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.