Venezuela’s Chavez Comfortably Ahead in Spanish University Poll

In the latest poll conducted by a team from the prestigious Spanish university Complutense, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains way out in front leading his main rival Manuel Rosales by over 20 points.

Caracas, November 15, 2006 (— In the latest poll Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains way out in front leading his main rival Manuel Rosales by over 20 points. The poll was conducted by a team from the prestigious Spanish university Complutense and the results were released on Tuesday. Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on December 3rd.

When asked the basic question, “Supposing the presidential elections were tomorrow, which candidate would you vote for?” 57% said they would vote for Hugo Chávez while only 26.5% would vote for Rosales. The survey was carried out in two “waves;” the first between October 9 & 21 and the second between October 26 & November 1. This result is more or less consistent with other polls carried out over the last couple of months.

It was conducted in all 24 Venezuelan states and a wide array of questions was put to those asked. For example, they were questioned on the government’s social policies and it is clear that most Venezuelans acknowledge that there have been significant improvements in social services. The poll indicates that 67% think the education system has improved in the last 2 or 3 years as opposed to only 22% who think it has worsened. Similar levels of approval and disapproval were shown for health. Even Venezuela’s “image abroad,” as the survey put it, showed 46-47% of Venezuelans thought Venezuela’s image abroad had improved against only 37% who thought otherwise.

However, the poll did highlight two areas of policy where there is very little confidence in the government. Asked if they felt levels of corruption had increased or decreased over the same period, a massive 72.5% said it had increased. Only 12% said it had fallen. Insecurity, always a theme in Venezuelan politics, performed even worse than corruption as 79% felt more insecure while a miserly 10% said they felt more secure in the last 2 or 3 years of the Chávez government.

But unfortunately for him and his supporters, the poll clearly doesn’t bode well for Manuel Rosales. Dr. Carolina Bescansa, who was in charge of the research, said that even given the error margin and if all other uncertainties go in Rosales’ favor (for example, even if 100% of those that claimed to be still undecided all ending up voting for him), he could only achieve 38-39% of the vote, “The difference is very wide and all the direct and indirect indicators point in the same direction. If the scenario is maintained as it is now, the reelection of Hugo Chávez seems assured”, she added.

One thing Venezuelans do agree on is the significance of the elections on December 3. 90% of those asked said the upcoming contest between Chávez and Rosales was more important than the recall referendum of 2004. Maybe for that reason the turn out is expected to be reasonably high.

Javier Cazalis, the managing director of Veneopsa, an opinion polling firm that collaborated in the poll, said that, “a very high percentage have said that they have decided to vote, more than 78-79%”. However, he said did not expect the actual turn out to be so high, “Our experience tells us that this data has to be taken with precaution since in the majority of countries the proportion of people that say they will vote is systematically higher that those that in the end do vote.”

Finally, while the poll suggests 7% of Venezuelans think Chávez will win fraudulently, Cazalis summed up the attitude the poll, if accurate (they claim a margin of error of only 2.1%), suggests most Venezuelans have towards government policy. “The assessment of the evolution of the political situation is mainly good and the economic expectations for the next year are favorable for almost three quarters of the population,” said Cazalis.