For the two and a half years from October 2001 to March 2004, the polling reality in Venezuela was amazingly stable. 60-70% of the country opposed Chavez, 30-40% supported him. Emboldened by these numbers - and especially by their consistency and "stickiness" - the opposition took on "Elecciones Ya" as a slogan all the way back in September 2002. Since then, it has been an article of faith for the opposition that any detour through the ballot box would spell the end of the Chavez era. Now, barely five weeks before the long awaited vote, things are changing.
Every poll there is shows Chavez rising, and rising fast. GQR has the comandante ahead of the opposition now, while Mercanalisis, Consultores 21 and Datanalisis show him still lagging but closing the gap. For once there is movement in the polling data, a situation we hadn't seen since the Halcyon days of 2001 and Vladimiro Montesinos' Venezuelan Vacation. And as Toby Bottome told Bloomberg, there's no doubt who has the momentum on his side right now.
The question is where, exactly, Chavez's ceiling is. At what percentage does he run into the block of committed antichavistas who just will never vote for him no matter what? My intuition is that Chavez can't get more than 50%. But as more and more polls come out showing Chavez rising fast, this could just be one more of yesterday's certainties.
Can the opposition react? Will its campaign manage to stem or stop the advance? Will their spokesmen be effective enough? their street-level activists organized enough? Can Enrique Mendoza bring orden to this pea? If he can, his leadership position in the CD will become unassailable. If not, I'll be blogging until 2021.
Spare a thought, though, for Justin Delacour and the philochavista apologists in the first world who've spent the last three years explaining to us why it is that all the pollsters in Venezuela are dirty cheating lying chavez-murder-plotting fascist puppy-kicking baddies. How do they square off this last rash of polls with the constant drip of anti-pollster agitation? How exactly is this pollster conspiracy supposed to work, anyway? To say the least, it's an odd, odd oligarchical conspiracy that scares and demoralizes the bejeezus out of oppositores just now, in the critical phase of the campaign, while it encourages and emboldens chavismo.
Delacour and Co. might do well to consider the alternative hypothesis - that, in fact, the polls have been right all along, and quite simply Chavez is growing in popularity right now. A simple, parsimonious explanation that, unfortunately, would obligate them to adopt a diet rich in their own words.
Not, of course, that chavistas seem to have much compunction about turning right around and contradicting a long string of their own statements when they find it politically advantageous. Perhaps they'll just conveniently forget they've spent 3 years slurring the opposition pollsters, turn right around and say, "see, Chavez is going through the roof in your own polls, just like we always said he would!"
Complejo de Jalisco, they call it. Si no ganan, empatan.