My other problem with Capriles’s more-Mercales ad

Cuidado pues…

Addendum: Watching that ad again, I think my earlier criticism was overstated.  95% of the messaging is fine. There are just a few sentences towards the end where his message strays from “we’re going to do the misiones better” to “we’re going to do the same thing, but more so”. And that’s where I get off the bus…

-The original post follows-

Forget whether it’s smart policy, or good ethics for a second and let’s get down to brass tacks: is promising more mercales and more free GMVV houses (with title!) likely to be effective in raw electoral terms?

A lot of cynical commenters seem to think winning in Venezuela is just about Promising Big. But that’s obviously not the whole story. If it was, Reina Sequera – who is promising a cool $1 million to each and every voter – would be running away with this thing. Why isn’t she? Because her promise lacks verisimilitude: nobody sane really believes she could or would do it, and so you discount the promise as the ravings of a cheap pol.

The trick is a little bit more complex: calibrating your message so you promise up to the point where you start to strain your audience’s willingness to believe you, but no further. A good politician, like a good race car driver, has an intuitive feel for where that limit lies, and pushes hard up against it, but never beyond it.

So the question is whether, in that ad, Capriles strayed into Sequera territory: making a promise that’s not so much big as oversized – beyond what his stores of credibility can support.

So, ask yourself this: can you really imagine a Capriles administration expanding the Mercal network? Doubling down on GMVV? Cutting the ribbon on Ciudad Caribia III? Really?

If you find that hard to believe, then the ad’s target – a highly skeptical, low-trust-in-politicians, low-information-about-politics cohort marked very specifically by its intimate conviction that politicians are crooks – they’re really not likely to believe it.

So I do think the ad is an unforced error, because this election is, above all and before anything else, about credibility. Any time you put Henrique Capriles on a screen saying something that doesn’t pass the smell test for the very voters he needs to win over, you’re chipping away at his most important asset. It’s just not good politics.


  1. So, why is Capriles’ campaign team falling for that? Is it out of political calculation? Out of desperation? Aren’t the economic advisors warning the MUD about the unfeasibility of these promises? Or is politics much more important than economy for Capriles’ team?

    I have already mentioned before that Mr. Guerra and Mr. Villasmil (both MUD’s economic advisors) are painting a rosy picture. They assume that a victory of Capriles would be enough to revert the economic trends in Venezuela. I wonder if they have some secret information about government finances that we don’t have, but I have the feeling that it is mostly because of the electoral campaign. Yes, stopping the giveaways to other countries should help, but we are deeply indebted and the state and PDVSA are living beyond their means.

    Probably Capriles is right and Toro and Nagel are wrong. Probably is the other way around. Like Clinton said, it’s all about arithmetics, isn’t it? I would love to see some of the numbers the MUD’s guys have been crunching…

    • It might be the same strategy as “fighting fire with fire”, or targeting those same voters that consistently fall victim to Chavez’s promises. What it does also is underscore the spirit of the opposition, namely the politics of hope, vision, and perhaps dreams.

  2. I think that´s the key question to ask, then: Who ARE those “very voters that he needs to win over”? I think the measure of the net success of this ad (regardless of ethical or ideological considerations) depends ultimately on who the intended audience is…disenchanted Chavistas? People who normally don´t vote? Undecideds? Who is he going after with these populist promises?

    • i think the target is people that now enjoy Mercal, are leaning to vote for HCR but are afraid of loosing all the benefits if he wins. Remember that the candidato presidente has been saying that HCR will eliminate all that.

  3. Toro:
    First, do you really believe that the ad’s target is “a highly skeptical, low-trust-in-politicians, low-information-about-politics cohort”? I don’t.

    Secondly, a pol can maintain credibility (with subsequently revealed frayed edges) by delivering a small incremental rise in the proportion of promised assets (or liabilities for the gov’t).

    Thirdly, the objective for the pol is to win the general elections, at best, and at worst, win more seats for the oppo in the National Assembly. I strongly suspect that Capriles will deliver in the latter instance. And I can only hope that he delivers on the first.

    Whatever the scenario, Capriles’ latest promises seemed to be a bit of stretch. Only time will tell…

  4. I really cant understand why all that seems so impossible for you,taking an existing infrastructure and make it work is unrealistic? Isnt Building houses what every goverment does since IV republic?. I think you fail to understand that “populism” has become the base of the Venezuelan culture and every person that does not walk that path will loose in an election. This is not the US, England, not even other south american country… Venezuela is an unique animal and must be treated that way. understanding what the average voter wants is what makes you wuin an election not saying what must be done

      • Hmm, I think it would be hard to find an “average voter” don’t you think? Sort of a chimera, half chavista, half oppo? 😉 I bet for some not little quantity of voters Mercal and GMVV are all right…

      • Firstly, I think you have the target of the ad wrong. The purpose of this ad is quite simply to give reassurance to those that benefit from mercal and are being told by chavez that the mercales will be gone that the mercales are here to stay. To add reassurance, Capriles points out that he’s not only standing behind the mercales as they know them, but that he’ll even make them better.

