December 1, 2007

Consultores 21's Final Word

Katy & Quico say: Funny how there always seems to be "just one more poll".

Consultores 21 carried out 1500 in-home interviews between Nov. 26th and Nov. 30 in the country's nine largest cities (margin of error=2.6%) and compared the results with an earlier poll of 840 voters in those same nine cities (margin of error=3.5%). So this poll is not directly comparable to the previous C21 poll we reported, which was based on a nationwide (i.e., Urban+Rural) sample.

Once again, the momentum is all on one side:

It's not just that more people are planning to vote No than just a couple of weeks ago, it's that more people believe the No side will win. That conviction is important when it comes to turning out NiNis.

Nonetheless, the all-urban sample tends to overstate the No vote. Based on previous data about the Urban-Rural split, Consultores 21 corrects their results. They then go out on a limb and project a nationwide outcome: 55.7% for the "No" and 44.4% for the "Sí".

If anything, they conclude the gap between the "No" and the "Sí" has widened in the last few days, and that the trend points to the "No" to increasing its lead.

What's your guess?

Quico says: It's an election tradition at Caracas Chronicles by now. How do you think this vote will go? Put it in writing below. Your net handle's reputation is all that's at stake...

Things you never ever imagined you'd live to see chronicles...

Quico says:'s a screenshot from the next dimension, this:

What if voting fever breaks out in NiNi Village?

Quico says: It's a scenario that scares us slightly. We haven't really dared to consider it, even. Maybe we think we'll jinx it. So let me assure you that I'm knocking on wood vigorously as I suggest to you that the No could win by a lot. Ten points, say...even 15. It's not the most likely scenario, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility either. Some of the polling data suggests processes are underway that could make it happen. Why?

Yesterday I wrote about the psychodrama now playing out in NiNi homes throughout Venezuela. I think of NiNis as people who like Chávez a lot more than they like his ideology. This time around, many of them are genuinely conflicted. They don't like this reform at all, but can they really bring themselves to cast a vote against Chávez?

Until a couple of months ago, most were leaning towards just staying home on election day. That's why the early polls showed the No side winning among All Respondents but losing among Likely Voters. Now it seems like everybody and their cat wants to vote. What happened?

Here's one way to think about it. In part, NiNis base their decision about whether to vote or not on cues they get from their social environment: friends, neighbors, family.

There's safety in numbers. Nobody wants to be the only one to oppose Chávez, so if you don't know anyone else who is planning on voting No, chances are you won't turn out to vote on Sunday even if you really don't like the reform. But if you know just one person who is planning to vote No, the chances you'll vote are a bit higher. If you know two people, they're higher still...and so forth.

So picture yourself in NiNi Village. In this village, everyone feels some loyalty towards Chávez, but everyone dislikes the reform. Back in September, only a handful of the villagers were brave enough to say they would vote No tomorrow:

But then a funny thing happens: for some idiosyncratic reason (something he heard on the radio, say, or being hit on the head by a falling flower pot), just one non-voting NiNi changes his mind and tells his friends "you know what, this reform sucks: I'm going to go vote No."

Suddenly, somebody in NiNi Village knows two people who are planning to go vote no.

In fact, several people in NiNi Village now have "a couple of friends who are going to vote No." This lowers the psychological discomfort associated with voting against Chávez considerably, because suddenly "voting No is something people like me do." After all, your cousin Ernesto is going to do it, and that guy at the hardware store, too.
Others, of course, still plan to abstain...

But, by this point, the guy who is still planning to abstain is surrounded. You can just see that little yellow dot thinking, "sheesh, voting is the new rock'n'roll...seems like everyone I know is planning to vote No...Ernesto, Marilyn, that guy from the hardware store...Pepe from down the street..."

Remember, he already doesn't like the reform, so all he needs is "permission" from his social circle to act on a pre-existing desire. And, if he decides to vote, that means yet more of the people in his social circle are going to start feeling ok about voting. Eventually, NiNi village reaches a tipping point, where peer pressure starts to build in favor of voting No, not against it.

It's a self-reinforcing process...the more people there are who say they will vote, the more comfortable it is for others to join them.

Eventually, people who had been socially isolated in their intention to vote find themselves getting connected to the surge...

And helping turn yet others...

If this process goes on long enough, it's easy to see what will happen in the end:

(And, as you've probably guessed by now, you can describe what's happened within the no-longer-abstentionist comecandela opposition in a similar way.)

