Saturday, July 29, 2006

Desperation time 

For those of us who follow the Venezuelan opposition closely it is clear they are becoming more and more desperate. Everywhere they turn they see evidence of Chavez's success and his popularity. So they do what little they can to discredit Venezuela's democratic credentials, complain about Chavez talking on TV too much, or search desperately for any branch to grab onto in the hopes of pulling themselves up. In fact, so desperate are they it appears their leading candidate for president might turn out to be the Venezuelan equivalent of Howard Stern.

How could they be so desperate? Simple. Gringolandia's leading political mercenary came to Venezuela, took an exhaustive look at the situation, and hit the opposition upside the head with a very hard reality - they are hated and despised by most Venezuelans and Chavez will easily blow any of their candidates out of the water. Here is an article explaining what Dick Morris found:

Poll: The only one capable of beating Chavez is an "outsider" candidate

A little more than six months ago, a Venezuelan business group contacted the American Dick Morris (the celebrated political consultant and principle electoral strategist of the recently elected president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon) to carry out an analysis on the Venezuelan electoral panorama, with a focus on the upcoming presidential elections of December 3rd.

Morris arrived in Venezuela in February and established an alliance with the polling firm Hinterlaces (headed by Oscar Schemel), to conduct the field work and validate the results.

After a few weeks hammering out the details of the study, the pollsters hit the streets and collected data between the 7th and the 24th of June in more than 50 cities and towns throughout the country. In almost three weeks, they interviewed more than 1,200 Venezuelans enrolled in the electoral registry and who intend to vote in the upcoming elections.

Morris returned to the country last week to sign off on the results. The final report is ready, various campaign organizations have it, and the results are very clear.

First, the analysis makes it very clear that (under current conditions) none of the current candidates are capable of defeating President Chavez on December 3rd.

The second finding indicates that the president is, today, much stronger than he was in 1998 and 2000 (the two last campaigns in which he participated); that his lead has become even stronger in recent months, and that he has a very solid electoral base.

The third conclusion (resulting in part from the first two) is that the only way to defeat Chavez in the upcoming presidential elections is for there to arise a new candidate that is currently not on anyones political radar and with a very specific profile: an authentic outsider.

Clear numbers

Looking at the numbers from Hinterlaces study the strength of the president is very clear: the percentage of people intending to vote for Chavez , in the month of June, is a solid 55% (which has remained constant during the last few months).

Very far behind are the second tier candidates: the governor of Zulia, Manuel Rosales (with 7%), the Primero Justicia leader Julio Borges (with 5%) and Teodoro Petkoff (with 3%).

The analysts also pointed out that Roberto Smith is close to that group with 2% support.

But beyond that enormous difference, this question revealed something interesting: Hinterlaces included among the possible answers the option of a "new candidate" which got 17% support (more than the sum of the three leading opposition candidates).

For Morris and Schemel, this element showed the opportunity that an outsider would have to create a new electoral dynamic.

Who would be the potential voters for that new candidate? "The independents", said Schemel.

The political spectrum showed two polarized minorities and an enormous group that prefers to stay away from the extremes: 49% of those spoken to classify themselves as Ni-Ni (neither-neither), 33% chavistas (20% moderate and 13% radical) and 16% opposition (7% moderate and 9% radical).

This independent mass is reflected in the party affiliation: 62% consulted classify themselves as independents, 29% supporters of the MVR [Chavez's party - ow], and the opposition parties shows levels of support than never go above 3%.

Quantitative analysis:

How can one know that Rosales, Borges and Petkoff cannot become in the next four months, candidates who could possibly defeat Chavez?

To determine that Schemel decided to carry out 18 focus groups to complement the results of the polls and the weakness of the three candidates became clear.

In the case of Petkoff (the most rejected by those consulted, with a 52% rejection rate) his age works against him as does his relationship with past politicians. "The people say he already had his chance and he cannot win, and that he should give way to others. Also his negatives are driven by his past membership in the armed left and his being in the last cabinet of Rafael Caldera" said the analyst.

For his part, Borges (who has a 47% negative rating) looks like someone very far removed from the lower classes. "He is seen as more "opposition" than all the candidates; identified with the rich, those who have money and very far from those of humble origins", explained Schemel.

At the same time, Rosales (the best positioned with only a 39% negative rating) is percieved as "crude; without a program and without specific proposals for the country".

A curious fact is that the President has a lower negative rating than these three candidates: 26%.

Roberto Smith registers negatives similar to Chavez, but the analysts attribute that to him only being known by a little more than 40% of those interviewed.

In general, the study determined that the leadership of the opposition registers a very high level of rejection (around 83%), because the president has been successful with his message, has been successful in having the voters associate that sector with "a rich exclusive elite", and headed by "leaders of the past".

This is just such a blowout its hard to know where to begin. There isn't an opposition candidate within 40 percentage points of Chavez even though the campaign has yet to begin (Chavez is an excellent campaigner). Even their hypothetical "outsider" trails by nearly 40%. And given that Chavez is over 50% there is no way for them to overcome him unless his support were somehow to decline significantly.

It is also quite telling that in spite of a relentless media campaign against him for seven years now his negative ratings are a quite low 26%.

But to me here is the most damning statistic by far: 83% of Venezuelans reject the opposition. Remember that as you read the oppositions media, their numerous English language blogs, their spiffy web-sites and their mainstream media apologists: these people are despised and rejected by the overwhelming majority of people in Venezuela.

And should anyone really be surprised by this? After all the coups, the bloodletting, and the destructive strikes they have inflicted on ordinary Venezuelans who want nothing but a better life? After all the division and hatred they have sowed in Venezuelan society? After all that can anyone be surprised that 83% of Venezuelans want nothing to do with them? I don't think so. It certainly doesn't surprise me.

So keep all this in mind when this tiny, rejected minority of Venezuelans (who nonetheless have the money and language skills to make sure they get heard) go around saying Venezuela isn't a democracy, its electoral system is rigged, or this, that or other excuse is found to avoid elections. Venezuela is as free as any country and it is very much a democracy. It is that democratic system that gives most Venezuelans the freedom to reject these people who have nothing to offer Venezuelan society but hate, death and destruction. And reject them they will on December 3rd, in overwhelming numbers.


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