Maduro's Advantage is Still Underanalyzed


Just about a month ago, I posted this round-up of the race as I then saw it. As I sit down, from far away, to try to re-evaluate where we are, I find that I can’t really do better than to re-post it. Ultimately, Sunday’s election will boil down to how many “soft chavistas” turn out to vote on Sunday and how many stay at home. And no poll can really tell us that ahead of time.

Count me confused. In the last few weeks, an opinion first formed, then solidified, then reached the status of Permanent Unalterable Truth ™ dizzyingly fast: our position is hopeless. Maduro is going to win. We’re just happy Capriles is going down with a fight.

Now, don’t get me wrong: we may well lose. Datanalisis had Maduro up 46-34 against Capriles as of the first 20 days in February, and that’s a mighty big hole to climb out of in 30 days with almost no money, almost no media access and an opponent awash in both. So, by any reasonable estimation, we’re likely to lose.

And yet…I can’t help but feel we’re jumping the gun here. The consensus around our hopelessness has solidified way too fast, on the basis of way too little evidence.  As I recall, the one sliver of hope we had after October 7th’s drubbing was that, while we might be unelectable against Chávez, against Maduro we have a chance.

Well, here we are five months later, facing Maduro. Where’d our mojo go?

Let’s just remind ourselves that chavismo is, first and foremoest, a personalist movement, one built around a very particular kind of bond between one leader and his followers. And succession is problematic in every personalist regime.

Maduro’s entire approach to the race – the key strategy memo was explosively leaked and published here – is unprecedented, untested and irreduceably risky. Nicolás is trying to get himself elected on hand-me-down charisma from a dead guy. He’s going to extraordinary lengths to align himself with someone who, for definite sure, #NoVolverá. He is, to an extraordinary extend, trying to pretend to be somebody he’s not. And that’s never a comfortable position to campaign from.

Now, is it going to work? The only really honest answer we can give to that question is “maybe.” How could we really know?

What we do know is that virtually every element that led up to Chávez’s landslide in October is either attenuated or gone now.

Economically, the government has much less money to throw around. Scarcity is becoming a no-longer-ignorable problem for ordinary people. Devaluation is already starting to hit ordinary people’s purchasing power. Public spending has already slowed considerably, and the illusion of plenty engineered ahead of last October’s election hasn’t really been extended into the new year.

The ground game is up for grabs at this point. There is no way to know how well the PSUV machine is going to work in Chávez’s absence. Will the patrulleros really turn out with the toque de diana and do their thing? Will the tens of thousands of motorizados turn up to ferry abstention-minded chavistas to their polling stations en masse? Will the broad center of Venezuelan public opinion, which had largely positive feelings about Chávez himself and negative feelings about his entourage, turn up to vote for the Decano del Entorno? How far will the intense grief of the last week have receded by the middle of next month?

And will Maduro, a guy with no experience at all running for executive office, prove to be an even minimally competent campaigner? Could a catastrophic gaffe from an unexperienced candidate undo the image he’s working to build? Could Capriles’s more assertive style beat him in sheer Ape Dominance Hierarchy terms in the eyes of key swing voters? Can Capriles find a way to short-circuit Maduro’s attempt to morph his public image with the dearly departed’s?

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know the answers to any of those questions. We’re really in uncharted territory here. And if, as someone once said, “a week is a long time in politics,” then a month of campaigning in these circumstances is an eternity.

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  1. Good point. Capriles should also run a no holds barred campaign (Marquina gangnam style). Even if he loses, he’ll leave the opposition at the door steps and I can’t see Maduro holding his popularity for more than 6 months if elected.

    • good point?

      I find it hard to be happy about rigged fights.

      Even the World Boxing Org could get sued over rigged fights

  2. I would be more inclined to agree with you if the elections weren´t a full moon away from the funeral… If the elections had been scheduled for may 14th or later, puede ser…

    ask yourself this… the chavista on election day… will she be still in mourning? will she be more concerned about escasez/inflacion? insecurity? will she be disillusioned with maduro´s campaign? Convinced by capriles´?

    my bet is that all of her other thoughts and motivations to vote will be dominated by her luto and her desire to maintain the legacy of chavez… at any cost… even at the cost of trusting a corrupto, incompetente del entorno del comandante presidente… mourning can be a time when rationality takes a back seat to grief and confusion…

    • my bet is that all of her other thoughts and motivations to vote will be dominated by her luto and her desire to maintain the legacy of chavez

      I think that’s a good guess. What I’m saying is that it’s only that, a guess, about how people will behave, because we don’t have any proper data to go on.

