the 2006 result we see that in Zulia PODEMOS represented only 4.16% of the vote. And it is fair to assume that at most half of PODEMOS voters deserted Chavez enough to go and cast a NO vote.

This can be sen more clearly in an "extreme" example such as Sucre where in 2006 PODEMOS brought Chavez 28% of the 74% he got, that is more than 1 in 3 votes. Yet this time Chavez barely won with 51% of the vote in Sucre state. What is more telling is to look at the actual numbers. In 2007 Chavez gets 125 K votes, quite down from the 268 K of 2006!!!! The opposition got 95 K in 2006 and the NO got 120 K. Clearly it is safe to bet that the 1o1 K that PODEMOS had in 2006 became at least 20K NO and the rest split between abstention and SI. The PODEMOS "effect" was strong enough to make Sucre account for half of the vote increase of the opposition in that area ("oriente" in table above), in spite of a good show for the SI in Monagas. But there PODEMOS was barely 2% in 2006 and the opposition improves only by 10K even though Monagas has about as many voters as Sucre.

Where did the voters go?

We shall look more at the regional voting patterns of the next post, but right now it would be good to examine where the NO votes went and how abstention played a role.

First, based on Zulia and the Andes where PODEMOS is weak and where the opposition did not get back its 2006 count, we can say that at the very least 10% of the opposition voters did not go and vote. Since exit polls are woefully deficient in Venezuela and/or not published anyway, we do not know at this time if it is true or if it is higher that 10%. Considering that so many chavistas publicly declared that they would vote NO I think it is fair to assume that up to 15% of the opposition in 2006 did not vote on December 2 2007 and that the over all improved results are due to significant chavismo cross over.

In numbers that would be that the 4.292 K of Rosales in 2006 went down conservatively 10%, by 430 K, to 3.870 K. Thus the difference with the referendum result over two weeks ago of 4.504 K comes form 4504-3870 = 630 K pro Chavez voters who this time voted against their man wishes. For some it might not be that much but I think that it was a huge cross over considering the political situation at the moment. These 600 K voters cannot ever be taken for granted by Chavez again, and cannot be brought back to the fold with money. They have become the moral and democratic caution of chavismo and the more hysterical chavismo becomes since December 2, the more likely these folks are to become the nucleus of a new opposition movement in Venezuela that could be very effective in gaining ground among those who abstained within chavismo.

Thus we can review the numbers of chavismo. Chavez has claimed that 3 million votes were missing. This is not quite true. If we assume that all that the CNE says is to be trusted, not a small IF, Chavez went down from 7.309 K in 2006 to 4.379 K early this month. But of these 3 million as much as 500 K belong to the opposition natural loss/abstention. The 3 million in fact are 2.5 and split 600 K to the NO and 1.9 actual abstention. How much of that 1.9 million is actual "normal" abstention or a deliberate staying at home rather than go and vote NO is not known. Of course, chavismo is not prepared to say that at the very least half a million "chavistas" went over tot he NO and prefers to present it as 3 million "lost" to abstention votes.

I have tried to show a visual help for these calculations and extrapolations, in the three ring figure below.

The outer ring is simply for reference, the 51% NO victory, in blue. Chavismo is red. The inner rings are those that try to give an image of the electorate major shift.

The middle ring is the percentile share of the presidential election of 2006. This one includes for chavismo PODEMOS, MVR and other minor parties, for a total of 63%. In blue, Rosales for the opposition with 37%.

The inner ring gives that same 37%, coincidentally with the 37% of Rosales which yielded the final 51%. Except that this 37% has at least a 5% borrowed from chavismo. I put it near PODEMOS in the chart as the more likely source, but I expect no more than half of that 5% coming from PODEMOS.

The inner ring shows the precipitous decline of chavismo due to a phenomenal abstention (35% in the inner ring compared to 67% in 2006, middle ring). I have put side by side with different tones of yellow the abstention coming from opposition and from chavismo. Their combined number is the CNE declared abstention, I just tried to make an educated guess on their respective distribution.

But that inner ring also clearly shows that the opposition won the NO more by chavismo desertions than its ability to convince it to vote NO. That it convinced many to stay home is certainly very good, but not enough to unseat Chavez any time soon.

The consequences of this result will be examined in a future post where I will include regional variations in vote.

-The end-

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