December 8, 2006

Why did more people vote for Chavez than for Rosales?

Quico says: Just to pick up on Alek's lucid postmortem, I'll add some thoughts of my own.

I think the best way to go about dissecting Rosales's loss is to divide it up between things he might have done differently, and factors entirely outside his control.

Factors outside Rosales' control
  1. The Oil Boom: Far and away the biggest reason Chavez won was the government's control over a nearly limitless revenue-stream. The oil boom allowed Chavez to make his key constituency noticeably better off in the two years before the election. It directly - and illegally - financed Chavez's campaign, as the EU Monitoring Mission has noted (note: PDF file.) And it allowed the government to stimulate aggregate demand just in time to coincide with the electoral cycle, creating an economic boomlet and the kind of diffuse feel-good factor that keeps incumbents in office. The oil boom structured the campaign in Chavez's favor, and there was nothing we could've done about it.
  2. The Eloquence Gap: It sucks that this matters, but it does. Hugo Chavez is in love with his microphone. Manuel Rosales is locked in a kind of blood feud with his. Insofar as campaigning is all about persuasion, this was a major problem for him.
  3. The Opposition's Image Problem: After four years of missteps and relentless chavista provocations and attacks, much of the mud slung our way stuck in voters' minds. To be the opposition's standard bearer was, as far as many swing voters were concerned, to carry water for a callous, coup-mongering elite. Years of well-financed, repetitive attacks along these lines paid off for the government. Though Rosales might have gone further in distancing himself from the damaged oppo brand, he was basically stuck to it.
To my mind, it's clear that these three factors - but especially the first one - account for most of Chavez's lead. These structural facts would have made it difficult for any challenger to beat Chavez. Still, the race could've been closer than it turned out to be, if Rosales's message had been better thought out to appeal to the electoral center.

Things Rosales could've done better
  1. Misplaced focus: As Katy points out, Rosales made a quizzical decision to focus overwhelmingly on his opponent's strongest issue - Social Policy - rather than on Chavez's major weak points - foreign spending, divisiveness, crime and unemployment. Focus groups showed again and again that swing voters didn't really understand Mi Negra very well. Once it was explained to them, they tended to like the idea, but also to believe it was unlikely to be implemented. Mi Negra never really neutralized Chavez's advantage on Social Policy themes - but it did take the spotlight away from issues where Chavez was far more vulnerable.
  2. Too little time: It seems like an eternity now, but it was just three months ago that the opposition was mired in a barren debate about how to choose a single anti-Chavez candidate. That may not have been such a problem if Julio Borges - who is already well-known nationwide - had been chosen. But Rosales, who was mostly unknown outside his home state, just didn't have enough time to get voters acquainted with him. With less than a month to go, many Focus Group participants outside of Zulia still had only the haziest notions about the guy, what he stood for, who he was. And with only three months to campaign, there wasn't really enough time to design and test a message that would really work.
  3. NiNi-unfriendly framing: I touched on this one on Monday, and throughout the last year. To win an election you need to control voter's perceptions of what the choice they are making is about. Rosales tended to tow the standard opposition perception that the election was a choice between Castro-Communism and Democracy. I happen to agree with him, and it's likely you do as well. But that doesn't matter, because this framing doesn't really resonate beyond the oppo's core middle class vote. The discontented poor voters Rosales needed to convince to make the election close just didn't respond to this kind of message.
  4. Atrévete: For similar reasons, "dare to" was arguably a counterpreductive slogan. For the same reason you can't read "don't think of an elephant" without thinking of an elephant, you can't read "atrévete" without getting the vague sense that voting against Chávez is risky. This may well have backfired with NiNis, who must have wondered what kind of craziness and instability might follow if Chavez lost. The government seems to have grasped this dynamic much better than Rosales did, and exploited it by holding out the prospect of mayhem if Chavez lost. "Only Chavez can guarantee stability," remember?
  5. "Mercal used to be called Proal, Mision Robinson used to be Acude." Rosales's always cringeworthy line about how misiones are just 4th republic social program re-treads may have been factually accurate, but it was a clear campaign own goal. The line - repeated from his campaign launch straight through to the end - strengthened his symbolic association with the old political system, which was something he needed to go to some lengths to avoid. The choice to staff his campaign with figures from the old Coordinadora Democratica was another needless own-goal in this regard.
It may well be that Chavez just couldn't be defeated with oil prices where they are these days. The basic dynamic of the petrostate system hasn't changed since the 1920s: the key to controlling the state is controlling the oil money. The more abundant oil revenue is, the easier it is to keep control of the state. I've long argued that this is the central fact of Venezuelan political economy, which is why I was never very hopeful that Chavez could be defeated.