What's neat about this model is that the whole process can start just due to one chance event. That one guy's decision to turn go vote, in the second slide, is enough to set in motion a contagion effect that can shift the entire population's intentions. In that sense, Chávez's "voting No is voting against me" line is an attempt at prophylaxis against the contagion effect: a last ditch effort to raise NiNis' psychological discomfort with voting against him, even though more and more of their friends and relatives are getting over it.

Is there any evidence that voting fever is reaching pandemic proportions among NiNis? Polling results definitely suggest it. Self-reported willingness to vote has been rising in just about every poll for the last three months. In the last week of October, 50% of respondents were telling Hinterlaces they were "certain" to vote. This week, that number's up to 80%.

Another indication: people often form their perceptions about which side "is winning" by observing people in their social circle (this is the "of course there was fraud, everyone I know voted for Rosales and CNE says he lost!" syndrome). So consider this: in the middle of September, 37% of Hinterlaces poll respondents thought the No side was winning, 42% that the Sí was winning. By this week, 48% think the No is winning, 34% the Sí.

So while I wouldn't be so rash as to predict it, I do think there's a real possibility that NiNi Village is going to turn out in force. And if that's the case, the result will not be close.

Working through the scenarios III: the scent of sweet papaya

Katy says: The government’s campaign to approve the Constitutional reforms is over, and what an ugly spectacle it has been. Today’s rally was massive, no doubt inflated by tens of thousand of public servants forced to march – and don’t we all have stories of friends and relatives in that position. Yet Chavez’s speech offered very little about the Constitutional reform, and focused instead attacking and insulting all sorts of enemies, foreign and domestic.

It was a new low, even for Chavez’s standards. One of the most curious bits was his pledge to cut off oil deliveries to the US “on Monday” if the US decided not to recognize a “Sí” victory. It was sad to see so many of my countrymen applaud a madman’s promise to bankrupt our country if he doesn’t get the international recognition he craves, but perhaps they were applauding the real meaning behind his words.

After all, such an insane pledge can only mean that Chavez considers it highly unlikely the “Sí” will win. Perhaps he promises hell and fire because he knows, deep down, that this scenario won’t play out. Perhaps what they were applauding was the realization that their leader sees no hope and that, come Monday morning, they too will have turned a page.

The whole campaign has focused on all the things that make Chavez’s moderate supporters dislike him – fighting, threats of violence, real violence, an un-Venezuelan “you’re-either-with-me-or-against-me” attitude, intolerance, and condescension. In fact, the campaign is one of the reasons I find it hard to disbelieve the polls – the government has done everything in its power to alienate moderate chavista voters, so I just don’t see any reason for them to come out and continue to support Chavez. In fact, his recent spat with Uribe may have cost Chavez the critical “nationalized-Colombian-with-a-cédula” vote.

All of the sudden, Chavez’s few populist promises sound hollow. As the hairdresser in Simón Romero’s NYT piece yesterday said brilliantly, “if this government cannot get me milk or asphalt for our roads, how is it going to give my mother a pension?” Instead of talking roads, milk or pensions, Chavez has been talking about the King of Spain, the FARC, Alvaro Uribe and José María Aznar. Yawn.

In light of this, it's fitting that the last of Caracas Chronicles’ three scenario analyses is a No victory. Personally, I think it is the most likely. I can’t discard a “Sí” victory, whether clean or tricked, but the polls, the campaign and the mood indicates we may have turned a corner. The problem about corners is that you can’t always see what you’re turning on to.

My initial inclination is to believe that Chavez will take this loss serenely and without too much fuss. I have been hearing recently about how the government will go nuts if it loses, how it will simply have no political platform anymore and how they will unleash their violent hordes on unsuspecting squalid families. I don’t buy any of it.

Let’s remember that some of Chávez’s most impressive moments have come in defeats. Take, for example, February 4th 1992. The day Chavez leapt into the national consciousness with his unforgettable “Por ahora” was a day he was thoroughly and completely defeated. Yet he seized the opportunity and in two minutes of live TV, arguably changed the course of modern Venezuelan history.

The other time that comes to mind is when the signatures for the Recall Referendum were finally approved. Chavez by then was only beginning with the Misiones, and his poll numbers were bad. Yet when the signatures were finally approved, he delivered a memorable speech on live TV, acting like a statesman and welcoming the Recall Referendum, practically calling it his baby by saying he had been proposing it all along in the Constitution. I think that speech was the beginning of an important turning point that left behind two years of turmoil and continual erosion of his political capital.

Other defeats come to mind as well. After he was deposed for ordering the April 11th massacre, he was imprisoned in a way that made him an instant victim. All the sudden, April 11th became about him, not about the shootings. This idea persists to this day.

