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An evaluation of the electoral campaign in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

13.11.06 | It might be fun as we enter the last 3 weeks of electoral campaign to evaluate a little bit how things are.

The Rosales campaign

Could we apply to it the “campaña admirable” moniker? Well, not yet. Bolivar got it when he crossed the Andes and took back Caracas from the Spanish. But indeed, if Rosales beats Chavez it would have been an admirable electoral campaign. Flawless. Spirited. Purposeful.

Three months ago no one would have given any opposition candidate a chance. Today, the opinion polls are starting to give a technical tie between Rosales and Chavez. And with three weeks to go, who knows what can happen. Rosales could implode. Or he could rise further and manage to beat Chavez by at least 5% point which would be too much for chavismo to hide, or cheat upon.

Wherever Rosales goes, people get out to meet him. He fills up the streets wherever he holds a rally. Some areas less, like today in Carabobo, and but sometimes he gets surprisingly large turnouts such as Monagas or Puerto Ayacucho. Zulia is now a given for Rosales. And after the Caracas Avalancha it seems that Miranda is his and perhaps even Western Caracas where he is greatly helped by the incredible incompetent and divisive chavista mayors. It seems also that the can count in his column Merida, Tachira, Nueva Esparta, and even Anzoategui.

I think the reason of the Rosales success have been few but precise.

1) He has run a campaign which objective was to gain Venezuela before worrying about Caracas. This has meant that his campaign has concerned itself in visiting as many places in Venezuela as possible, leaving Caracas as just another one occasional stop. As the Zulia governor it has proven effective as people are getting upset by the chavismo revolutionary centralization. For example, people from San Felipe must now go to Caracas to get a passport to travel.

2) He has sought direct contact with the people. You can hold him, you can hug him, he kisses babies, elderly women, hugs folks strongly. He is available. He has a family. He expresses his Christian values. He speaks like the people. He is like them, from the provinces, not like some Caracas sifrino.

3) He has avoided cheap points. That is, his campaign has a thread and he will not go faster than what he can manage. That is, he keeps building slowly but surely the pressure against Chavez. Only recently he has started directing his gaze directly at Chavez. This has had two benefits: he is wearing out Chavez but he is also wearing out all the other characters within the opposition that were upset that Rosales was drawing all attention to him. Now, there is only a tiny group of AD left out, all, including the abstention party like Paz and Ledezma have joined the Rosales campaign without ANYTHING in exchange. That is, Rosales is managing to have all, from organized Primero Justicia to insignificant groups such as Ledezma to work for his cause without expecting much in return.

4) He has been patient in elaborating his platform. He limits himself to no more than 2-3 proposals a week, only really discusses one, at most. Thus he manages to keep a certain clarity, which is helped by the fact that Chavez is not giving any original proposal on his own besides abstract leftists rehashed notions. Thus slowly but surely esoteric concepts such as his “Mi Negra” proposal penetrate the populace. That is, he prefers few proposals but he wants to make sure that they get in the mind of the people.

5) He manages to project an image of energy, or purpose while avoiding arrogance and self complacency. But even better, he is projecting an image of growing with the campaign. I am quite sure that the is smarter than what he appears to be but he has managed to appear progressively smarter and more aware, just as if he were learning from all the contact with the people. Thus, whether it is on purpose or a true phenomenon, it is brilliant.

The Chavez campaign

If the Rosales campaign is becoming a text book case on how to run a campaign when everything is against you, the Chavez campaign seems to be on its way to become a text book case on how to blow it when you had all in your favor.

1) Fighting the wrong battle. To begin with chavismo seemed to have prepared a campaign for one scenario that did not happen. Not only that but they have been unable to adapt to the new scenario, running their campaign as if they expected things to return to what they had previewed. Eventually when they decided to change a few things it was an haphazard effort, without any conviction, such as when suddenly Chavez stopped speaking of aggression, of attack, of besieged revolution, and began to dress in blue and talk of love. This did not go well at all and soon he was back in red and as fiery as ever. Thus we can least some of the failings of Chavez campaign

2) Lack of focus, lack of objective except the obvious one of retaining power. If this is normal for any sitting government who wants reelection, in the Venezuelan case it becomes pathetic as often it seems the sole argument. When Chavez says that 8 years were not enough and that there is more to do still, it is a mistake. It only could work if at the same time you presented an articulate plan with precise deadlines. We did not even see a preliminary draft of such a plan.

3) Lack of inspirational message. The only promises of Chavez are a life time presidency, a socialism for the XXI century promise who more and more folks are accurately reading as a revamped communism. No new Mision is able to catch the imagination of the people. Just a promise of more of the same just when the same seems not to work as well as it used to do a year ago.

4) The only prop of Chavez is inauguration of public works that should have been opened long ago. For the long suffering masses in need of a given train or bridge, their arrival is nice but often too late. And some of these inaugurations are half backed affairs, with restricted conditions and even falling apart a few days after inauguration such as the Tuy train which has decided to stop service on week ends for “evaluation”.

5) Chavez is unable to leave Caracas, even when he is not physically in Caracas. He has become the Caracas establishment candidate. Most of the works inaugurated are for Caracas. When Chavez travels around it is in small affairs, protected from the scrutinizing eye of the cameras, adoring close ups from the state TV. Most events are in Air Conditioned joints, more often than not in Caracas. Compare this to sweaty Rosales crisscrossing all sectors of the country. Compared to Rosales, Chavez looks everyday more and more like the candidate of a group, an elite, whereas the multicolored rallies of Rosales are for all the people: the implication of the image comparison of the all red chavismo and the rainbow of Rosales cannot be ignored.

Situation today

It seems that Chavez is still ahead. He still has an incredible stash of money to use to buy votes, to threaten, to cajole. But he has lost the enthusiasm of the people, even when they are still willing to vote for him. No one should be surprised, after 8 years it cannot be the same. However one year ago you would have found no one willing to bet on Chavez winning by less than 20 points. Today Chavez has started to fight to win. Just to win, even by a point. But he seems to be making mistakes, such as the defense of Ramirez speech, which might be justified for internal consumption of chavismo, but which from the outside can only but cost him votes as more and more people realize that 6 years more of chavismo will result in their definitive exclusion.

PS: I have revised the graphs that I published a few days ago. The first one is what I think is the maximum that Chavez will get if he wins, a maximum of 11% advantage point.

Then I took this graph and decided to improve the formulas by incorporating the abstention effect. In orange, the states where an increase in abstention will favor chavismo as in those states it is more likely that the opposition will abstain. But after the Ramirez speech and considering that some local governors are really becoming a problem for Chavez because of their lackluster performance, there are a few states, in blue, where an increase in abstention actually could help Rosales. Thus in blue the changes from the above graphic, either abstention or increased penalty. I have been conservative in estimating the penalty for refusing to debate and for defending Ramirez. (Note: arbitrarily I have decided that the abstention penalty would be 0.3%. That is if one blue state is predicted at 40% abstention and now I change it to 43%, that means that Chavez will get 3% * 0.3 more penalty, that is 0.9 extra penalty. If I had given him, say, a 5% penalty [see previous post where these charts were created] then the new penalty for Chavez would be 5.9%. All incorporated in the formula, to avoid too much graphic overcrowding)

Those that are interested I can provide the excel sheets and they can make their own predictions such as mine above. I still give Chavez ahead but with less votes than in 2004 and only 800 000 ahead of Rosales (9%). Rosales can ove
rtake this in three weeks, as Chavez shows no sign of improving his campaign. He could improve greatly in Caracas, the Llanos and Oriente and that could be enough. I will be updating my predictions as the days progress. But all will be based from the first graphic today.

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