May 24, 2013
Capriles advances but breakthrough still elusive
The voting intentions for election rivals Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles in Venezuela are almost as identical as their initials — a razor-thin difference of 0.1 percent between 45.9 percent for the president and 45.8 percent for the opposition candidate according to Consultores 21, the first pollsters to show the shifting trend.
Until now most surveys gave Chávez a double-digit lead, including Consultores 21 last month (10 percent). With less than three months to go for the October 7 elections, the Consultores 21 analysis envisages a neck-and-neck campaign for the road ahead with victory going to whoever can convince the nine percent or so undecided.
In fact the draw between both candidates is not so much technical as real, points out Sal Cabrera, the vice-president of the consulting company. From the Consultores 21 data can be gleaned that Chávez stopped recovering politically last December (from 38.5 percent in mid-2011 when his illness first emerged to 47.3 percent last December and now 45.9 percent). In Cabrera’s view this is explained by the triumph of Henrique Capriles in last February’s Unity Panel (Mesa de Unidad) primaries giving a face and an identity to the opposition to the Bolivarian, already 14 years in power. Hence the fall of the opposition vote from 51.5 percent in mid-2011 to 44.5 percent by the end of the year to pick up to 45.8 percent in this latest survey.
According to Cabrera, the candidate with the best outreach to the eight or nine percent undecided will have the greatest possibilities of winning the elections. “Whoever wins cannot count on a bigger margin than six percent”, he told ABC newspaper. But the pro-Chávez parliamentary Speaker Diosdado Cabello dismissed this study as a joke in his Twitter account.
Nevertheless, a more sophisticated glossing of this survey (which dates from the second half of June with 3,000 respondents interviewed at home nationwide in two stages and a margin of error of 3.2 percent), to which the Herald had access, allows various battlegrounds looming for the final laps of the campaign to be discerned while other factors within the electorate have crystallized almost irreversibly.
One is the approval ratings for the two presidential candidates — 51.4 percent for Chávez and 49.4 percent for Capriles, thus cleaving pretty close to the draw in voting intentions. These figures overlap with how Venezuelans rate the Chávez administration — 52.9 percent say it is good while 46.4 percent call it bad.
In terms of confidence, Chávez also has the edge — 48 percent trust him more while 39 percent place their faith in the opposition. These figures tie in with the responses as to which political party they would choose in order to bring changes in the future. The Chávez government is preferred by 45.1 percent while 37.7 percent opt for the opposition, percentages which indicate that Capriles — a new young candidate who promises changes in both ideologies and style of governance — faces an uphill battle to link the fresh image which he seeks to transmit with his figure in the public mind during these last laps of the campaign.
It would seem that after 14 years of being overdosed with marathon Chávez nationwide broadcasts and saturated with red (the Bolivarian colour) politics and propaganda, Venezuelans still see Chávez as the most trustworthy and innovative candidate, capable of implementing the necessary changes. Regardless of whether this marks out the Venezuelan electorate as contradictory or unique, the hard fact is that the Consultores 21 survey shows that 41.9 percent blame the Chávez administration for the current problems (53.3 percent highlight crime as the main problem; followed by unemployment for 13.6 percent, politicians for 5.1 percent and 3.8 percent the economy).
Strangely enough, 10 percent say that Venezuelans as a whole are to blame for the current problems while barely 6.6 percent point a finger at the opposition — the Capriles opposition campaign would thus be wise to harp on crime as the main problem and the government’s responsibility for it.
As for the illness of Chávez, only 22.2 percent still insist that the president does not suffer from cancer as against 71.7 percent who believe he does. Nevertheless, only 16.6 percent think he is getting worse while 45.5 percent say he is on the road to recovery while 33.5 percent see his condition as stable. Transmitting such optimism is precisely one of the areas where Chávez is most successful — i.e. convincing a majority of Venezuelans (54.8 percent) that they will be better off six months on. Better than now when 49 percent see themselves as in a good situation and 48 percent in bad while only 31.4 percent believe that the start of 2013 will find them worse. Such are the Venezuelans who Capriles and Chávez will have to convince in the next few months from their current dead heat.