All in all, Chavez has proven to be wise in defeat. So this time around, my belief is that Chavez will take defeat in a smart way. He has lost many moderate voters because his rhetoric has radicalised to the point where they don’t know who he is anymore, and he will try do his best to reverse that trend. The problems in governance that have been the root cause of the underlying economic and social problems (scarcity, inflation, crime) require more attention from him and, most of all, will require looking for solutions outside the Hegelian-Gramscian box the President seems to be living in. Whether he still has the senses in him to accomplish this, I do not know.

Of course, Chavez being Chavez, he may interpret a loss as a sign that he wasn’t radical enough and push through his reforms using his enabling powers. After all, the legislature gave him a ton of power to implement many of the things being proposed in the reform – the “soft Constitution”, to use Quico’s term. The man is clearly unpredictable and this outcome is certainly not outside the realm of the possible.

As for the opposition, a victory would invigorate their legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Winners from a No victory would include, of course, Baduel and the students, but also the political parties, mainly UNT, PJ and Podemos. I don’t think they will interpret such a victory as some sign that we should now call for the government’s resignation or other radical measures. Let’s remember the President himself is still popular, and perhaps so is his government. The opposition should not overreach by transforming a No victory into a mandate for something else. They should immediately begin working toward the regional elections of 2008, toward building on the momentum they currently have. Parties should make an effort and incorporate into their ranks some of the fresh faces of this struggle. They need to open up to civil society.

Another winner would be the CNE, and Tibisay Lucena in particular. It would be really hard to continue to allege fraud if the CNE were to certify a victory for the opposition given what is at stake.

The main losers in the opposition - with all due respect to some of my friends - would end up being the abstentionists, the radicals and the old political parties, the little groups that jumped on the No bandwagon hours ago. A No victory would send the signal that their stubborn stance against the vote was not only misguided, it put the existence of the Republic itself in peril. I would hope that a No victory would prompt some serious soul-searching in them, just like they hope that a "Sí" victory would serve to teach us "enablers" a lesson.

Yet regardless of who wins and who loses, of the uncertainty of how the government will react, the main thing all of us should do if the No wins is enjoy it. Lord knows we’ve taken blows these past nine years, some of them even deserved! It’s taken a long time, but I believe people have begun to awaken to Chavez’s true nature, and the defeat of an electoral behemoth like the President would be a major achievement.

So if the No wins, please do me a favor and enjoy the sweet taste of dulce de lechoza. We would have earned it.

November 30, 2007

One more...


Quico says:
Did I say Consultores 21 was the last poll of the season? I lied. Hinterlaces has just put out one last poll. This one is based on 1,642 telephone interviews in cities done between November 26th and 29th (i.e., yesterday). Specifically, they polled the largest municipality in each of the 15 most populous states. Be aware that this all-urban polling does tend to overstate the No-vote...nonetheless:

["Certain to vote" results corrected.]

And then, the stunner: four out of five of respondents are now telling Schemel they're sure to vote. Surely, if turnout is that high, the Sí is toast...

Schemel closes by forecasting a No win by 7 to 16 points.

By the way, I am still updating the Big Poll Chart at the top of the right-hand column, but there are so many polls on it now it's a bit hard to read. For ease of use, I've made another, clearer chart of just the most recent, nationwide polls:

The chart kind of reminds me of that old Sesame Street song...
One of these things is not like the other things
one of these things just doesn't belong
can you guess which of these things is not like the other things
before I finish my song?

Turnout as NiNi psychodrama

Quico says: First, the bare fact, which is now verging on cliché: Sunday's referendum will hinge on turnout. Both the detailed polls that have come out recently bear that out.

My sense is that C21 is closer to the mark than Datanalisis here, simply because they make more of an effort to poll the "hidden 25%": rural voters. So if we can get more than, say, 65% turnout, I think the No will be very hard to beat.

So this one's in the bag, right? I mean, all the abstentionists are falling into line behind the No vote...CNR, AD, even Marta Colomina, for chrissakes. And turnout was 75% last December, so how could it possibly fall below that this time?

Not so fast. Though it's gaining in currency, that analysis badly distorts what the turnout challenge is really all about.

The challenge here is not about motivating the radical opposition. The AD/CNR crowd makes a lot of noise, but they're not a lot of people. According to Datanalisis, last week just 8% of opposition supporters were saying they definitely wouldn't vote, and the opposition in turn makes up just 23.7% of the electorate. So the Escarrá demographic works out to less than 2% of the voting population.

