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Venezuela: Abstention decides, SI wins

By Miguel Octavio

It used to be that abstention in Venezuela did not impact results of elections. Basically, pollsters would be told that almost everyone would vote, abstention would be higher and the result would be the same as predicted. Abstention would simply have the same distribution across all social strata.

This is the only thing that is different this time around. With the registration of 2 million new voters between June and July, only 200,000 of which are new eligible voters, the effects of abstention will be different. High abstention helps the Si vote, low abstention helps the No vote. Why? Simple, the 1.8 million new voters come from the class D and E strata of the population who lean towards Chavez. These are voters who were eligible to vote in previous elections but did not even bother to register.

Most Venezuelans dislike polls, they claim they are never accurate, they never get it right, they donít poll in the barrios. This is incorrect. As an example, in the 1998 and 2000 elections most polls predicted a Chavez win, even if only a few got the numbers within the statistical error of their study. What happens every election is that new polling firms appear with no track record and people donít know how distinguish one pollster from the other.

For the last two weeks, reputable polling forms have been giving results that range from a 9% win for the NO to a 6% win for the SI. However, those that have a track record give an edge to the NO vote with a range of 4-6% in favor of the NO. As in previous elections, voters are saying that they are going to go out and vote, with abstention ranging from 15-20%. If abstention is higher, the result changes rapidly, above 30% the SI begins to win.

The question is whether abstention will be higher than these levels or not. Some argue that it will be low because the country is so polarized. I disagree. I see no reason for abstention to drop sharply below 30%. In the previous four elections abstention was 18% in 1988, 40% in 1993, 36.6% in 1998 and 43.7% in 2000. It is hard for me to believe that if abstention was so high in the heyday of Chavezí popularity, it will become low as the aura around him has dimmed. People that donít vote, donít do it because they simply do not believe it makes a difference, that no matter who they vote for, things will not change. They are disenfranchised.

The Government and Chavezí Comando Maisanta could change this by mobilizing voters to the polls on Sunday. But we are not talking of mobilizing 100 or 200 thousand people to a march, we are talking about the mobilization of a million plus reluctant voters to make the race close. After seeing Sundayís campaign closing in Caracas and the two failed attempts to bring Chavez to close the campaign in Zulia state, I just donít believe it is possible. Thus, it would be reasonable to expect levels like in 1998 when the withdrawal from the race by two candidates a couple of weeks before the election introduced enough confusion in the race, that people were motivated to go and vote, abstention was then 36.6%. I expect it to be around that same level, maybe dropping a couple of points because of the militancy of the opposition and not the Chavistas.

What this means in numbers is that if the number of people that go out and vote tops 9.5 million a victory by the NO is insured, below that, Si edges the NO out.

Given the abstention I am expecting, then the SI vote edges out the NO vote on Sunday by two or thee hundred thousand votes and Chavez is recalled.

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