Saturday, August 21, 2010

The 2010 election predictions: general terms

I have been dragging forever but at barely one month from voting day it is time to dust my files, gather the new information and settle to work out my predictions for next month National Assembly elections.  Thus this first post limited to general consideration of the situation and the parameters I will use to predict the results.  I do not know whether I will be able to be done by September 26 (the more so that Chavez is edgy and makes me write a lot on some other stuff ) but I will try to cover as much as possible.  For more detail on what comes below you can refer to many earlier posts under the tag "2010 elections" which specifically cover some of the issues mentioned.

General electoral conditions


It is in disarray considering the huge scandals that lately expose its misrule, from the rotten food, to the awful violence, to the failure to set the agenda as ploy after ploy  to distract the public attention fails (does anyone remember Chavez Abarca, the singing terrorist?).  Yet, even if short of cash it still has enough to buy votes in key districts and try to salvage a tiny majority at the National Assembly which is, as I type, what it can hope the best.  But in four weeks a lot can change, chavismo can sink further or recover somewhat.  Polls for once seem to agree on that downward spiral for chavismo but the electoral system in place might still be able to do the trick for chavismo: lose the popular vote and yet retain a majority at the national assembly.

One thing that it is important to keep in mind is the dogged determination of Chavez and his close circle: they know that if they lose power, even a small slice of power, the situation risks a prompt unraveling and a whole bunch of them will end up in jail or in exile.  We thus have in front of us a formidable enemy that will not hesitate in cheating, and as much as necessary, just as this week censorship of El Nacional and Tal Cual confirmed.  What chavismo will do if it loses the election anyway is another story and should be treated elsewhere: here, our horizon is September 26, 4 PM.  That is, if we make it.

The opposition

It has not been as bad as expected but it has not been as good as it should have been.  Unity came late, the message is not clear and does not come out loud.  It is timorous and confronts Chavez gingerly.  But it got a major boost from Chavez himself who seems to direct the chavista campaign as well as the opposition one, albeit very unwillingly in that last case.  The opposition is benefiting of a chavismo slow cooking implosion and, as I predicted, the inability for Chavez to revive the economy even a little bit.  The second quarter showed a real GDP drop of a further 2-3% according to specialists and it is to be doubted that any putative third quarter recovery will be enough to buck the trend and make people feel better and more confident.

Still, the opposition has two things going for it: the unity even though imperfect shows signs of holding and of having a positive effect on the electorate.  And if the opposition alliance is rather wimpy in confronting Chavez it has enough free agents that do so.

The electoral system

Of course, not only it is stacked against the opposition, but it still manages to make things worse by refusing to monitor the excesses of the government, lamely suggesting this week that Chavez stops his Alo Presidente but not his cadenas, his main tool of free propaganda.  All calculations, from mine to specialists, indicate that the opposition needs to win by a spread of at least 4% to have a chance at breaking even at the National Assembly.  This is courtesy mainly of 1) gerrymandering, 2) voter distribution and 3) glaring inequalities between districts since many where are districts with less electoral population.

My prediction method

There will be no district by district polling except for a few key ones, thus there will not be any reliable poll to predict the outcome, at best significant trends.  No one in the opposition can afford polls besides those needed to figure out the mood of the electorate on issues and those polls have been done long ago..  Nor they could be any reliable poll in my opinion.  Already pollsters face a lot of problems in doing fair polling since there is clear evidence that a lot of people are reluctant to speak their mind.  For example there was a recent poll in Miranda state where large majorities of people found the Chavez administration faulty on the major issues and yet when asked for who they would vote chavismo still managed to hold its own. 

The second big problem for polls is that contrary to what happens in normal democratic countries, there is a huge, HUGE, difference within districts and thus we cannot use a standardized method to predict, such as swingometers, polls, Internet, etc...  Maybe if we were still at state level, or even mayor office, we could have some general approach but there is more difference between the district that includes Dabajuro in Falcon and the one that includes El Hatillo in Miranda than, say, a North Texas district and a New England one, or a Devonshire one and a Scottish one, or one between Paris and the department of Lozere.  That is, people in Venezuela react very differently to a legislative campaign depending where they live because, let's face it, this is really the first time we have a separate, distinct, competitive legislative national election in our history (the 2005 was widely expected to go chavista, with or without opposition abstention and other legislative elections were linked more or less to the presidential one).  Only people in some metropolitan areas seem to understand fully what a legislative election means but I can assure you that in Yaracuy you would never know we are on the edge of a major campaign.

Thus I am basically left with whatever little info I get (I am not connected to any major party or polling firm nor would they likely share with me sensitive data), and with my wits and my experience as it has been now a long time I have been doing electoral analysis with reasonable good success lately.  We will find out if this was enough.