The real challenge is different: getting NiNis to vote.

NiNis make up 44% of the electorate, and as of last week, 40% of them couldn't say for sure whether they would vote or not. So the NiNi-who-may-or-may-not-vote demographic is 17% of the electorate: nearly 10 times more than the comecandela oppo.

The two groups have almost nothing in common. NiNis couldn't care less about electoral conditions or constitutional jurisprudence or what Antonio Ledezma thinks. They are poorer, and much less ideologically minded. A lot of them make a living in the informal sector, the rest in minimum wage work. In the past, they've reliably voted for Chávez, but not for ideological reasons: they don't like his stridency, they don't like the stuff about socialism, but they do like him.

In some ways, NiNi is really a misnomer: basically, they're chavistas. It's just that they're non-ideological chavistas. The whiff of oxymoron that phrase gives off is telling. Time was when it was perfectly OK to be a non-ideological chavista. But as Chávez has morphed more and more from radical populist to doctrinaire socialist, that space has disappeared. These days, Chávez has a new word for people who support him but dissent from the more extremist planks of his ideology: traitors.

So you start to get a sense for their predicament. They've always identified with Chávez. They feel he's done a lot for them. But they really have a bad feeling about this reform. They associate it precisely with the things they don't like about him: his aggressiveness, his sectarianism, his extremism, his threats. They liked it a lot better back when he used to court them with love letters. They don't want to be ungrateful, they don't want to feel like traitors, but more and more, the guy is starting to scare them. It's not that they've moved away from him, it's that he's moved away from them.

That's the psychodrama that will be playing out in hundreds of thousands of homes across Venezuela this weekend. Can I live with myself if I vote against mi comandante? Is that allowed? Does it make me a bad person? Is it possible to square a No vote with my identity, with my overall idea of who I am?

So I'm afraid the referendum's not a done deal after all. There's a real chance that non-ideological chavistas just won't turn out in big enough numbers. Because, as somebody put it to me the other day, "if Caracas has a bad season, you see caraquistas bitching about botched bunts and dropped pop-flys, you don't see them becoming Magallaneros."

But seriously, folks...

Quico says: Though it's arguably not so timely (serious policy analysis feels slightly out of place in the heady pre-election atmosphere), Jens Erik Gould's NYTimes piece on Chávez's transparency gap is brilliant.

November 29, 2007

The prodigal poll

Quico says: The final poll of the season is out, and it's a doosy.

Consultores 21 polled 2000 voters, nationwide, in their homes, between Nov. 17 and Nov. 25th. The headline figures? It's looking good, but, again, it will come down to turnout:

What's distinctive about this poll is not just the big sample, it's that they go to great lengths to sample "the lost 25%": voters in rural areas. This is important, because that demographic tends heavily in favor of the government:

No other polling company targets the rural vote, which could bias them in favor of the No side. But, even taking rural voters into account, Consultores 21 foresees a No win by a margin of 5 to 15 points.

It's all down to the turnout now. In last year's Presidential Election, 75% of registered voters turned out. If we get anywhere near that this year, the No will be very hard to beat.

For the record, here's how the final chart of credible, nationwide polls conducted in November looks:

This again...

Quico says: Well, despite my best intentions, the "fraud or no fraud" debate seems to have burst through with renewed vigor on the comments section. I was hoping to avoid it, but now it's out there, I guess it's best to meet it head on.

My feeling is that we don't take a skeptical enough attitude towards the fraud theories. Too often, circumstantial evidence is passed off as iron clad proof. Or the burden of proof is reversed, as though it was up to them to demonstrate non-fraud. Nobody stops to ask "yeah, but" questions about fraud theories. Nobody scrutinizes them critically to see if they really make sense or if they just seem to make sense because they confirm our preexisting feelings about chavismo.

So lets be painfully explicit about what it would take to steal Sunday's referendum secretly. (Of course, a brazen gorilazo can't be ruled out, but that's a different story.)

The thing to remember is that CNE's voting system generates three separate sets of results: one in the voting machine-generated tally sheets, another in the data CNE receives from the voting machines, and a third, meant as a check on the first two, in the hot audit reports.

My point is simple: if those three tallies match, the presumption has to be that the election was clean.

Lets just review the way CNE's voting system is set up to see why:

To cheat credibly, the government would have to secretly fake triple congruence. But how? The fraud theories that are making the rounds don't give a satisfactory answer.

To fake triple congruence, you would need actual human beings to cast actual fraudulent votes at actual voting machines in actual voting centers. I can imagine two ways to do that: multiple voting, or plain old ballot stuffing.

