September Strategy Notes, Part 1: The Lists

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Whether any of it ultimately matters is a matter for debate, but given that the opposition is going to participate in September’s elections to the National Assembly, it seems we should maybe have some idea of what we’re getting into. So here’s the nitty gritty:
The electoral system for the Asamblea Nacional is dual: some posts are elected circuit-by-circuit, others through state-wide party lists. In September, 110 deputies will be elected through the circuits (what “districts” or “constituencies” are called in Venezuela) while 52 deputies will be elected via those state-level lists. (A final three are elected by indigenous communities.)
The dynamics for the lists and the circuits are pretty different, so it makes sense to analyze each in turn. In this post, I’ll address the lists. Later on I’ll get to the more complicated – and far less predictable – circuits.
The Lists. Each of the twenty least populous states will elect two assembly-members  via statewide lists – a total of 40 seats. The three most populous states, plus the Distrito Capital, will elect three via list – a total of 12 seats. These list seats will be apportioned through the d’Hondt method. Somewhat counterintuitively, the opposition could well “win” most of the list-seats, even if it doesn’t win a majority of the nationwide popular vote.
Here’s why:
In the twenty states that get to elect two asambleistas via list – which includes all the rural states – Chavismo will need to get more than 66.6% of the vote to get both of the seats. So, for the opposition, it’s enough to get one third of the vote to get half of the list deputies in those states.
That’s a pretty reachable goal in most states, though there are definitely some deep monte-y-culebra states where we fell short of that mark in both 2008 and 2009. (Looking right at you Amazonas, Delta Amacuro, Portuguesa and Apure.) Still, in the 2D referendum back in 2007, the opposition got at least 33.3% of the vote in all the states – match that result and you’ve fought Chavismo to a draw in the monte lists: 20 seats to 20.
Meanwhile, the three states (Miranda, Zulia, Carabobo) plus DC with the largest populations select three assembly-members via list each. In these places, a simple majority of the vote would net the opposition two of the three list assembly-members, though we’d need (a highly unlikely) 75% of the vote to grab all three. Still, this is the opposition’s strongest territory, where we’ve often won simple majorities in recent elections, so winning 2 out of the 3 list members in these states seems eminently doable: that would mean an 8-to-4 margin there. (Or 7-to-5 if we lose in DC.)
As you can see, counterintuitively, the list setup actually favors the opposition. If we manage to get just 33.4% of the vote in each of the rural states and 50%+1 vote in the most urban ones, we can “win” the lists by 28 assembly-members to 24. Even if we lost DC and both seats in, say, the Delta, it’d be 26-to-26.
Now, here’s a thought: given that the only thing that’s really in doubt about the lists is whether we’ll clear the 1/3rd threshold in some of the most rural states,  and the 50% mark in the West of Caracas, how about we ask some relatively heavy-hitters to run there!? Why shouldn’d we send Delsa Solórzano to head up our list in Portuguesa? How about Andrés Velásquez puts some of his indigenous-cred to work standing in Amazonas? Or how about Ramos Allup takes a risk and accepts that second spot in the opposition’s DC list?
A second thought is: in a large number of states, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where the opposition list-topper fails to win a seat. There’s no way we’ll fall under 33% in Táchira, or Aragua, or Bolívar. The lists create about 22 eminently safe seats for the opposition. Will people have to compete for those plum spots in primaries? Or will they be divvied up entirely behind closed doors?
Tomorrow: the circuits.

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