      • Actually we do have data. Polls have always suggested that chavistas vote not on policy or job performance but on political identification and popularity of chavez.

          • Question about this: are they really going to do this? It actually wouldn’t surprise me, but it is just ridiculous.

          • im sure you know that you always have to interpret the data and not just read it raw… and you never have data about anything and everything, because public opinion is dynamic and things change… on a day to day basis… so chavez died only a week ago and surveys 8 days old or older cannot reflect that… i am aware of all that… im sure you are too…

            still, i would argue that my guess is not just a hunch… or even purely theoretical… it is based on the electoral behavior of chavistas over the last 14 years…

            ojala me equivoque…

  3. Don´t worry about wining or not , just vote. I voted against Chavez since 1998 and I did not care if my candidate would win or not. I voted because I knew that our country will pay an extremely high price for this. Do I even care if I voted for the looser….NO. I voted not to win or loose, I voted
    for the candidate that I considered to be better for my country.
    Sadly… I was always right.

  4. Off topic here, sometimes i get Google Reader entries for blog posts that don´t exist on CC What gives? there was one this morning titled “Maduro wants some BRICS” nowhere to be found.


  5. A few days ago I asked on the devil’s blog that if Capriles wins when would the inauguration be?
    I didn’t get an answer. Maybe someone here knows.

    Would it be Jan. 10 or would it be sooner?

    If Maduro wins you can be sure it would be immediate.

    This is something the MUD needs to have defined.

    • Jan 10 is the date when a new periodo presidencial would begin. But this election isn’t to start a new pres. period, it’s to choose someone to conclude the 2013-2019 period already in progress.

      • Francisco,

        Island’s question still hasn’t been answered, and it is a good one. According to the constituion, IF the MUD were to win the election, when would Capriles’ innauguration be? How long after 14 April? Next day? Next week? A month? You get the point.

        In practice, I don’t know that it will matter, because I cannot see the CNE acknowledging a Capriles win, but it is still a valid question that needs to be established.

    • Although it is “la segunda derivada de la quinta pata del gato que se tiene que bajar de los asientos,” the question is a good one. The famous Article 233 states that elections have to be held within 30 days — and then only mentions “toma posesion” with no specific timing. It would appear to be an implicitly immediate thing. But, what do I know…?

  6. I think you are leaving december out in your analisis. First came october 7th and then we lost in so many key states that our hope just dimmed to almost nothing. We were not fighting Chavez in those electios and in some cases their candidate was the worst possible and yet we lost. I think that’s why we feel this way.

    But I agree, anything can happen in 30 days. We’ll see.

    • My thoughts are that since it seemed that Capriles capitulated too quickly on Oct. 7th, many felt doubly let down. There were so many who held so much hope that at long last someone could have beaten Chavez in an election that the comedown was catastrophic.

      Capriles running in Miranda and not campaigning country wide was probably another factor in the December mix. And who knows how much of the results were from people who felt Chavez was done for and decided to cast a proxy vote for him, again?

      What is different now is that Capriles has taken the gloves off and does not skirt around the issues or the candidate. He names him (whereas in the October campaign it was “el candidato”), flagrantly makes fun of him and calls him incompetent six ways from Sunday.

      I think their calculus is that since it is not Chavez, and there is nothing to lose, you might as well go after the man and those around him, and go hard and often.

      We, as a country in general, seem to respect strongmen. While some of us wish that campaigns should be run on issues, on ideas and respect, the facts seem to point otherwise.

      I for one am happy to see Capriles go offensive. Even though it’s an uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot and with a patchy sweater and no heating oil from Citgo, I am going to do all I can to get Capriles elected.

      Come April 14th, should Maduro win I will at least know that I did my part, as many others will have, and that time will be the final arbiter on when, not if, this whole rotten house of cards comes tumbling down.

