British news is today (07/10/2012) much concerned with the elections underway in Venezuela. The election will be the 'closest since Hugo Chavez took power' (The Guardian), or the 'the country's most tightly contested presidential election in a decade' (BBC).
To begin with, it should be noted that the above assertions are themselves misleading to a UK readership: even if the election is 'the closest' since 1998 in Venezuela, polling figures are such that if similar results were to be found in a UK election, the race would not be considered close. Furthermore, figures show that the reality of the contest is so far from 'close' that a statistical study by the Center for Policy and Economic Research, using polling data from Venezuelan elections from 2004 – 2010, has shown that Henrique Capriles has just a 5.7% chance of winning the election.
Yet the image painted by the UK media about these elections is almost hopeful of a Capriles win, having consistently pitted Capriles as the candidate most in touch with the Venezuelan people (Capriles ‘promises to govern for all Venezuelans’). Misleadingly referring to Capriles’ supporters as ‘Venezuela’, the BBC coverage of the closing rally for Capriles stated that 'Venezuela rallies for opposition's Henrique Capriles', yet when Chavez supporters gathered on Thursday in Caracas in support of the President, in what was reported to be the largest election campaign rally in the history of Venezuela, with up to one million supporters, the event was underplayed by the BBC’s Sarah Grainger who reported that ‘tens of thousands of supporters of the United Socialist Party braved the rain’ to attend the rally.
Some commentators appear to be almost rejoicing at the prospect of an election loss for current President, Hugo Chavez. The Guardian’s Rory Carroll has written recently on the Venezuelan elections in articles entitled ‘Hugo Chávez: a strongman's last stand’ and ‘Hugo Chávez: people's hero in final showdown’.
Channel 4 News today published a report under the seemingly rhetorical headline, ‘Venezuelan elections: Chavez heading for defeat?’ In providing such topical analysis, we might first consider which data sources Channel 4 consulted for their portrayal of the elections. However, the news site turned for their information solely to one interviewee, Victor Bulmer-Thomas of think-tank Chatham House, representing for Channel 4 ‘some analysts’.
Bulmer-Thomas’s views on Venezuela seem informed more by his personal preference for the opposition candidate, Capriles - ‘I've thought for a while that Capriles will win and I'll stick with that’ - than by any statistical evidence based on the position of the Venezuelan public (whom some might think important players in a democratic election such as today’s).
Channel 4 remarks that a drawback for Chavez’s campaign has been his treatment for cancer, which has ‘meant he has not been able to travel around Venezuela and meet voters (which can also entail promising favours in return for support)’. The inference here, we can assume, is that promising what Channel 4 calls ‘favours’ is a standard tactic of the Venezuelan President, and somehow at odds with the electioneering tactics of other political candidates, rather than normal practice. Surely the only relevancy about election promises is whether or not the candidate intends to uphold them?
The report then goes on to quote a claim by Bulmer-Thomas that ‘it is highly likely that there will be skullduggery’ (taken up by Channel 4 in the report’s subhead, ‘Skullduggery’). He concedes that ‘it's actually a difficult election to rig because in terms of the technology it's an extremely sophisticated voting system’. However the implication is clear: the Venezuelan government would fix the election if it could. With that in mind, the report comments:
‘However, some public employees have been forced to fill out personalised forms detailing which polling station they will use, potentially with the ramifications that their vote will be tracked by the government. Such stipulations could conspire to deter voters from backing the opposition’.
Channel 4 does not substantiate these claims, and the level of sheer speculation involved (‘potentially’…‘Such stipulations could’) in the suggested means of ‘deter[ing] voters’ is at best grasping at straws in an attempt to discredit an election process that ex-US President Jimmy Carter has described as 'the best in the world'.
Satisfied with the wishful views of Bulmer-Thomas, Channel 4 concludes that ‘a Chavez landslide is not a certainty by any definition’. In reaching this assumption, Channel 4, like much of the media, seems content to overlook the preferences of the Venezuelan people.
For analysis of previous coverage of the Venezuelan election race, see our following articles:
Promises and Failures: The Economist and the Venezuelan Election, 3 October 2012
Jim Armitage and the Skewed Reporting on the Venezuelan Elections, 26 September 2012
Choosing Sides: The BBC's Coverage of the Venezuelan Election Race, 19 July 2012