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.
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.