Monday, August 08, 2005

What have we learned so far? 

The Venezuelan electoral authorities, the CNE, have been painfully slow in releasing information so we still don’t know a whole heck of a lot from yesterday’s vote. Still there are some things worth going over so lets have a look at them.

First the CNE has announced that abstention was 69.18%, meaning that about 30% of those who could voted. This is certainly low but not unduly so. Local elections or elections for minor offices tend to have very low turnout. In fact most elections not involving an “executive” position, e.g. President, Governor, Mayor, tend to have low turnout. Just by way of example, in the U.S. there was recently held, outside of Cincinnati, a special election for a congressional seat that had been recently vacated. It was a hotly contested seat as an Iraq war veteran was running on an anti-war platform against a pro-war right wring Republican. This is a higher level office than almost all the offices at stake in Venezuela yesterday yet only about 110,000 voted which would be a third of the registered voters in the area – a well to do suburban area where turnout is normally high. So a turn out such as Venezuela experienced yesterday is not at all atypical.

Yet the opposition, instead of finding something worthwhile to discuss, such as the inefficiency of the CNE, has chosen to harp on this issue of turn out and made themselves look rather foolish in the process. First off, a number of different opposition groups have put forth their own numbers for abstention. One group called “Ojo Electoral” put it at 74.8%. The opposition party, Accion Democratica, put it at 77%. And the opposition shadow electoral authority SUMATE put it at 78.1%. Of course, none of these groups bothered to say how they came up with these numbers. Are we to presume that had people standing outside every voting center in the country counting how many people went in to vote? Somehow I doubt they did that. After all, if they had been that rigorous in their counting then maybe their numbers would at least match each other, which they obviously don’t. Of course, last year during the referendum SUMATE at least went through the motions of pretending to do a real exit poll – even though it was ultimately shown to be completely bogus and was off by 20 points. I guess they figured if they’re just making up the numbers anyways why not cut the pretense and just pull them out of your head on TV like they did this morning. Sure saves a lot of time.

Then we had some sages, opposition political analysts, drawing very insightful conclusions from the level of abstention. “Chavez obviously can’t have much support because not even many Chavistas turned out to vote” they are crowing. For example, here is what opposition pollster Victor Manuel Garcia had to say:” I don’t know how the pollsters who say Chavez has 73% support are going to show their faces today when in the poorest areas of the country people didn’t come out to vote, Chavez’s support is a big lie”. Well, Victor Manuel, here is the deal – Chavez wasn’t on the ballot, even other well known people such as the Cabellos and Barretos weren’t on the ballot. Seeing as most people don’t probably don’t know what these local councils do, much less who is on them, they probably decided to go to the beach, or visit family, or just relax at home. People do do those things you know. And here is another thing that makes me strongly suspect that people didn’t stay home because they are some how pissed at Chavez. If they are pissed at Chavez wouldn’t they show up and vote for anti-Chavez candidates? But unless we see the opposition winning these elections, which so far we don’t have any indication of, I guess people aren’t annoyed at Chavez – they just didn’t want to be bothered.

Anyways, to try to use yesterdays turnout as a measuring stick of Chavez’s or anyone else’s support is really grasping at straws. But given that grasping at straws is about all the opposition has left I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone that is what they do.

Of course, the opposition if it was savvy it could beat up the government about some things. For example, the performance of the C.N.E. clearly was dreadful. To take this long to come up with results in an automated voting process is just not excusable.

And if Chavismo is smart, it will use yesterday’s vote as a wake up call. No campaign to speak of, no turn out effort worth mentioning, and no campaigning by their best campaigner, Chavez, and you we see the results – a lot of Chavistas stayed home (low voting rates amongst the poor – wow, I’ve never heard of that happening anywhere else in the world!). Lets not have that repeated in December.

So to sum up, lets see what we learned. The CNE is inefficient. Without a strong campaign and big turnout effort a lot of Chavistas won’t vote. The opposition is full of loonies who never miss an opportunity to make themselves look very foolish. Come to think of it, I don’t think we learned anything new today.


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