Most people seem to think multiple voting is the government's preferred fraud channel, pointing to the opacity of the Electoral Registry as proof. Lets work through this theory:

For multiple voting to work, you'd have to supply militants with multiple, fake identity cards registered to vote in multiple voting centers. You'd then instruct them to go around voting again and again. They'd have to get around the indelible ink safeguard, which has been audited and approved by the No Block. And this would have to happen systematically, all over the country, with nobody noticing.

Just for the sake of argument, lets say they have 30,000 multiple voters with 5 cédulas each. So they can steal 150,000 votes.

Do you think each and every one of those 30,000 people was vetted for loyalty more carefully than Raul Baduel? How come not a single one of them has come forward to repent, saying he feels awful he signed up for this in the first place, oh and by the way, here are my five cédulas and the details of the five nearby but separate voting centers where I am registered?

Do none of these 30,000 people, not a single one of them, have a lover/spouse/child/uncle/friend who is less fanatically chavista than him and one day stumbled across evidence of their multiple identities? How come none of them have come forward?

How come a government too incompetent to keep milk in Mercal shelfs is competent enough to run a conspiracy on this scale and never ever get caught?

Sorry but, no creo en fraudes perfectos...the risk of getting caught is way too high.

If not multiple voting, that leaves just one option: stuffing ballots the old fashioned way.

How would that work? Presumably, in voting centers without opposition witnesses, a poll worker would have to get up and say, "OK then, who hasn't voted yet? Mr. Pepe de los Palotes? Right, mark him on the cuaderno de votación as though he did vote...I'm going in!" He'd then have to walk up to the machine and vote in his place. Repeating that again and again for many people who haven't voted.

But what if Mr. de los Palotes shows up 20 minutes later to vote? There's a problem. And just think: they would have to do that in front of the miembros de mesa, (who are randomly selected from the general public.) And in front of the Plan Republica soldiers, and the chavista witnesses, and anyone else who happens to be hanging around. And we'd have to assume that all of the people witnessing that, nationwide, would keep it a secret. That all chavistas are evil and, even less likely, discrete, competent and adequately trained to pull this off.

So again you have the Perfect Conspiracy problem. Plus, if you do this, the results from fraudulent voting centers would be very obviously different from the results of voting centers just down the road that did happen to have an oppo witness.

So neither of those fraud channels seems remotely feasible to me. And none of the other scenarios I've seen could fake triple congruence.

If you tamper with Data transmission from the machine to CNE, then the CNE tally won't match the machine generated count (which, remember, is printed before the voting machine is connected to the network). And if the results are pre-programmed in the machines, the CNE tallies won't match the hand audits.

"Yes," you say, "but what if there are no opposition witnesses there to check the hot audit?"

This retort makes especially little sense to me. Even if there are no opposition witnesses, the audits are open to the general public. But to pull off a secret fraud, CNE would have to know which voting machines to pre-program at the beginning of the day.

How could CNE know at the beginning of the day how many people are going to turn up to witness the audit in a given voting center at the end of the day? They could try to guess, but what are the chances that they will make no mistakes? The risk of getting it wrong seems absurdly high...

With the safeguards now in place, I don't see how you could carry off a remotely credible fraud. Which is not to say that CNE is impartial or fair. Just that, if they decide to cheat, subtlety will not be an option.

In fact, I think Yon Goicoechea said it perfectly succinctly:
The electoral system is fraudulent, but that fraud is identifiable.

November 28, 2007

Working Through the Scenarios II: A Fraudulent Sí

Quico says: Here's a sphincter-clenching question for you: what's the worst thing that could happen after Sunday's Constitutional Reform Referendum?

To me, the worst case scenario is the government stealing the vote. But as I tried to think through this scenario, one thing became clear to me: fraud would be impossible to hide.

At the end of the day, each electronic voting machine will spit out an automated tally sheet, and more than half (54%) of those tally-sheets will be randomly selected to be hand checked against the machine's papertrail, on election night, by witnesses from both sides.