        Secondly, for the target, the credibility does not come from feasibility analysis; it comes from the message that Capriles cumple, backed by ha cumplido en el pasado. Though, I think his promises still pass the feasibility analysis if you consider that to improve the mercales and other missions all it takes is some management, heck, any management.

        Finally, perhaps you should think of “mercal” being term for “access to decent food” as “Kleenex” is to “soft disposable for wiping nose”.

        I’m not target, and I believe him. Explain that.

      • As a far-away voter, these are my thoughts.
        1. Most nations, especially the highly industrialized ones, have a more or less well-developed social network. In N.A., the food stamp program of yesterday has given way to food banks, which are managed in all major cities as a way to redistribute food that would ordinarily go to waste. The food is provided mostly for free to end users or intermediaries.
        2. Chávez institutionalized a modified food-bank concept in Venezuela through Mercales.
        3. It is important that the Mercales continue, under a Capriles administration (God willing), likely with improved administration and reduced corruption.
        4. Capriles is a social pragmatist. He sees the need for the continuation of Mercales. He knows that a large swath of the population depend on them for sustenance. And even though this swath of the population is concerned about the violence factor, it fears that with Capriles, access to low-cost food will be eliminated.
        5. Capriles wants the votes of this undecided group. He again, makes a claim that the Mercales will continue. And he perhaps overreaches in this regard, as well as on housing.
        6. If Capriles were to promise secure access to decent food and housing, the word “decente” would provide way too much uncertainty in the minds of those who are dependent on, for one, lower-cost food. Is that the “decente” of MCM’s upturned pinky? What is “decente” when one is hungry and has a family to feed on minimum wage?

      • Francisco can you tell me what is the objective of mercales and GMVV? Are Those programs designed (or at least that’s what HCh wants the people to think) to fullfill the basic needs of an average voter?

        We are not discussing the effectiveness of the programs, my point is that Mercales and GMVV are programs that are “aimed” to fullfill the basic needs of average voters, therefore whoever wants to win an election must encourage these programs.

        Don’t think at Mercales like the aberration they are today, maybe the model is more like the “mercados comunitarios” or “mercaditos” that happen around Caracas. Is the name of the program what we want it to be? Maybe not… but its the time to change the name? definitely no.

        OJO: Don’t forget that for a program like this to work, HCR must first work to increase production of goods in Venezuela.

        • Listen, the use of blood-sucking leeches was also “aimed” at fulfilling the basic health needs of thousands of people for hundreds of years…that don’t make it right!

          I should probably have hedged my criticism a bit. Watching the ad again, I realize that 95% of the messaging is fine. There’s just a few sentences towards the end where his message strays from “we’re going to do this better” to “we’re going to do the same thing, but more so”. And that is a mistake!

  5. Maybe you are expecting too much Francisco, aren’t politicians all liars and corrupt? Wouldn’t be a honest politician not a bit too much suspect? Maybe that’s the reasoning behind that… Promise a little too much, people are expecting you would not fulfill all of that…

  6. I think Francisco and Juan are dead wrong. This election will be lost when the perception on the distributive side of politics gets skewed against Capriles. And that is exactly what the government has been trying to do in the last few weeks by raising the idea that there is a hidden economic “neoliberal” agenda. However, the Comando Venezuela has been strategically “triangulando” the concept misiones, employment and progress to remain credible on the distributive side of the equation while claiming that because of this combination they are more credible in creating social and economic welfare while moving towards political reconciliation. I´m sorry but you need to “jockey” very hard on this issue otherwise you will pay a high political price which could cost you the election (and by the way I do understand that they are budgetary and efficiency constraints).

    • I don’t disagree with your main point. We just disagree on the means. “Better misiones” is a rallying cry that people can get behind. “More of the same” is not!

      Listen, we’re making a storm in a teacup here to some extent. 95% of the messaging in that ad was fine.

      But I’m totally with Juan that in the couple of instances where the ad strayed from “we’re going to make these work better” to “we’re going to do the same thing, but more so” it stuck in my throat like I’d swallowed a stray fishbone. Ese no es el camino, camaradas!

  7. How can you compare against something that has not been delivered yet? You need to work with the current program particularly if the perception remains positive.

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