August 16, 2007

Political Terra Incognita

Quico says: As Chávez unveils his Constitutional Reform proposal, it bears stopping to note how very far from convinced the Venezuelan electorate is at the outset.

From July 14th to the 24th, Oscar Schemel's polling firm, Hinterlaces, carried out 1,148 face-to-face interviews with people in 20 of Venezuela's 24 states.

The caveat is that the poll was carried out before the details of the reform were announced, so the poll measures people's general feelings about a notional reform that includes Indefinite Re-election, rather than about the specific proposal Chávez presented last night. I don't think that's a very serious caveat, though: by mid July it was already clear what the reform would be about.

With that in mind, the results look very bad for the Narcissist-in-Chief:

Ouch! These are brutal, brutal numbers for Chávez. It's not actually close at all: really, a 2-to-1 margin.

If the polls stay like this, but CNE turns around and announces the "Yes" won a Constitutional Reform referendum, we will be looking at a very, very unfamiliar dynamic in Venezuela.

Some other interesting results from the Hinterlaces poll:

Chavismo may be far from a majority, but the Opposition 'brand' remains in the utter dumps. People just don't want to identify as that.

This last result strikes me as especially significant. Chávez's approval rating - or Hinterlaces' composite measure thereof - is far from its lowest point. In fact, it's up 10 points on May, when the RCTV episode put a severe dent in his popularity.

Yet that personal bounce hasn't translated into increased support for the idea of Constitutional Reform: in July, 45% broadly approved of the guy, but just 26% approved of the reform.

Chávez has a mountain to climb to win over public opinion here. If he can't turn these numbers around, the scale of the cheating it would take for him to claim victory would simply be unsustainable.