September 17, 2006

First Reasonably Reliable Poll: En el lugar de siempre y con la misma gente...

Well, finally some numbers. At the start of the campaign, it's Chavez 50%, Rosales 37%.

At least that is the headline figure for this Penn, Schoen & Berland poll conducted by DATOS for Rosales' campaign.

Methodological quibbles aside - and I have a few of those - the thing this poll finds is what I'd suspected all along: Rosales has the support of the traditional anti-Chavez block, and that's it. In fact, his 37% is basically not far from the 40% Salas Romer got in 1998, and the 37.5% Arias Cardenas got in 2000.

Rosales has a strategy to target class C and D voters; he understands he has to broaden his support beyond the antichavista heartland to have a fighting chance in December. It is early days, and his plan could imaginably work. But his decision to surround himself with as many visible heads of the oppo political class as he could find rather than making a symbolic break with them seems like an odd way of pandering to NiNis and Transactional Chavistas.

At this stage all I can say is, well, how does that song go?

Por eso aún estoy
en el lugar de siempre
en la misma ciudad
y con la misma gente...

So what do I make of all this?

Note to the Rosales campaign staff who - rumor has it - sometimes read CC: PLEASE prove me wrong.

I think Rosales' chances are not good. Having done the easy part - coalescing the Anyone But Chavez camp around him - he faces the much tougher job of pulling in the Politically Homeless Ni Ni-voters and the Transactional Chavistas who will decide the election. "Mi Negra" is clearly an attempt to do that - but can it work, if he ties himself so closely to an oppo establishment NiNis and Transactionals detest?

If he plays his populism right, I think Rosales could imaginably pull off an upset. Just imaginably. But only if he gets an awful lot of help from Chavez.

How? Well, if Chavez persists on centering his discourse on foreign affairs, keeps talking obsessively about his grand plans to save the human race, then it's possible that even a candidate with Rosales' limitations could win. His discourse, however artlessly delivered, is at least relevant to normal Venezuelans everyday problems - more and more, Chavez's is not.

Chavez's legendary knack for electioneering, his political sixth sense, would have to melt down comprehensibly under the weight of his own megalomania for this to happen, though. The guy has always been, at heart, a pragmatist, and I would be very surprised if he does not pull back from the brink and retreat to tried-and-true populist themes when it becomes clear that his internationalist agenda leaves most Venezuelans cold. That, together with the essentially-bottomless-barrel-of-cash at his disposal, should be enough to put him over the top.

The question, for the Nth time, is: just how crazy is Chavez? Loco es el que come mierda, they say. So is he? We shall find out...