Time for predictions

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The ads have been aired. The washing machines have been handed out. You know what that means: time to predict the outcome.

Lately, there has been much discussion about polling, more so than usual. Because of our heavily gerrymandered districts and our convoluted, not-quite-proportional voting method, it has been difficult to poll this election, and most pollsters have kept their slides close to their chests.

Furthermore, the few tools out there translating national votes into AN seats have come heavily under fire from so-called "experts."

Having said that, it should surprise no one that I believe Quico’s Swing-o-meter is the best oracle out there. With that in mind, what are my predictions for the results?

A few months ago, we were one of the few voices in the wilderness saying we had a shot. Years of electoral pummeling had taught us that we had no chance of getting a majority, and yet when you looked at Chávez’s approval rate, you couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to pull this one off.

Then, we learned pollsters such as IVAD were apparently showing the opposition would only get between 50 and 55 deputies – basically parroting the conventional wisdom that we would get badly beaten … again. Datos also came out a few weeks ago with a poll showing bad results for the opposition, predicting our national vote would be on the order of 45%, and the now-"respectable" but frequently-mistaken Jesse Chacón gave us 47%, give or take.

We were screwed.

Suddenly, a couple of polls this week gave us new hope. Consultores 21, using a more recent sample, and taking into account the rural vote, basically had us either neck-and-neck, or slightly above. Varianzas also came out with a poll showing us slightly in the lead. And Petare, a district that seemed close a few weeks ago, is now looking very strong for our side.

Could it be that we have … momentum? Perhaps.

Chávez is clearly less unpopular now than he was a few months ago. The reasons remains somewhat of a mystery, but part of me thinks it’s due to an announced, but yet to be implemented, cash-distributing scheme called "La Cédula del Buen Vivir" that we have yet to comment on but surely will.

We have named this absurd theater through which Chávez implements communism by helping people consume "Chabuki", and it has surely paid off. His overwhelming use of public funds for campaigning may have also played their usual role.

Clearly, he surged in August, but was it enough? Is the Chávez surge for real? Is it enough to put his candidates over the top?

After a few dark days mulling over this, I think the answer is yes… and no. The government may well get more seats in the AN, but I don’t think it will get more votes, and its majority will be small.

As much as Chávez has tried to make this election about himself – at least that’s what his flunkies keep repeating – this has proven to be a) difficult to do given he is not on the ballot; and b) a double-edged sword, as he is not as popular as he thinks he is.

And, for what it’s worth, anecdotal evidence I keep hearing from the ground suggest that enthusiasm in chavista ranks is not as high as in other occasions. 

In spite of all the government’s strengths, many intangibles point to our favor. The opposition has had remarkable message discipline. Sure, it has not been perfect, and the campaign has had more than its share of mishaps (UNT ad, anyone?), but overall our side has done a better job than in the past.

Perhaps most importantly, a large chunk of the narrative of this election has been about day-to-day problems, and that has helped us. Crime, communism, and Colombia have been key issues, and two of those three remain top issues. Has it really been that long for voters to forget that our nation’s capital is also the world’s murder capital? Have voters forgiven and forgotten the rotten food scandal?

We have a united slate of candidates and a more organized get-out-the-vote effort. Our witnesses are better trained than in the past, and few people are playing the abstention card this time around. And the Consultores 21 poll suggests that the higher the turnout, the better our chances are.

All those factors point to us squeaking out a victory in the popular vote. Sadly, it won’t be enough to get put us over the top.

In other words, we won’t get the overwhelming advantage in terms of votes we would need to overcome the stacked deck and get a majority of seats in the AN.

That’s, in essence, is my truthiness.

But I need a number. For that, I rely on the model we discussed a few weeks ago, showing that the government’s percentage of the vote has historically been tightly linked to its approval ratings.

Back then, I said that the government’s share of the vote was strongly explained by the percentage of people who thought it was doing a "good" or "very good" job, as measured by leading pollster Consultores 21.

Well, the latest C21 poll does not lay this percentage out for us. It does, however, say that 41.2% of Venezuelans have "confidence" in Chávez.

Checking back on previous C21 polls, I estimate that the "confidence" measure is always about four points higher than the missing, crucial "good" or "very good job" indicator. Based on this, I believe the percentage of people who think the government is doing a "good" or "very good" job to be on the order of 37.2%.

Plug that into my regression, and I predict that the government will get 48.66% of the vote on Sunday. The opposition will get 51.34% of the vote.

Plug that number into the Swing-o-meter, and out comes my prediction: the government will win 89 seats in the new AN. The opposition will have 76 seats. That’s my number, and I’m sticking to it.

There is only one thing I know for sure. Come Monday, I will be mistaken.

Do you have your own prediction? The comments board is now open.

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