According to Latin American polling companies such as Datanalisis and Consultores 21, this year’s presidential elections in Venezuela will be a close-knit affair, with Consultores 21 claiming that there is currently a “technical draw” between the country’s support for incumbent President Chavez and his opponent, Capriles Radonski, and Datanalisis claiming that Chavez leads his rival by just 13 points (44% to 31%). According to other polls, however, Chavez is expected to sweep the elections, with polling companies such as IVAD, confirming that 57 .6% of voters would vote for the president and just 26.6% for Capriles.
Despite the almost disorientating levels of differences between poll results, the international press and in fact, Capriles himself, have decided to cherry pick the Datanalysis and Consultores 21 statistics, and it’s not hard to see why. Part of the opposition’s strategy in the run up to this year’s elections has been to emphasise its unity and its position of strength in relation to the sick/ailing Chavez - for instance, by claiming that over 3 million people had voted in this year’s Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition primary elections, when this is almost certainly a physical impossibility, if not a verifiable one, given that the opposition burnt all the ballot books before an investigation could be conducted.
This could all just be political showmanship in the face of past failures, but it is also possible that this forms part of a broader strategy to contest this year’s election results in October; when it is entirely likely that a sick Chavez will beat the opposition hands down yet again. Notably, the opposition coalition, unlike Chavez, has still not publically confirmed that they will accept the election results no matter what their outcome might be.
Tellingly, whilst Capriles has stated that he does not recognise the results of the other polling companies; he has made an exception for Consultores 21, stating: “personally, I believe in Consultores. I’ve been looking at Consultores’ polls for many years”.
Despite this being exceptionally convenient; it is also a foolhardy thing to say, because Consultores has made some disastrously bad predictions over the past few years. In the 2004 presidential recall, Consultores predicted that there would be a tie between those wanting Chavez to stay in office and those wanting him out, just before Chavez was then ratified as president by 60% of the population. And this wasn’t just a one-off glitch. In 2006 during the presidential run-off between Chavez and opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, Consultores maintained that Chavez had just a 13% lead over his opponent. The president then went on to take the presidential elections with a 26% advantage over Rosales (62.8% to 36.9%).
But Consultores is not alone in Neverland, with Datanalisis also possessing a penchant for pie in the sky polling. In 2009, in the run-up to the referendum on whether to eliminate presidential term limits, the polling company consistently predicted that the electorate would vote against the changes in a victory for the opposition - right up until releasing their final poll results, which suddenly showed that 51.5% would vote in favour of eliminating term limits, whilst 48.1% would vote against. Not only was this a dramatic change that was never explained by the company, but it also underestimated the pro-government vote and inflated the opposition’s support. The actual figures demonstrated almost a 10% margin in favour of the reforms, which were passed with 54.5% in favour and 45.15% against.
Of course, in an interview with Globovision last week, Datanalisis’ Director, Luis Vicente Leon, was quick to rectify that the company’s recently released figures are subject to change, given the “unpredictability of polls” – a somewhat surprising statement given that at least three other polls have consistently shown that Chavez’s support has remained stably around the 57% mark for the past 6 months.
These rather serious blunders, which at best could be interpreted as poor polling methodology and at worst, deliberate attempts to manipulate the electorate, are not the only thing which discredits these companies. In fact, both directors of these pollsters have direct relationships to the opposition and the U.S. government, with Leon in particular featuring frequently in Wikileaks’ Cablegates giving advice to U.S. officials at the embassy in Caracas.
Equally, Datanalisis’ surveys are funded by the somewhat ambiguously named private and international “clients,” and despite the company’s alleged commitment to “transparency” on its webpage, there is absolutely no information regarding who the donors and financers of this poll are and in what ways they contributed; with the “Clients” section of their webpage simply featuring a rather ambiguous road sign.
According to Mayor of the Libertador district in Caracas, however, Jorge Rodriguez, one of the company’s principal clients is the Democratic Action party, one of Venezuela’s traditional parties which maintained a rotating democracy with the Christian Democrat Party during the Fourth Republic (1958-1998) and which incidentally forms part of the MUD with Capriles.
Whilst they dismiss other polling companies as state “propaganda,” the media neglects to mention the very obvious links between these polling companies and the opposition, as well as the fact that even pollsters such as Hinterlaces, which are sympathetic to the opposition, are currently putting President Chavez well ahead of Capriles at 52% versus 34%. And although Leon has described these surveys as not “serious”, it is true that pollsters such as IVAD, which despite consistently underestimating the pro-Chavez vote, have evidently been much more effective in predicting the outcome of electoral processes than Datanalisis; including in predicting the public’s rejection of the 2007 constitutional reforms.
Despite this, both companies remain almost exclusively the mainstream press’ sources of choice when hypothesising over the elections. Anyone living in the U.S. or Europe would be forgiven for thinking that Capriles is the “man who would beat Hugo Chavez,” as Reuters UK reports.
However, the media’s fixation on the Datanalisis poll in particular is illuminating for another aspect, and that is because the poll revealed two important political factors which fundamentally contradict the usual representation of the Venezuelan process and which the media have decided to totally ignore.
Firstly, as opposed to the usual claims in the mainstream press that the Chavez ranks are made up of a die-hard Chavista core, the poll found that Chavez’s support was strongest, and indeed growing, amongst the country’s youth, who, according to Jorge Rodriguez, “feel more identified...with the proposal for the future which President Chavez’s presidency represents”. Interestingly, the poll also revealed that whilst 46% of the electorate would vote for Chavez, 40% of those would vote for another member of the PSUV, including Chavez’s brother Adnan or Vice-president Elias Jaua.
What we can glean from this is that a decent majority of government supporters vote for a party and a program, and not simply for Chavez’s “personality cult,” as is usually inferred. A reality which was confirmed when I did a number of interviews outside a rally for the president’s health in February, where every interviewee informed me that they would vote for another PSUV candidate in the event that Chavez were unable to stand; but never for the opposition, which one woman told me would be like “going backwards”.
Given the rather suspect source of these figures, it would be unwise to take them as given. However, they are in fact backed up by other polls conducted by GISXXI and IVAD, which also confirm that over 50% of Venezuela’s youth support Chavez. Similarly, the results of a poll released in February this year by IVAD also reveal that whilst 42.8% of participants belonged to the PSUV party (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), only 3.7% belonged to Justice First (Capriles party), 3.6% to Democratic Action, 3.4% to a New Time, 2.5% to Project Venezuela, with the membership of other parties falling to below 2%. With this in mind, the suggestion that Capriles is currently running neck and neck with Chavez seems about as likely as pigs developing the ability to speak Spanish, sprouting a pair of opposable thumbs and setting about conducting their own set of polls.
The most salient characteristic of all these polls, no matter which one you look at and no matter from what angle; is that after 13 years in government, with a financial crisis, a sick Chavez, and an endless string of destabilisation attempts under its belt, the government still manages to maintain incredible levels of support, and this continues to both baffle and infuriate the opposition; who for all the funding they receive and for all their control of the country’s media, have once again failed to present an alternative to the revolution which is capable of resonating with the Venezuelan people.