When you stop to think about it, that makes it virtually impossible for the government to cheat without getting caught. If there's a systematic gap between the automatic tally and the hand check, it'll be perfectly obvious to everybody. As Yon Goicoechea puts it,
We can't trust in a body as dishonest, partial and submissive to Chávez [as the National Electoral Council.] The polls suggest Chávez will lose, but we can't keep our arms crossed if we want to block a possible fraud. The electoral system is fraudulent, but fraud is identifiable. That's why we call on people to vote. To prove that your vote was stolen, you first have to vote.
If the government intends to steal the election, subtlety is not an option. They will have to pull a gorilazo, a bald faced powergrab backed by force of arms. It would look, I have to guess, something like this:
At 7:15 p.m. on Sunday, minutes after voting ends and long before the hot audits are completed, a jittery Tibisay Lucena calls an official CNE cadena. As a trickle of sweat dribbles visibly down her forehead, she announces the "Sí" has officially won the vote 53% to 47%.

Soon, reports start to surface all over the country that Plan Republica soldiers are insisting the "Hot Audits" take place behind closed doors. Globovisión starts showing pictures of crowds outside a voting center in La Candelaria chanting "queremos entrar, queremos entrar" at a bunch of stone faced soldiers blocking the doors as they hug their AK103s. The defense ministry issues no statement.

Word gets around that Tibisay Lucena is about to call a second cadena, but somehow, it never comes on the air. Your cousin calls you and tells you his neighbor's uncle is an army officer in Cumana and says they've gotten orders to mobilize all their troops to Caracas that same night.

Inevitably, in a few places, the soldiers can't or won't carry out their orders to keep people out of the audit rooms. In those places, the hot audits turn up bizarre results, with the hand count showing many fewer Sí votes than in the automated count.

Late that night, Globovisión starts showing footage of voting center witnesses who, actas in hand, swear their audit totals gave the No many more votes than the machine tallies.

Soon after, Chavez goes on TV to declare that the constitutional reform has now been approved by the sovereign Pueblo, and is therefore in force immediately. In the same cadena, he calls the unfounded rumors about dodgy hot audits part of a CIA conspiracy and says the stories about tally sheets not matching audit reports are part of a destabilization plan, reminding us that, a few days before the referendum, he had warned that the opposition was goint to cry fraud.

To counteract this "unfolding imperialist conspiracy," Chávez declares a state of emergency under the newly revised constitution's beefed up powers. Invoking his new powers to curb due process guarantees and freedom of information rights in cases of emergency, he orders the Reservistas to shut down Globovisión. He announces Habeas Corpus is suspended, jails two dozen student leaders, and places strict reporting restrictions on all remaining media outlets.

Suddenly, the country is in a renewed April 11th situation. The next day, people come out onto the streets, and are severely dealt with, except this time there's no media to cover it. Parts of the Armed Force start refusing orders, flagging themselves up as traitors. In the heat of the moment, at least one or two army garrisons rise up against the government. But they're not well coordinated, and get crushed fairly quickly. The remaining dissident officers are labeled CIA agents, jailed and villified aggressively in the official media for years to come.

By 2009, the story of the heroically foiled imperialist plot to sabotage the adoption of the people's glorious socialist constitution is part of the official school curriculum. The state of emergency declared in the early hours of the morning of Dec. 3rd, 2007, remains officially in force until the day Chávez dies, in office, naturally: March 23rd, 2049.
I don't think this is a particularly likely scenario, though these days lo más probable es que quién sabe.

In any case, given the audit procedure now in place, I'm sure of one thing: if the government cheats, it will not be able to hide it effectively. It's just ot possible.

f the No side wins, Chávez will be forced to make a choice: cheat with unprecedented brutality, or own up to defeat.

Walk on through to the other side

Katy says: After a fourteen hour debate (!!), the radical opposition umbrella group Comando Nacional de la Resistencia has just abandoned its militant abstentionism. In a whiplash-inducing change of mind, they are now calling for people to go out and vote No on Sunday.

There have been no reported sightings of the last vestiges of the CNR's credibility.

Fosforito chronicles

Lucia says: Reporters Without Borders give their take on Venezuela's deepening media crisis. They review review Iris Varela's meltdown, the dangers posed by the reforms, the uncertain fate of RCTV, and an academic study of media coverage of the referendum debate.

Warning: reading this may make you more likely to buy into Quico's views on the deteriorating public sphere.

Cubanization? What cubanization?

November 27, 2007

Datanalisis Details

Quico says: It's not surprising that the Datanalisis poll from Nov 14-20th is getting the most play in the international media. With a big sample (N=1854, margin of error=2.3%), based on in-person interviews, and reaching beyond the major cities, it's certainly the soundest of the recent polls, methodologically speaking.

And it makes for some grim reading for Chavistas.

The gist of it?

(Those are the figures you get by putting together the voting intentions of the 59% of respondents who say they will definitely vote and the 16% who say they are probably going to vote.)

Now some telling detail.