Nevertheless, the race might have been made much tighter, and the reality is that Rosales' showing was poor. Energetic though his campaign was, Rosales's subtly misdirected message meant the guy never really broadened his appeal beyond the demographic that was always likely to vote for the opposition, regardless of the candidate. He just didn't win over anyone, and ended up losing by a margin that makes another recall referendum basically unthinkable.

Hopefully, he will do much better as opposition leader than as opposition candidate. Personally, I think he will.

December 6, 2006

Podcast: "This is a political triumph amidst an electoral setback"

Quico says: Well, Manuel Rosales kicked a huge amount of ass at his press conference yesterday (download part of the audio here.) The guy will never quite be eloquent, but yesterday he came across as clear-headed, mature, forward-looking, sincere and even warm.

I think JayDee nailed it when he said the peculiar thing about the campaign was that we'd only find out if Rosales was for real after the election. Well, now it's clear: his is the kind of feet-firmly-planted-on-the-ground leadership the opposition has been in desperate need of since 1999.

It was a remarkable performance: stamping his authority on the opposition movement, squelching the all-too-predictable calls for a "plan b" response to Sunday's result, and distancing himself emphatically from the immediatist wing, Rosales paradoxically had his "Sister Souljah moment" after the vote.

For the first time in the anti-Chavez movement's history, an opposition leader emerges from an electoral defeat stronger and more credible than he was going in. For the first time, opposition votes have a clear owner with a clear commitment to carry on with the fight. And that's a very good thing indeed, because everything suggests to me that Rosales is a much more talented back-room politician than he is a campaigner.

So when the guy says that "this is a political triumph amidst an electoral setback," I, for one, buy it.

Uruguayan Spoof

Quico says: This one's too good not to post. Sorry to say it's not really translatable.

December 5, 2006

Alek's reaction...

Quico says: Don't miss Alek Boyd's brief day-after statement.

Ojo Electoral's Preliminary Observations

Quico says: Ojo Electoral, a Venezuelan elections monitoring NGO, posted observers at 337 randomly chosen voting tables (mesas de votación) spread out over 22 out of Venezuela's 24 states.

Check out their preliminary monitoring report in Spanish.

Key points:
  1. Ojo Electoral's quick-count of automated tally-sheets (actas de escrutinio) had Chávez at 61% and Rosales at 37%.
  2. The mandated procedure to randomly select which mesas would be audited on the spot was followed in 97% of relevant polling stations.
  3. The on the spot audits Ojo observed showed Chávez at 61% and Rosales at 38%.
  4. There were pro-Chávez witnesses at 95% of the audits and pro-Rosales witnesses at 92% of them. Witnesses for both candidates attended 90% of the audits, and members of the general public saw 62% of the audits Ojo monitored.
  5. There was no discrepancy between the automated tally and the audited tally in 64% of the mesas they observed.
  6. In the other 36%, discrepancies were small and tended to cancel each other out rather than benefiting one candidate systematically.
  7. Formal objections (impugnaciónes) over the audit results were lodged in just seven out of the 337 mesas Ojo observed. Three of those complaints were raised by pro-Chavez representatives while the other four were raised by opposition representatives.
The report closes with a pledge to release a more detailed final report soon.

December 4, 2006

Tibisay Lucena's Election

Quico says: One refreshing thing about last night's election is that, for the first time in years, the National Electoral Council itself was far from the center of the debate. As in futbol, the best referees are the ones you don't much notice. CNE chairwoman Tibisay Lucena's self-effacing style paid off.

What's more, the aggressive audit of the e-voting machines' paper trails left little scope for unsubstantiated fraud allegations. As Teodoro Petkoff points out, the accumulation of evidence from two separate exit polls, one quick count, and real-time reports from 33,000 witnesses watching over 17,000 hot audits all over the country armed Rosales with far better information than the Coordinadora Democratica had in August 2004.

Overall, transparency was substantially improved last night, and that's to Lucena's credit. The opposition should take last night's level of transparency as a derecho adquirido. No backsliding on this can be accepted in future elections.

Let the analyzing begin...

Katy says: First off, the CNE website is already publishing detailed results by voting center. This is a welcome change, and we are finally seeing the result of all the money that was spent on these high-tech machines.

Here are some interesting things I am picking up at 1:40 pm Monday, Venezuela time:

- Chávez appears to be winning in every state. States where Chavez's margin of victory is closest: Zulia (Chávez by less than a percentage point), Táchira (1,5 percentage points), Mérida (3 percentage points). One surprise for Chavez was Nueva Esparta, a place where the opposition still holds a governorship but that went to Chavez by 17 percentage points.

