We don’t always vote with our pockets

This is more like a factor to me

Quico made a point last Friday about how Venezuelans, like other voters, vote with their pockets. In the midst of an oil boom, and with the economy growing at healthy rates, it was always going to be difficult to unseat the incumbent.

The problem with this argument is that it is too logical for its own good.

In 1968, Rafael Caldera, of the opposition party Copei, defeated the incumbent party’s candidate Gonzalo Barrios. Real GDP growth rate for that year was a tiger-ish 7.3%, according to the World Bank’s Development indicators.

True, you may argue that the split in the governing party played a factor. Still, that sounds like a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking to me. If the economy link were true, AD should have won that election even with the split.

In 1973, we saw more of the same. While 1972 had been mediocre, with real GDP growing at a meager 1.3%, growth picked up in ’73, when the election was held, ballooning to 7.1%. The result? The incumbent Copei party lost in a landslide to AD’s Carlos Andrés Pérez.

And while in 1978 growth had slowed down to 2.4%, opening the door for the opposition candidate Herrera Campins to defeat AD’s Luis Piñerúa, the fact is that growth had been 7.7% and 6.3% the previous two years.

Quico’s explanation is sensible, but simplistic. I don’t believe it’s a settled matter that if the economy is humming along people will vote for the incumbent.

The fat incumbent may win alright, and if it happens, some of it will undoubtedly be due to the economy. But the economy won’t be the deciding factor in this election. It rarely has been.

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  1. In Venezuela, a huge factor in presidential elections has been a third candidate taking away votes from the favorite. Fortunately, in this election this factor seems under control.

    With regards to the economy, I see a difference between the economic effect in the coming election versus economic effects on elections in the past and it is that chavez is making it a quid pro quo thing. All other presidents said, things are going well, so vote for me. This guy is saying I’ll make things go well for you if you vote for me; and if you don’t things are going to go badly for you, regardless of the economy.

  2. Quico’s point might be simplistic, but nonetheless true in a very real sense–how the disfranchised perceive the economy. That is, during the much maligned IV Republic, government and state had a semblance of difference. So, those previous governments did not necessarily sacked the state at election time by giving away all kinds of goodies in exchange for votes. So, while the economy was growing well in some of the previous election years, the masses were not being showered with trinquets. This is what Chavez has done very well at election time. The only saving grace this time around, it is that maybe, just maybe, people have finally wised up to the trick, and of course….la inseguridad, chamo.

  3. Hey all,

    As a general rule, Quico’s premise that Venezuelans vote with their pockets belongs to a well-established theory in comparative political analysis: Economic voting. Curious about work carried out on economic voting in other countries? (See here: http://bit.ly/OT9Qkh).

    However, Juan is right in the sense that the relationship between the economy and vote choice is not deterministic, but probabilistic. Hence, its influence can be contingent on other factors that account for vote choice. For example, Weyland (2011) finds that economic voting plays a role in support for Chavez, but that Hugo’s charisma is also a major factor (http://cps.sagepub.com/content/36/7/822.short, see another study about Chavez’s charisma here: http://cps.sagepub.com/content/44/1/28.short). There are many other scholars trying to unravel vote choice in Venezuela, and your good Political Scientist friends will be happy to fill you in with additional readings if interested. We could go on…

    In any case, this fruitful issue is worth additional extensive and interesting analyses, well beyond the scope of this blog. The fact that all of us (myself included) cannot readily make an educated guess about the extent to which the economy might affect vote choice in this election probably means that we still need more and better Political Scientists, Sociologists, Economists and Historians… and less Lawyers. We need more and better data collection/data analyses, and less rhetorical speculation.

  4. Oil price and GDP growth are not necessarily the most important numbers. GDP growth is a nice index and all, but is it actual economic growth or just a consequence of higher oil prices? Yes, higher oil prices means that the government has more money to spend, in his make-believe misiones, i.e. Mision Vivienda, PDVAL. It can persuade some gullible persons to vote for Chavez, just like an increase in M2 might create a sense of wealth all around, but what about inflation, product scarcity and unemployment? Are they completely irrelevant to the voters?

  5. In bizarro country its not about the economy, its about the incumbent boldly buying votes with state money and charisma, while trying to hide the sun with a finger: crime, corruption, food shortages, power failures, crumbling infrastructure, water shortages, etc. All this has been possible through state media hegemony and extreme corruption (they have bought friends and foes).

    I would love to think that we are at the edge of people’s tolerance, but I have said too many times ‘people wont accept this!’. So, I believe that the election will be decided by how close or far people are to the edge of tolerance. Are most people willing to turn a blind eye on all the problems or face the music and take responsibility? Also, do people believe that Capriles is going to face the problems or more or less stays the course set by Fidel?

  6. Venezuela continues on a crash course, either, the electorate wakes up and smells the cofee now, vote Capriles and faces the onlslaught of Chavista sabotage, and the reality of an empty shell (la botella vacia); or votes Chavez, attempts to appaise the incumbent, and continue on its denial path towards el Mar de la felicidad….
    just sayin’

  7. 1968 is not a good counterexample. AD split badly; Copei won very narrowly, with less than 30%. Any plurality win that small is a freak result.

    A major split always shakes things up. Wages and employment in the U.S. were up in 1912, but the Taft/Roosevelt split in the Republican Party caused the incumbent Republicans to lose the Presidency (finishing third).


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