      So vote on the 14th! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

  7. So far I haven’t heard a single convincing reason that explains the motivs for delaying anouncing Esteban’s death. What if the real reason was to make time for the vessels loaded with appliances to arrive in Venezuelan ports? They knew that after calling El Mío dead they wouldn’t have more than a few weeks before the unavoidable election and if there’s something you can’t speed up is a boat from China. Anyone with connections in our ports that can investigate?

  8. I’m optimistic too, there are some signs, that it is not going to be easy (at least) for El Tapado:
    -he tries to imitate HCh, at the monday meeting it was appalling as he tried to sing and the people didn’t liked that… He had to call the people to pay attention too…
    -He is reacting to Capriles
    -The “people” are not standing unconditionally after him, after the homophobic quotes he risk losing some voters
    HCh was “the leader”, a dominant personality, and Maduro was the best follower, unconditional, without personal ambitions, a “grey” personality, hardly to take the place of HCh in people’s minds.

  9. I think it doesn’t matter too much. Chavizmo is on the way out, another victory like 7-O will bury it. It may also loose, which will likely lead to disintergration of the movement. Imagine Chavizmo campaigning against the advantage of Cadenas.

  10. The problem is that the opposition does not know how to lose. After we lost in October, ça a été la déconfiture, in December. We could not maintain the momentum Capriles had built.

    Everytime it is the same, people are pumped up in the expectation that we can win the Presidency and afterwords we are so upset that abstention goes up sharply in opposition country. And every time we have to start from scratch again. That is why we need a more united opposition that focus in the long term.

    For me the long term is just two years away: 2015.

    • RCA you are correct. I just talk to my very chavista uncle and he said he is voting for Chavez while voting for Maduro…the hard-line chavistas think that way. Now I really don’t know how many real hard-line crazy chavistas like my uncle still are in Venezuela

  11. Maduro and the other power-starved THIEVES, including the “military” will cheat,again. As you say they control the media, to begin with, They’ll do whatever it takes to stay in power and steal trillions of $$$$. Nothing Capriles or anyone can do about that right now.

  12. If elections were in three months, I think Capriles could have a chance and mount a decisive campaign and I would agree with you, Maduro would have time to fumble and the people could realize how bad he is. The problem is not only one month, but one week of that month is Semana Santa, so, we are talking three weeks.

    Having said that, I would ask pollsters: Whats the abstention rate? If it gets high, watch out!

    • MO, the one thing that I think is in our favor is Semana Santa. Chavismo is counting on luto as a way to remind the people that Chavez and Maduro are the same. They may go to extremes with that strategy during easter but that strategy will anger the church and the truly faithful. Everybody else sees semana santa as Venezuelan Spring break and they will drink and act accordingly. To me, luto will be over then and Capriles should hit hard on the issues. And if, by any chance, he gets any proof that Chavez was dead, even brain dead , before March 5th, then he must make it public and all hell will break lose

      • Well, his own brother said it last night. That he had a stroke right after the Op so how could he sign documents, meet for 5 hours etcerc.. His own brother placed the proof of the pudding in our hands last night.

  13. I have a few questions on the subject:

    Can the opposition reach 6,5 milion votes again on April 14? Furthermore, is there any possibility of getting even more voters now? I talked to a couple of non-voters recently. The first one is still buying the “old politics” discourse. The other one gave up and believe that we are not gonna win, no matter what.

    In December 16 (Semtei dixit, I haven’t checked that) chavismo got 3 million votes less than in October 7. Is that true? If so, what was the reason? A less dedicated get-out-the-vote machine? It was because Chavez was not the candidate? Die People not like the candidates? People do not give a rat’s ass about local elections? Why?

      • So it seems, but was it because of Chavez or was it because the President sits on top of the petrodollars tap? If chavismo lose a local election, that’s not a big deal, but if chavismo lose the presidency, the misiones are at risk. Could it be, that It’s not just about Chavez, but mostly about the thing as a whole?

        • I think is because he tied government so much to his figure. He was after all the one who decided everything.

        • People are not as familiar about the local candidates, or don’t feel they play such an important role, so they are more likely to watch tv on the day of local elections and forget to vote.