- Large states where Rosales did particularly poorly: Aragua (71-28), Lara (64-35), Bolívar (66-32), Monagas (70-29).

- Rosales trounced Chavez in opposition strongholds Baruta (75-23), Chacao (76-23), Los Salias (69-30) and El Hatillo (79-20).

- Sucre, a big Caracas municipality, went to Chavez by a hair, 51-47.

- Municipio Libertador went to Chavez by roughly the same margin as the rest of the country, according to current results: 61-38. Carabobo state went to Chavez, 60-39.

- Surprisingly, the most chavista state in the union is Portuguesa, where Chávez won by a whopping 74.87%. Close runners-up are more expected: Delta Amacuro, Amazonas and Sucre.

- Venezuela's political parties, according to the percentage of the popular vote they got in this election:

1. MVR (Chavez) - 40.93% of the vote
2. Un Nuevo Tiempo (Oppo) - 13.48%
3. Primero Justicia (Oppo) - 12.24%
4. Podemos (Chavez) - 6.3%
5. PPT (Chavez) - 4.76%
6. PCV (Chavez) - 2.93%
7. COPEI (Oppo) - 2.21%

Bitter Medicine

Quico says: Last night, the Recall Referendum season was finally closed. Rosales' concession marked the end of the long, barren, surreal period in the wake of the recall debacle when the opposition single-mindedly repeated to itself that only chavista foul play stood between us and power. The passing of that illusion made for a bitter moment for many of us...but, hard though it is to accept, I'm confident in time we'll come to realize last night was good for us.

For the last two and a half years too much of the opposition has seen too little reason to change its message, to rethink what we said or how we said it in order to court support from a broader set of people. After all, the thinking went, we were already the majority! The real task - the only truly relevant task - was to figure out a way to pressure the government into recognizing that basic, over-riding fact.

Last night, as Manuel Rosales conceded the election, that entire mode of thinking became unsustainable. Two and a half years after the Recall Referendum, the collective penny finally dropped: yes the government plays appallingly dirty, but the measure of the trouble we're in is that that's not even our biggest problem. We have to build a majority first - only then does it make sense to worry about defending it.

This is a painful realization for a lot of us; one we've been postponing for too long. Really it's a debate we needed to have in the second half of 2004. If we had, the headlines this morning might read a lot different.

But it's better we learn this lesson late than never: our movement can't generate a serious challenge to Chavez until we accept that we cannot build a majority simply by repeating our own deeply held beliefs to poorer Venezuelans who have heard them a million times and never quite bought into them.

Because, when it comes down to it, for all the barrio marches and Mi Negra spots, Rosales's discourse wasn't really about resonating with poorer voters. Too often, Rosales simply took rhetoric that resonates with middle class people and repeated it in a barrio setting. This, it seems to me, is too often what passed for appealing to the poor.

On the eve of the election, for instance, Rosales was still framing the choice voters would face as one between democracy and "Castro-Communism" - a differentiation that, whatever its merits, public opinion researchers long ago realized riles up middle class antichavistas only and leaves barrio audiences pretty much cold.

Even a slogan like "Atrevete" - with its implication that only fear would prevent you from voting for Rosales - reflected a set of distinctly middle class concerns and anxieties. Because when it comes down to it, it's the TasconListed middle class that fears Chavez. Politically uncommitted poorer voters - the key to any opposition candidate's chances - consistently express distaste for the divisiveness of Chavez's discourse and anger at his willingness to spend oil money abroad; very rarely do they express fear of him. As any number of focus groups, barrio interviews and just plain common sense shows, the predominant feeling towards Chavez among the poor is not fear but a heady mix of admiration and gratitude. Atrevete? Dare to chuck out the guy giving you cheap groceries and free doctors? What sense does that make?

The long shadow of the Recall Referendum prevented Rosales and much of the opposition movement from quite grasping these realities. Believing we were already a majority, we saw little reason to change and broaden our discourse in order to build bridges to other constituencies.

But there is a silver lining. If we learn the right lessons from them, last night's results could become a kind of road map to power for us. We need to think outside the mental ghetto Globovision has built for us, understand the need to create a broad alliance of the middle class and the disaffected poor in order to counter Chavez. And we need to grasp clearly that we can't build that alliance by force-feeding middle class concerns down disaffected poor throats.

It's become almost a cliché, but it's true: Venezuela does not end today. Quite the contrary: if we learn the lessons of last night, the opposition's long march to power begins now.

December 3, 2006

Rosales concedes, I think

Katy says: Manuel Rosales has just given the weirdest speech. It started out being very non-comittal one way or another, then he said he is going to hit the streets, which made people applaud widely, but then he said he conceded defeat. He said he doesn't believe the margin is actually as wide as the CNE is saying, but he says nonetheless he recognizes they were defeated today.

