The State of Play Two Weeks Out

So, with two weeks to go, how does the campaign look? Truth is, this is one of the hardest elections to read of the last 11 years. Polling data is in extremely short supply. The latest I have is that late-August poll by Hinterlaces that has the opposition  ahead 41% to 37% in the generic ballot – which, according to my Forecasting Tool, suggests something close to 50%-50% in terms of seats. But remember, Hinterlaces doesn’t poll small towns and the countryside leaving us…stuck.

Beyond that, I hear rumors that Datanalisis and IVAD are showing a significant Chávez recovery in the last two weeks. Trouble is, I don’t have the polls, I have telephone-game-style third and fourth person reports about the polls. I don’t have any details. And I don’t have any way of checking.

Meanwhile, the subjective sense I get from the people I talk to in Venezuela still makes me hopeful. Partly, it’s because it really seems like the opposition is finally – finally! – going to have a serious Ground Game this election. We can’t rival the moneybags government, of course, but it sure seems like the effort to get witnesses to voting centers and to put Get Out The Vote crews onto the streets is being carried out with a seriousness of purpose we hadn’t seen before.

But it’s also that the "mood music" I hear really gives me the sense that, for the government, getting supporters to the polls is going to be an exercise in cat herding.

For over a year now we’ve been hearing stories of incandescently angry chavistas who are just fed up with the way the country is going. These are people who still identify emotionally with President Chávez, but are just as mad as their oppo neighbours about issues like crime, power, water and stagflation. Significantly, only about one in four chavistas buys the propaganda lines about these problems being the opposition’s (or the CIA’s) fault. 

The question is not whether those disaffected chavistas are going to vote for the government or the opposition, the question is whether they are going to vote at all. 

There’s no doubt that the government is going to apply a lot of pressure to get its people to the polls. Old standbys, like the raffles (rifas) set up in PSUV kiosks near polling stations where you get a chance to win a washing machine if you show your CNE-stained finger, are sure to make an appearance in heavily pro-Chávez areas. And, needless to say, public employees – all 2.2 million of them – will know the risks they take if they stay home. 

Will that be enough? I sort of doubt it. In this opinion climate, chavismo has to work three times as hard as usual to get its people out. And remember, the people Chávez is counting on to implement its ground game live in the same society everyone else lives in, are just as angry about the shitty economy and the crime, and may turn out to be disastrously unmotivated, too. Trying to put on an aggressive GOTV drive in this climate is like trying to win the Tour de France with your bike tires inflated only halfway. 

I want to be clear: in this environment, with so little polling to go on, forecasting’s a bit of a crapshoot. My sense is that polls, even if you had them, wouldn’t tell you the key thing you’d need to know: how many chavistas are just going to stay home out of spite. In those circumstances, lo más probable es que quién sabe. 

So, it’s all very tentative and hard to read, but I’m still cautiously optimistic that we can win, and I still think there’s a better-than-you-probably-realize chance that the opposition is going to have a very good night – a hypothesis nobody seems to want to discuss out loud, as if they’re scared of jinxing themselves.