Solid support for the opposition is lower than for Chavez, according to a new poll conducted by Hinterlaces, a Caracas-based marketing research firm. However, the by far largest group in Venezuela is the group of those who support neither the government nor those who support the opposition.
According to the poll, 30.3% of the population considers itself “Chavista,” compared to 26.0% who consider themselves “Anti-Chavista.” The remaining 42.7% place themselves in neither camp, also known as “ni-ni.”
The poll, taken during the month of September, involved 1,900 people of all socio-economic groups, in Venezuela’s main cities.
The “ni-ni” group is perhaps the most important sector for a possible upcoming recall referendum. Currently, that group is far more likely to vote in favor of recalling Chavez—59% of them say they would, compared to 22% who would vote to support Chavez and 18% who are undecided.
According to Hinterlaces, 60.3% would vote for the recall of President Chavez and 39.7% would vote in favor of his remaining in office. This result contrasts rather strongly with the recent poll taken in Caracas by the Venezuelan Bureau of Statistics, which stated that 51% would vote in favor of Chavez in a recall vote. The discrepancy could be explained by the different scopes of the polls, where Caracas might have a greater proportion of pro-Chavez voters than the rest of the country. This, however, goes against most observers’ general impression that the opposition has its greatest amount of support in Caracas.
Hinterlaces concludes that contrary to popular belief, there has been a significant de-polarization of the political climate, in that both Chavez and his opponents have lost significant amounts of support over the past two years. Chavez lost much support in late 2001, when the opposition began its main offensive against the government, in the form of the employer-supported general strike of December. The opposition, in contrast, lost much of its support more recently, particularly in the aftermath of the December 2002 oil industry shut-down.
Where there is complete agreement, from Chavistas, to Anti-Chavistas, to Ni-Ni, is on the issue that the country needs is peace and reconciliation in order to overcome its current crisis.
According to the Hinterlaces report, “the population perceives that there is a struggle for power between the two groups [of government and opposition], but they particularly accuse the elites in the opposition of wanting power only so that they can recover their privileges.”
Chavez supporters have a clear leader (Chavez), a cohesive party (MVR), a clearly defined audience (the poor), and a fairly clearly defined message (social inclusion). The opposition, on the other hand has none of these. They are divided into a dozen parties, none of which enjoys more than 10% support, most of which are rejected by over three quarters of the population, and their message of ousting Chavez offers no clear alternative to Chavez.
The Hinterlaces report, written by its general director, Oscar Schémel, concludes that “a society with levels of poverty and inequality as high as Venezuela’s is ingovernable and unlivable, with Chavez or without Chavez. If the problem were Chavez, it would suffice to substitute him. … The problem is much more complicated and profound because Chavez is merely one of the more visible and important actors within the intricate drama whose denouement is in the hands of the Venezuelan people and in their capacity to glimpse the future.”