      • But what do you think is going to happen on April 14? Probably they’ll have less money this time, but they do know that the presidential election is an all-or-nothing event. If they lose, they’d no longer have access to PDVSA, FONDEN and the chinese/russian loans to support the PSUV. I believe that they are gonna do whatever it takes to win…

  14. I agree Maduro is likely to win.
    Notwithstanding, the question is, of the 55% who voted for the Difunto on Oct 7, how many were radical die-hard Chavistas who will continue to vote for a ghost, and how many were just less sentimental Chavistas who might reconsider changing alliances now despite all the attempts by Maduro to make this vote about the Difunto’s last wish? All that is needed is an approx 5% swing, approxmately 800,000 votes (based on the 8.1M vs 6.5 M vote differential). Also, the lack of the Difunto’s presence may increase abstention which should favor the opposition.
    At least these are the thoughts that get me through night…

    • I’d also suggest to consider the opposite outcome.
      The Difunto’s absence may as well drive the chavista voters to “show these oligarcas we’ll stick to the righteous path”.
      Apart from that, I assume, the question is whether Maduro and the gang will succeed in demonizing Capriles/implanting spooky vision of his possible presidency in the chavista mind.

    • Chavez had lost so much popularity by Oct7 that there were predictions (perhaps only in the international press) that he might well loose that election. The coming election hinges completely on the emotional vote. If it was close with Chavez, there is no question Maduro SHOULD loose. In fact the last months have been such a mess it’s incredible that emotion might still give him the election.

  15. Yeah. It’s important to keep our feet on the ground and, not only because of all Francisco said, but because the bottom line is: we’re trying to defeat an autocratic government democratically, that’s a pretty epic F-ing quest. We weren’t able to do it before with an extremely charismatic leader and impeccable candidate. But maybe we’ll beat Mr Potato Head even though we only have a month and it’s in the middle of an emotional earthquake. My hope is that I see all the chavistas going insane reacting to statements the opposition never made, that they wanted them to. So as an infamous man from La Mancha cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme once said “Let the dogs bark Sancho, it means were right on track!”

  16. I have so very little hope,
    but I can hardly wait for the 14th to get up and go to exercise my civil right to vote.
    Hope all of us that can, do.

    • Canucklehead, I’m always happy to see your name in the comments — you have a way of nailing it!

      A perfect summary of Quico’s terrific post.

      Imagine if someone else put on Elvis’ sparkly outfit, picked up a guitar, batted his eyelashes at the ladies….yeah, it wouldn’t take long.

      The more people see of Maduro, the better.

    • I’m guessing the only one who could be called Elvis’s sucessor would be Michael Jackson? Maybe thats what chavismo needs to keep its iron grip on power uncontested? A Michael Jackson figure to El Comandante’s Elvis? Problem is, Maduro is more like a crappy Lil Wayne Impersonator, yet he’ll still win.

  17. Fair points… I think it is not as much of our unelectability (which to your point, is basically the same that it was back in October… and now we’re only facing Maduro and Chavez’s holy spirit), but more linked with the mess the opposition would inherit if the unthinkable were to happen and Maduro loses the election. A paquetazo seems inevitable from either side, better to let Nicolas take the hit.

    • I don’t think that Capriles will have to implement a paquetazo. The friendly international community might bequeath Venezuela a congratulatory line of credit to ease the relaxation of price controls.

  18. We are in uncharted territory here. We all assume that his ghost will be enough to carry the election, but we really do not know. Capriles, for obvious tactical reasons, could not go negative on el innombrable in October, but it is a different story with Nicolas, and man he has started out strong. Bringing up el innombrable’s wish to be buried in los llanos and how Nicolas was ignoring this wish and is profiting from the body was really strong.

    I think the outcome will depend on abstention. Ninis may sit this one out which may put us in a 2007 scenario where the outcome may well be very close.

  19. maduro is going to beat capriles by a larger margin than chavez did.

    he’s taking advantage of the mourning period, disproportionate state resources, and yes — it must be said — the FAILURE of the opposition to build a consistent and sensible program. sorry to say it.

  20. So, the politburo talking heads are still pushing the notion that Capriles will withdraw before the election. This talking point and the govt’s surprisingly inept response to Capriles 2.0 gives me the impression that they were genuinely surprised that he would run, let alone how. Does this mean they had some inside information that led them to expect otherwise?