Is it just me, or was his speech confusing? In fact, confusion may have been the only way out of this tight situation.

The Rosales camp does message control

Katy says: In light of today's events, where people linked to the campaign were echo to rumours giving victory to Rosales and declaring massive fraud with no evidence, the Rosales campaign announced an hour and a half ago what it should have announced months ago: that only Rosales will speak for the Rosales campaign.

First Official Report: Chavez 61%, Rosales 38%

Quico says:

With 78.3% of actas tallied...

Chavez: 61.4% (5,936,000 votes)
Rosales: 38.4% (3,716,000 votes)

A fucking debacle...

Real vote update: Chavez 61% - Rosales 39%

Quico says: That's with well over half the actas tallied. Expect a first CNE bulletin soon.

Real votes: Chavez ahead by 20 to 24 points

Quico says: Sources with access to CNE's tallying room say Chávez is ahead by at least 20 points, perhaps 24 points. This is not an exit poll. This is on the basis of real vote tallies, with over half the machines reporting.

Evans/McDonough Exit Poll: Chavez 58% - Rosales 40%

Quico says: Or that's what Reuter's has, anyway.

teleSUR says Chavez 67%, Rosales 33% - Rosales campaign denies it

Quico says: After months of government threats to shut down TV stations that publish elections results before announces official results, turns out it's a government TV station that breaks the rule.
“If some media begins with their destabilization plan, any type of media…if they begin to emit exit poll results. If they do it, it is because they are in the midst of a plan to destabilize the country, they must assume the consequences.”
-Hugo Chavez, December 1st, 2006

Teodoro says...

Quico says: Teodoro Petkoff, speaking for Rosales, says the day's voting went well, but there have been some problems after the end of voting. He adds it's a waste of time to try to re-open a polling station after it has been closed, because the machines won't record any more votes once they have been shut down.

Money quote: "Those who believe you can add extra votes to a machine after it has been closed are pissing out of the pot" (están pelando bola.)

He stressed that Rosales has witnesses in every single polling station in the country. He asked for patience from everyone, and promised that Rosales will speak to the nation once results are clear and the audits are complete - which will take some time.

Glorified chisme: Chavez wins

Quico says: Is it still gossip if Reuters is carrying it?
Consultores 30.11 coordinated an exit poll with Evans/McDonough Co., a U.S. pollster paid by the Venezuelan state oil company.

Their two pre-election opinion surveys published last month showed a lead for Chavez of around 20 points.

"The trend confirms the electoral scenarios presented by the two (pre-election) surveys done by the consultancy Evans/McDonough," Campos said of the preliminary exit poll data.

Yes, PDVSA pays the bills, but Evans/McDonough is a serious pollster.

Yowza: Serious Allegations from the Rosales Camp

Quico says: Rosales campaign representatives are on TV right now saying that Plan Republica (military) officers have forced poll workers to re-open polling stations that had already been closed, while buses come around with "extra" voters. They say they have been complaining privately about this to CNE board members and the head of Plan Republica, but received little satisfaction.

May cooler heads prevail...

The nerviest hour...

Quico says: Yes, it's hair-pulling time. CNE's ban on publishing exit poll results has stuck better than anyone could've expected. As soon as I have something I can confirm I'll post it.

Probably, though, when the leaks start they'll start all at once.

CNE Says...

Quico says: The "blank votes" problem is coming about because people are using the voting machines wrong. You have to press the oval next to the candidate's name, not on the candidate's photo or the party label.

Rosales says...

Quico says: Manuel Rosales has just told the press that they've noted cases where people who vote for him get blank paper receipts. He urged people to check their paper receipt carefully before depositing it.

He reported unusual delays due to problems with the voting machines in 36% of polling stations that have traditionally favored the opposition, 20% of polling stations that have traditionally split roughly evenly and 5% of polling stations that have traditionally favored the government

Provocation? Fraud? Fluke? A bit of each?


Quico says: Well, the big day is here. The tense wait, the hours and hours of increasingly nervy's an election day tradition.

I'm actually fairly jittery. One part of me desperately wants to believe a last minute upset is possible. Of course, the more rational part of me know the odds against this are very long. But the prospect of six more years...hell, el talibancito que llevamos todos por dentro knows full well what that means.

I'll be working hard to get you nice chismes as soon as they're available today. (And don't be niggardly with stuff you hear - you know my email.) In particular, I'll be keeping an eye on Descifrado, which is promising to leverage its awesome gossip-mongering powers from 2 p.m.

CNE says we can expect a first official bulletin 3 hours after the last polling stations close, which could mean anything between 7 p.m. and 4 or 5 a.m. tomorrow.