Politically unalligned voters (NiNis) make up 44% of the electorate. Opposition voters make up 23.7% of the total, and pro government voters 29.4%.

So NiNis are by far the largest group of voters...and here's the kicker: out of the NiNis who definitely plan to vote, 58.9% are planning to vote No. Just 17.6% of likely-voter NiNis are planning to vote Sí.

Among all poll respondents, that trend is even worse, with just 11% of NiNis supporting reform.

That slide right there tells you most of what you need to know about this referendum: the government just can't compete if NiNis desert it in droves like that.

Now, the vexed question of turnout. Out of the government's supporters, 71% say they will definitely vote, which is not that different from the 66,7% of opposition supporters who say they will definitely vote. The real gap is with the NiNis: just 47.5% of them say they're certain to vote.

This is an important and widely misunderstood reality: the real turnout challenge is all about turning out NiNis, not about turning out the hardcore Opposition. That's not just because there are more NiNis than there are anti-chavistas, but because they're trending heavily towards the No and too few of them are planning to vote.

The government's other telling problem is that it underestimated how unpopular Chávez's ideological turn would be. The propensity to self-identify as "chavista" is in freefall in the poorest segments of the population:

As you look at that, keep in mind that, together, Segment D (formal economy workers earning the minimum wage) and Segment E (informal economy workers earning less than the minimum wage) make up about 80% of the voting population. Amazingly, NiNis now outnumber chavistas by a 3-to-2 margin among Segment E voters (44.9% to 31.5%, to be precise.) And 20.8% of Segment E is opositor.

And here's another message that doesn't seem to filter up through the international press at all: For all the talk of Chávez's overwhelming popularity among the poor, only one in three of the poorest Venezuelans think of themselves as chavistas.

In fact, the "Sí" is losing even among the very poor (Segment E): 38.6% to 33.6%.

I find it staggering to think that the only demographic where self-identification as chavista has grown since last year is the middle class segments (A and B), where it went from 6% to 9.5%.

So lets review the bidding here: there are fewer self-identified chavistas than there used to be, and fewer of them are planning to Vote Sí. There are many more NiNis than there were, and barely any of them like the Constitutional Reform. Anti-chavistas are nearly as likely to vote as chavistas, and the only group where the radical egalitarian socialist government is more popular than it was a year ago is the rich.

It looks like the perfect storm to me, folks.

Time for Some Poll Charts

Quico says: By popular request, here's the Constitutional Reform Referendum poll chart. (It's a bit hard to read like this, but you can click to enlarge.)

As you can see, there are two clearly different sets of answers here. When you ask voters in general if they favor or oppose the constitutional reform, you get a clear, consistent majority against it:

But, at the start of the campaign, most people who opposed the reforms were saying they wouldn't vote. So, until the last few weeks, the "Sí" camp had a majority among likely voters.

The trend, however, is for more and more "No" voters to say they've decided to turn out to vote after all. The rise in people's stated willingness to vote has transformed the race into either a Dead Heat (according to Hinterlaces and Datos) or a into clear lead for the "No" side (according to Datanalisis, Keller and a rather optimistic seeming Mercanalisis poll.)

So what we're facing is a remarkably fluid race: one that will come down to turnout.

Causes for caution: as you can see, many of these polls were carried out in urban areas only, and a couple of them just in the Caracas Metro area. The opposition always does relatively better in urban than in rural settings. Over a fifth of Venezuelans live in towns and villages of less than 20,000 people: they almost never get polled, and they trend heavily in favor of the government. Moreover, identifying "likely voters" is a notoriously haphazard game: more art than science. Venezuelan pollsters usually rely on people's self-reported willingness to vote, which is an iffy proxy at best.

A note of optimism: Though the race appears to be very close, the momentum is clearly with the No side. The government is bleeding votes fast, as you can see in IVAD's dramatic tracking poll results for the capital:

The magnitudes here are not significant, since it's a Caracas-only poll. But the trend is significant, and very striking.

A plea for help: Notice any mistakes in these charts? Have details of a credible poll I'm missing? Please send them in. (Oh, and the first person to leak Consultores 21's super private final poll gets a bottle of something.)

Finally, those of you minded to dismiss "opposition pollsters" due to bias are urged to check out how they did ahead of last year's presidential election.

November 26, 2007

Working through the scenarios: a Sí victory

Katy says: Over the next few days, Caracas Chronicles is going to try to put the upcoming referendum in context. Ideally, this would be a deeply intellectual exercise, brimming with thoughtful analysis and unsoiled by groundless speculation. But come on, this is Venezuela, where the most likely outcome is usually what you're least speculate we will, and how.

