With the Venezuelan presidential elections looming this Sunday, the U.S. press is dedicating increasing attention to the campaign between Hugo Chavez and opposition challenger Henrique Capriles. While nearly all polling companies, including the opposition-aligned Datanalisis, give double-digit leads for Chavez, many news organizations continue to give the impression that the race is a toss-up. Countless news agencies have focused heavily on polls conducted by Consultores 21, whose latest poll shows Capriles ahead 49.9 percent to 45.7 percent, to demonstrate that the contest is neck-and-neck.
Consultores 21 is “respected,” “reputable,” and “well-regarded,” according to the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and Washington Post, respectively. Capriles himself has said “personally, I believe in Consultores. I’ve been looking at Consultores’ polls for many years.”
In a meeting with U.S. election monitors on Monday, influential opposition media figure Teodoro Petkoff said that Consultores is one of the only “serious” pollsters in Venezuela today (discounting Datanalisis as corrupt). It is entirely unclear how they come to this conclusion, however, as Consultores has an extremely poor record in previous Venezuelan electoral contests. For example: In the 2004 vote to recall Chavez mid-term, Consultores predicted a tie between those wanting Chavez to finish his term and those voting to recall. But the recall vote failed with Chavez garnering 60 percent of the vote.
In the 2006 presidential election between Chavez and opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, Consultores maintained that Chavez had just a 13% lead over his opponent. Chavez won that contest with a nearly 26 percent margin over Rosales (62.8% to 36.9%).
In the 2009 constitutional referendum to remove term limits for president, Consultores polls a month beforehand showed just 41.8 backing the referendum, with 56.20 opposed. The referendum passed with a 54 percent majority–almost a polar opposite result from the one predicted by Consultores.
Grave errors such as these by a polling company should have been more than enough to put them out of business. The continued existence of Consultores 21, despite their consistent lack of any semblance of accuracy, demonstrates its purpose as a mere campaign tool for opponents of Chavez. News organizations should be able to uncover and identify this type of blatant bias, and now must take steps to correct their misrepresentation of the status of the Venezuelan presidential election.