  21. Will Pope Francis from Argentina distract Chavistas from worshiping Chavez?
    Perhaps he will make Chavistas stop and think.

  22. The article says: “As I recall, the one sliver of hope we had after October 7th’s drubbing was that, while we might be unelectable against Chávez, against Maduro we have a chance.”

    While this might be true if we pit Maduro vs Capriles, this election is “Chavez’s deathwish vs Capriles”. The quoted Datanalisis poll pretty much shows that. Unless Maduro really messes up, which is unlikely in a month in which he only has to say “chavez chavez chavez chavez”, I think we should expect results such as those of 7-O.

  23. Aside from sacrilege against the church of Chavez there seems little hope that anything Maduro does will cost him the election. We need some secret videotapes, there have to be some videotapes.

    • remplazó la imágen de fondo, anteriormente de Chávez, por la del Libertador, para darle una patada a Capriles que recién nombró su campaña electoral “Simón Bolívar”.


  24. Another example of Maduro’s incompetence. After a big show he says (Maybe we can’t do it”
    Venezuela may be unable to embalm Chavez’s remains
    03/14/2013 02:15
    CARACAS – Venezuela’s government said on Wednesday it may not be possible to embalm the remains of late leader Hugo Chavez as planned because the process should have been started earlier.

    The government had said it planned to embalm Chavez’s remains “for eternity” in much the same way as was done with the remains of Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin and communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong after they died.

    “Russian and German scientists have arrived to embalm Chavez and they tell us it’s very difficult because the process should have started earlier … Maybe we can’t do it,” acting President Nicolas Maduro said in televised comments on Wednesday.

  25. I wish the presidential election would start being more about proposals than about candidates. By making it about candidates, I believe Maduro wins. After all, all he has to claim is to be the candidate that best represents continuation of chavez’s ideals. If, instead, Capriles made it about proposals that are convincingly better for the recipients of the misiones benefits, he can win them over.

    The math is simple. If there are 9 misiones that are so terribly managed that I don’t benefit from them, but 1 that, though just as terrible, does benefit me in some way, I will still vote for the candidate that best guarantees that I continue to receive that 10% benefit. Being poor, I won’t care about lies, or failed promises, nor personality; I’ll care about the 10% fulfilled. Add to that the fact that I would feel that Maduro is more, one like me, than Capriles and you have a sure win for the big guy.

    Damn it, Capriles, offer cash distribution.

    • I totally agree, except a positive campaign based on proposals is tough because anything Capriles suggests regarding misiones Maduro can promise too, and more, and he has no scruples lying about the scope of what he will accomplish. So in addition it has to be a judgment about the past but most importantly about the integrity of the candidates.

      • That’s the key, maduro cannot promise cash distribution, at least not without killing his own project. You see, cash distribution is the ultimate capitalist model; everyone has cash to spend unconditionally. maduro cannot support such free marketism, especially not by sacrificing all his current oil income. Unless, of course, he’s not planning on following through, in which case, a failed promise on something so simple as oil cash distribution would cause his own people to rebel from within his party. Dame mi plata, is just too powerful to ignore, and is the one thing his people want that he cannot give.

      • Most importantly, is there an alternative with better chance of winning while at the same time being based on sound principles?

  26. We should not underestimate Maduro. I just watched Maduro’s interview in Venevision. The guy was not bad. Not bad at all. Chavez he ain’t, but he is not the lame duck most people believe he is…

  27. I arrived in Venezuela March 6. My last visit was in 2009. I do not have words to describe how run down I see Caracas…the only good thing is the BUs CAracas, however do to the quality of the infrastructure probably in 5 years would not work. HOnestly I think the best thing for the opposition will be that Maduro wins this elections..he will have to deal with all the problems. Yes I know 6 more years…it looks like an eternity, but if he deals with the problems as he delivers his message I think he will not last …the chavez’s lovers will turn against him!

  28. Reblogged this on Caracas Chronicles and commented:

    Just about a month ago, I posted this round-up of the race as I then saw it. As I sit down, from far away, to try to re-evaluate where we are, I find that I can’t really do better than to re-post it. Ultimately, this race will boil down to how many “soft chavistas” turn out to vote on Sunday and how many stay at home. And no poll can really tell us that ahead of time.

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    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Cheers

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