Electoral trends in Venezuela

Archives: September 29, 2011.

The Venezuela Initiative is sponsoring a series of roundtables to discuss Venezuela's 2012 electoral prospects. The series initiated yesterday with Jose Antonio Gil Yepes, head of Datanalisis. Looking into the findings of the latests opinion research data, the participating Fellows of the Venezuela Initiative came to the following conclusions averaging all numbers from a selection of polls, including those from Datanalisis: 

  • Hugo Chavez popularity (52%+) is significantly higher than his government approval (35%). Disagreement to his reelection after 2012 remains at 58%.
  • Opposition Coalition (MUD) adds better approval numbers than PSUV (45%-29%, respectively)
  • Capriles leads the opposition primaries trailed by Gov. Pablo Perez and Leopoldo Lopez.
  • There is an statistical tie between Gov. Capriles (MUD) and Pres. Chavez, if  the elections were held next Sunday.
  • 40% of Venezuelans are undecided, but the trends favor a moderate opposition candidate against a radicalized Chavez.
The “Primary effect” was also part of the analysis by our fellows, concluding that having a number of presidential hopefuls from the emerging generations of leaders campaigning around the country and mobilizing support, with an image and message of unity, has a significant influence in the positive trends registered by the polls. This primary effect is on contrast with the sort of paralysis on the government front due to the health issues of the President. An additional factor that shall influence the trends is the focus of the opposition leaders in delivering a moderate and issue specific message, targeting the growing discontent of undecided voters over the failed promises of the government. This strategy leverages as the government seeks the radicalization of his course of action.
In regards to the opposition primaries, two key issues are in observation by the fellows:
  • The configuring coaltions among the parties within MUD.
  • The impact of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights Decision in regards to Leopoldo Lopez qualification to run for President.
Summarizing; the Governor of Miranda Henrique Capriles from Primero Justicia (PJ) became a 3 to 1 front runner after his national support grew strongly and steadily during the struggle of Leopoldo Lopez from Voluntad Popular (VP) against his political disqualification by the government. On the other hand, it is expected that the Governor of Zulia Pablo Perez from Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) will capitalize the base of support of former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales (UNT), placing Perez in a solid second place followed by Lopez. The latest recent polling data suggests the following order among the MUD presidential hopefuls Henrique Capriles 40%, Pablo Perez 26% (up from 11%) and Leopoldo Lopez 9% (just before the Inter-American Court ruled to his favor in regards to the disqualification challenge). The question remains whether the Supreme Court will enforce the InterAmerican Court decision favoring Lopez, something the government has voiced to strongly oppose. If the electorate perceives that Lopez candidacy runs some sort of risk of dispute over his qualification, he is likely to become a “power broker” in the primaries, rather than a challenger to Perez and Capriles. As of today Capriles has received support from a large number of political parties in the MUD, including dissidents from Chavismo such as Podemos. Pablo Perez is also broadening his support base beyond UNT. It is expected that by mid-Octuber the historical social-democratic party Accion Democratica (AD) -the third largest in the MUD- will very likely support Perez, a former AD militant. However, there is an alternative for AD, the Major of Caracas Antonio Ledezma, also a former AD leader, whose positioning in the polls continues very low, thus, unlikely to be a a clever move for the social-democrats.
Other key players to watch are:
  • The Governor of the state of Lara Henri Falcon -a dissident from Hugo Chavez- and his party PPT (which also includes de Governor of the state of Amazonas). Falcon is monitoring the race between Perez and Capriles, but from a closer distance to Capriles since the PPT and PJ formed a coalition in Congress within the MUD political fraction. On the other hand, some analysts speculate that Falcon and other Chavez dissidents might be somehow uncomfortable in a coalition with Perez if the same includes AD.
  • Henrique Salas, Governor of Carabobo and his political Party Proyecto Venezuela. Salas has said the winning candidate is “La Unidad”, while insiders to the process consider he could lean towards Pablo Perez.
  • Other presidential hopefuls withdrawing from the primaries. The primaries are likely to become a polarized race between Capriles and Perez. There are a number of very qualified presidential hopefuls in the ballot, mostly people with some regional o focal base of support such as the Governor of Tachira Cesar Perez Vivas, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, and Maria Corina Machado. Analysts believe some -or all of these candidates- may decide to withdraw and support one of the front runners, in a move to preserve political capital or to seek positioning to the forthcoming regional and local elections. 
Most importantly, in spite of these trends and coalition building processes taking place in the primaries, the candidates and political parties integrating MUD have signed a Governability Pact that commits all of them to the primary election process, and a coalition government after winning the Presidential elections. The Primaries of MUD will take place in February 12th 2012. The Presidential election was scheduled for October 7th 2012. Elections for Governors are scheduled in December 2013, and local elections due in April 2013.

In the government front Datanálisis, reported that popular support for President Hugo Chávez was at 58.9% in September, up 10 percentage points since July’s 48.6%, however, 58% of respondents were against the idea of his re-election in 2012. The logical reading of this trend is that Venezuelan voters are sympathetic towards President Chávez’s battle with cancer, but that does not  translate in voting intentions.  Voting intentions for Chávez are at 40%, up from 31% in July, underlining the fact that 2012 will be a fierce battle for floating, undecided voters, numbering some 2m of the 18m electorate. 

According to Luis Vicente León, a director of Datanálisis, the government had managed to turn the president’s illness into a positive. This is largely thanks to President Chávez’s regular public statements, his characteristic use of fighting language and his relentlessly upbeat self-prognosis. Added to this, León noted, an increase in the local money supply in recent months (thanks to soaring oil export prices), which has put more cash in people’s pockets and boosted consumption. The national statistics institute (INE) yesterday hailed the fact that the percentage of households living in poverty was 27.4% in the first half of 2011, compared to 49% in the first half of 1998, immediately before Chávez was elected president for the first time.  Extreme poverty dropped to 7.3% from 21% over the same period. Yet the latest figure was actually a slight increase on 2010, when first half household poverty was 26.8%.

The polling data from Datanálisis underlines the fact that the president’s personal bond with his base of support is so intense that no-one in his party could conceivably win the 2012 election for the ruling Partido Unido Socialista de Venezuela (PSUV). Thus, Chavez health is a critical issue for the ruling party.

The Venezuela Initiative Fellows will continue to monitor the primaries and 2012 elections, while assembling an ambitious project aimed towards three objectives:
  1. Gathering intelligence from the Venezuela diaspora to contribute with a white public policy paper to the potential government coalition emerging from the 2012 elections, focusing on security, employment polices and international relations.
  2. Supporting the up and coming student leadership in an initiative to prepare a white paper with a national policy for the youth.
  3. Launching a Political Reconciliation Forum for the 2013 scenario.

Leopoldo Martinez Nucete – @Lecumberry

Executive Fellow at the Center for Democracy and Development in the Americas.

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