First, lets work through a Sí victory scenario.This scenario is no fun, of course, but it's important we keep our wits about us and recognize that this is still a distinct possibility. For all the excitement about the No's rapidly improving standing in the polls, the campaign is still highly fluid, its outcome hinges on notoriously difficult to forecast turnout figures, and so most credible posters are still officially calling the race a toss up.

How will a Sí win be seen? It depends the margin of victory, and its credibility.

The two are deeply intertwined. A landslide for the Sí is, according to all serious polls, so unlikely, it would be impossible to sell it as a clean victory. On the other hand, a narrow Sí victory will surely be interpreted by some as clean and by others as dirty.

Lets assume the Sí wins by a small margin (less than 3%) and the election night "hot audit" fails to come up with clear proof of fraud leading opposition political actors to concede defeat. In other words, a scenario where the Sí squeaks out a somewhat credible victory.

Contrary to political common sense, Chávez will not interpret a close victory as a somewhat diminished mandate to implement Socialism. That kind of subtlety is as foreign to the government as cheese fondue. Chavismo can be expected to take a slim victory as permission to go full steam ahead.

Two things may temper this. The first is the military factor. General Baduel's "treason" suggests all is not well within the Venezuelan military, that they regard the process so far as tainted (a "coup d'etat", according to Baduel) and that some of the top brass would not regard any Si victory as legitimate. It's hard to say what effect this would have on the government, but it's likely to have some.

The other intangible is popular reaction. In contrast to previous elections, I think people in the opposition would find it hard to accept a radical new Constitution that is either the product of fraud or of the slim support of a small majority. Forget the voters: most people in Venezuela oppose the reform and think it's illegal. When you start messing with people's basic rights (even those of a minority), they're not likely to just slump off and go sulk on Alo, Ciudadano. We could very well see a merging of moderate and radical elements of the opposition once again, and the outcome of this process would almost surely be violent.

Assuming the government sails through these obstacles, Chávez has already said that once the Constitution is reformed, he will press ahead with at least 100 new socialist laws ranging on a whole range of topics. We should expect an exponential increase in State regulation in the economy, intervention on private property, and attacks on private education and health care. We should also see the government targeting agro-industry, the likely scapegoat for the scarcity problem.

The universities, for one, are hanging by a thread. Chavista students in private universities have already hinted that universities cannot be allowed to be hotbeds of opposition indefinitely. Further moves to do away with university autonomy would not be surprising - chavismo has also said recently that, in the face of continuous, overwhelming defeats in university elections in the past few years, it will force universities to give the vote to its workers and perhaps to the communities surrounding them. The outcome of this is pretty clear: university authorities and student leaders will be chavista.

Much of the government's ability to pull this off will depend on the price of oil. If the price of oil begins to fall, or even stops growing at the rates it has been growing, we will see increased scarcity of basic staples, further enraging the population. Polling evidence says that people are beginning to blame the government for the empty shelves, and this trend is likely to continue with Chávez's new powers to rule by decree indefinitely, as is stipulated in the transitional clauses of the Constitutional Reform proposal. I don't see how radicalizing the revolution is going to result in the investment needed to produce enough to meet ever growing demand, and people are beginning to wonder the same.

If popular resentment towards the government were to increase while the government is deepening its hold on the country's life, we would be in unchartered territory. The government's survival will continue to depend more and more on being able to deliver basic necessities while they take absolute control over the country, a process that would become very difficult if external conditions don't improve dramatically. However, if the price of oil were to soar, we should expect the government to sail through the next phase of the process.

Finally, there is the issue of states of exception and opposition political parties and NGOs. It's not clear whether the government would continue to tolerate political parties and NGOs that do not endorse socialism. They would have the perfect excuse to do away with these organizations on the basis that they are "unconstitutional." Furthermore, a state of exception - motivated by, say, guarimbas, which are always easy to provoke - would could lead to an open ended suspension of freedom of the press, both broadcast and print, as well as Due Process guarantees. With no checks and balances left, it's easy to envision an Egyptian style situation where a "state of emergency" remains in place for decades.

My crystal ball says that all hell would probably break loose with a Sí victory. I may be wrong, but I just don't see it playing out any other way. Your thoughts?

The difference a week makes

Quico says: Just a week ago, Chávez's victory on the constitutional reform referendum was being portrayed as inevitable by foreign journos. But over the weekend, both Reuters and AP ran stories on his souring poll numbers. Even Mercosur's Press Agency got in on the action.