So this is my method:
  • First, my own rule.  I am conservatively optimist.  This redundant oxymoron (?)  means that my own feel right now is that the opposition has a chance to win but not by much.  4 weeks are left so things change but as I start looking in depth this is my gut feeling.
  • I chose the 2008 result as my base line.  Why?  Because it incorporates best the local conditions and thus I implicitly account for them using those numbers.  Also chavismo won in vote number then but not by that much.  The 2009 referendum was an historical accident because an exhausted opposition had no means to fight it on the heels of the November 2008 vote.  And the 2007 vote was a referendum of sorts on Chavez and simply too far in time: Venezuela is not the same today as in 2007. Besides the 2007 result cannot be trusted as much as the 2008 results can since we do not have the final result to date.
  • I also think that the 2008 total will be reasonably close to the 2010.  Why? There will be less motivation to vote for a legislative election than for a governor one.  If I factor in a certain anti Chavez mood to stimulate the opposition voters then we should get around the total of 2008.
  • For my primal prediction I will subtract at least 5% of the 2008 result of the chavista vote.  This is what I consider the very minimum to account for chavismo degradation.  I will not add this amount to the opposition tally because I assume that abstention hits both sides.  If the opposition does not drop votes in my method it is because I assume that enough disaffected chavista, NiNi and the like finally decide to vote against Chavez compensating opposition abstention.  Of course, I might be all wrong but I must start somewhere.
  • I will use my personal criteria on certain districts where for a variety of reasons I will increase or decrease that 5% outtake of chavista votes, and on occasion I will add 5 to 10% to the opposition vote.  This will depend of course on local conditions, local candidates when I can get enough information on them, etc, etc....  but I am afraid that on at least half of the districts my prediction will be based on strictly that -5% for chavismo alone.  But that should not be too bad for my prediction success because from my preliminary work many of these districts are in general already held solidly by chavismo.
  • I will go as I always do region by region.  But I will try to add my regional prediction to the ones already done so that slowly but surely I will fill up my half circle representing the next assembly.
And now, I need to get back to work on the excel sheets!.


  1. Anonymous8:26 PM

    They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings.
    Any chance 'the intolerable provocations' of the Antillas Neerlandesas, or some such, comes into play?

  2. Daniel:

    As a political science junkie, I find the kind of analysis you are doing fascinating. However, you make the assumption the results would be accurately reported. What is stop the Chavismo from just declaring victory that yields them a parliamentary majority?

    Chavistas control all the machinery of voting. It is all electronic, so there are no ballots to recount, what is to stop them?

    All they have to do is publish some polls showing them in the lead (the polls I've seen in the Chavista media show this, because the non-chavez views are split between the opposition and "ni-ni" and the latter won't vote). Then declare victory on election day. I say this in all seriousness, what is to stop them? I'm sure they'd let the opposition win 30-40 percent of the seats to make the results appear credible but they'd still have a rubber stamp assembly.

    There is some evidence that Chavez's buddy in Iran did the same thing last year, Hugito had to be watching.

  3. yngvar

    now that we love colombia again i do not see anyone else becoming a problem.

  4. ConsDemo

    True but not that easy. Do not forget that there will be witnesses at the voting machine audits so fraud reaches only a certain extent. IF the opposition manages to place witnesses in at least 80% of the voting centers the government will be forced to accept the results. Or annul the elections if the result is too negative.

    But again, this is going to be a thought exercise assuming that indeed the right results will be shown. Let's cross the fraud bridge when we reach it, shall we? so far any fraud evidence has been linked quite clearly to voting centers where the opposition did not put witnesses. If by now they have not learned their lesson then maybe they do not deserve to win yet.

  5. Daniel, I am afraid the opposition does not have the will to put witnesses in 50% of the poll centres.

    I tell you this because I have discussed it extensively with the esdata guys, who have been processing the actas from Súmate, and I have a lot of relatives who are actually going to poor areas in my region. Everybody in the nice areas wants to be a witness in his school, no one wants to go "a los de abajo".
    That is in a central region.
    Bear also in mind this is a regional election. The votes of very isolated places such as in Delta Amacurio matter a lot. A vote in Curiapo is worth SEVERAL votes in Carabobo or Miranda.

  6. Daniel:

    Fair enough, although observers aren't enough. I understand an observer could verify the count of votes. If they've only seen 20 people vote and the vote count shows Chavez 90, opposition 10, they can point to an irregularity. However, if there isn't some sort of exit polling and they did observer about 100 people voting, how could the observer validate the accuracy of the votes taken?

  7. Anonymous7:59 PM

    "I chose the 2008 result as my base line. Why? Because it incorporates best the local conditions and thus I implicitly account for them using those numbers."

    Are you going to count Henri Falcon's votes as being for Chavez or against him in your baseline?

  8. Anonymous

    you will need to wait until I discuss Lara. i know, i know, the suspense may kill you!


  9. "And if the opposition alliance is rather wimpy in confronting Chavez it has enough free agents that do so."

    It's not only the opposition alliance that is wimpy, it is the electorate itself.In the past candidates who spoke up like Leopoldo Lopez were sidelined by Chavez.At that point you would have expected a large protest vote against this undemocratic action.Instead the voters took it in stride and just kept on voting for Chavez so that it paid off for him in electoral terms.

    By having those who are not candidates speak out,we will avoid having that many candidates disqualified.


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