June 5, 2004

Notes for an effective Recall campaign

Over the last few months, the opposition has shown a remarkable unity of purpose in seeking the Recall Referendum. But the real fight remains ahead. A cash-flush government has already pledged, in the voice of the vicepresident, "to use all the resources of the state" to outspend its opponents. In a proper country, doing so would land you in jail for misappropriation of public property for party-political purposes. In Venezuela it just raises the bar for the opposition.

Believe it or not, the vote is just over two months away, so the opposition needs to get cracking right away. What is to be done?

First, a metaphore I've shamelessly ripped off from the GQR researchers: Chavez as your jolly, drunk uncle. Polling last year, the US firm was shocked by a strange inconsistency. Asked "do you personally like Chavez?" they would get over 40% of the voters saying yes. Asked "has the government done anything to improve your life, only a few percent would answer yes. Less than 10% give Chavez positive marks for improving health, education, street security, the economy, the whole gamut of issues.

The GQR conclusion was simple enough: to many of his supporters, Chavez is family. His supporters relate to him in familial terms. He is the nation's lovable-rogue uncle, the Tio Gonzalo who is a barrel of fun but has a bit of trouble holding down a job, or restraining his drinking, or whatever. Every family seems to have one of those. Like your lovable rogue uncle, you wouldn't stand for people attacking him in front of you. You would be personally offended. You would feel affronted. You demand respect for him.

The opposition's strategy so far has been to get outraged at Tio Gonzalo's behavior. We cried ourselves hoarse denouncing Tio's all night drinking binges, we've laughed ourselves to sleep mocking his inability to hold down a job, etc. We have, in other words, offended him. And to many of the president's supporters, a slight on Chavez is a slight on family, and for that reason, an attack on them. Personally.

The opposition needs to stop this rhetorical line. For one thing, the constituency that was liable to react favorably to this rhetoric is already on our side, already mobilized and not in need of convincing. All we achieve with the frontal attack strategy at this point is to further entrench chavistas, even chavistas who may be harboring doubts about Chavez's abilities to lead the country. Each time we call Chavez a castrocomunista extremista narciso cdm populista, we push voters away instead of attracting them.

The question is NOT whether you love your Tio Gonzalo. Of course you love him, he's your uncle! Nothing is going to make you stop loving him. This is a given. The real question, then, is whether you think Tio Gonzalo should run the family business.

Once you put the question in these terms, matters change. You can love your Tio Gonzalo to bits and still not think he is qualified to be running the family business. Convincing you to hand over the family business to someone better qualified does not require you to hate Tio Gonzalo, which you'll never do, it just requires you to accept the evident: that he isn't very good at the job he has now.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. This is why the opposition campaign needs to be militantly positive, bright, optimistic, future oriented, and 100% angry-rhetoric free. I've heard GQR's advice to Granier was to simply stop using the word "Chavez" on air - because 99% of the time the word is heard on RCTV it's preceded or followed by a mocking, angry attack, and those attacks became counterproductive a long long time ago.

The opposition does not need to be reminded again and again of the things Chavez has done. We'll remember. But just the hard-core opposition on its own cannot win a RR. We need to reach out to hundreds of thousands of anti-Chavez leaning NiNis, we need the votes of people who still like Chavez, who are still emotionally attached to him, but who no longer believe he's up to fixing the country's problems. To the extent we can attract those votes, we can bulk-up our totals from the current, too-tight-for-comfort projections of 3.5-4 million votes, into real trouncing territory.

Just imagine the morning of Aug. 9th, imagine the newspaper reporting 4,632,913 votes to recall Chavez. Picture it, pictre what that will do to the future of the country. Like that thought? Then lets get smart about targeting the swing voters!