Riding coattails onto aircraft carriers…


HMS-Prins-of-Wales-Queen-Elizabeth-class-aircraft-carrierAircraft carriers are strategically crucial but massively expensive to build, so it’s not surprising of the ten nations that have real aircraft carriers, eight possess only one. In our metaphorical Venezuelan theatre of electoral war, we’ve long had just the one portaviones worth its salt, and its name rhymes with Cugo Pávez. 

A recent article by El Universal’s Angel Oropeza made light of the fact that, of the 17 elections Venezuela has held since 1998 (4 presidential, 3 parliamentary, 4 regional and 6 referenda), chavista voter turnout for elections in which Chávez wasn’t on the ballot is, on average, 40% lower. The closer you’re associated with that magic name, though, the less likely you’re to suffer from that drop-off.

Which is why Chávez elevated the portavión strategy to a shameless art of epic proportions.

When Chávez acts as the main warship from which to deploy planes, lesser aircrafts will not have to rely on their local bases for staging operations, they can all fly safely knowing they are ultimately accountable to the big, bad, mother ship.

Now, it’s easy to overdo the outrage on the Coattails strategy.  Leaders of all political persuasions support their allies on the stump, in hopes that a hefty endorsement might translate to added votes. This is both customary and normal. (Though, customarily, they do that while they’re, um, still alive.)

Here, for instance, we have a picture of Chávez throwing his weight behind Hugo Cabezas for the 2008 Trujillo gubernatorial race.


But later iterations of this strategy presented a problem, given Chávez’ absence during last year’s regional campaign. This inconvenience was sorted out by attaching the President’s Heart of my Fatherland logo to any and all PSUV candidates’ imagery. Again, a totally legit marketing move.

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Once these candidates won, they made no qualms about celebrating their triumphs as a Chávez victory first and foremost.

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But even the most brazen of ass-kissing candidates retained a shred of pride by picturing themselves alongside the Chávez portavión.

Which brings us to this, our current presidential race graphic, where not a mustache is in sight:


For someone claiming to be the son of Chávez, Maduro must have one hell of a reverse Oedipus Complex, or just suffer from desperately low self esteem. I realize that a lot is on the line for Maduro and the end can justify the means. But who really subjects themselves to the self-effacing humiliation of not being pictured in your own campaign poster? Isn’t that a tacit admission that you just don’t have what it takes to win on your own? Is there even a precedent for such loser tactics actually garnering winning results?

Well, this is Venezuela, the land where anything can happen.


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  1. Is that supposed to resemble Chavez’ handwriting? That and the signature reek of a desperate need for legitimacy. Which plays well into HCR’s “a ti nunca te ha elegido nadie”.

    Not that most chavista voters care, anyway.

  2. This election isn’t about self-esteem, is about holding on to power at all cost. Losing his image is just a tiny cost the way I see it.

    • Ditto. When everybody saw in his face “My poor father” when Chavez was annointing him, I saw “oh fuuuuuuck, notmenotmenotme……!”

  3. I think I have mentioned this before, but Hugo Chavez’s presence is not the only difference between presidential elections and regional/parlamentary elections.

    Venezuela has always been a strong presidential system. Parliamentary or regional elections are not as critical as the presidential election. Although descentralization changed that a bit, Venezuelans are still stuck in the Caudillo/Messiah mentality. And Chavez’s ruling style just worsened that.

    People do not expect solutions from the mayors or governors, much less from some obscure member of the parliament they have probably never seen. Need a house? Let’s go ask the caudillo-president! Need running water or electricity? The caudillo-president can solve that for sure! There’s a pothole? Caudillo-president must solve this! Given these circumstances, it’s only logical that the turnout will be always larger for a presidential election.

    And the same goes for the ruling party. They do know what’s at stake in a presidential election. Municipality and regional coffers are peanuts compared to the money the central government has in FONDEN, PDVSA and thew Chinese Fund. They can afford to lose some municipalities or states, but they cannot lose the State under any circumstances. Were they to lose the State’s pot of gold, they’d also lose for sure TSJ, CNE, National Assembly and all their perks they have, such as total inmunity.

    As for the campaign, what else can we expect? Maduro is nothing but another Chavez’s Yes Man. The only thing he can offer is to follow Chavez’s orders. Sadly, that will be enough for most of chavistas voters that believe that populism and rentism are a sustainable way of life. Just recently I realized that most chavista voters do not care about Maduro or Chavez. They just care about populist policies and rent-seeking schemes they can profit from. That’s what chavismo – and their predecessors – were all about. If you add to that a do-as-you-wish culture/lifestyle, a lot of Venezuelans will be glad to join in.

  4. Banking solely and exclusively on the popularity of a deceased president who, after abusing just about every power of the state, managed a meager 55% victory a few months ago is indeed a loosing strategy. Caprilles has a real shot here of either winning by such a margin that CNE will be forced to declare him the winner, or at least forcing it to blatantly rig the election to the extent it will be painfully evident even to some of the more absurd Chavista loyalists.

    If not, there’s still 2015 legislative elections and a 2016 (or 2017) recall referendum. If Chavizmo survives those, Venezuela will become a new DRC.

  5. TV: I fear that the very strong emotional connect between Chaez and his followers has only been exarcerbated by his agony and death and goes beyond the purely venal considerations flowing from the regimes ‘generosity’ towards its followers. Not that the latter dont matter , they are the proof that their leader loved them as they did him and certainly made their lives more comfortable . His succesors count on this connection and use every chance of remindind people of it to draw in his followers sympathy and votes !

  6. Voter turnout is always higher in presidential elections than in non presidential elections, anywhere in the world. This isn´t presidentialism or caudillismo, it´s common sense. In fact, turnout in the 2012 US presidential elections was 40.7% higher than in the midterm elections; see elections.gmu.edu.

    • The interesting part is that the expected decrease in voter turnout during non-presidential elections is not proportional across the board: chavista voter turnout decreases by a higher margin than does opposition voter turnout.

      • The thing is that from the past events we are not able to differentiate the size of the “chavez-is-not-in-the-ballot effect” from the “non-presidential-event effect”. This is uncharted territory, is the very first chavez-is-not-the-ballot-presidential-type event in 14 years

      • You cannnot caculate chavista or opposition turnout because the chavista and opposition population are unobservables. You can observe that the chavista vote goes down by more than the opposition vote in some non-presidential events, but that coud be due to crossover vote and not to differences in turnout. In any case, in our most recent observation, which is that of the 2012 regional elections, the chavista candidates actualy got a higher share of the national vote than Chavez did in the October 2012 presidential elections.

        • True on both counts, Omar and Godgiven. It would be simplistic to examine historical voter turnout with regards to political affiliation given the impossibility of accounting for voto cruzado or the obvious presidential election phenomenon (unless you have access to actual lists of names which I’m sure the government does). It is also false to extrapolate historical voter turnout data to the current unprecedented circumstance, in which the presidential candidate is not an incumbent for the first time in 14 years.
          That said, the fact that the chavista candidates received a higher share of votes on regional elections than they did on presidential elections in october is a different issue altogether, since it speaks to proportion of votes rather than universal turnout. Analysis of that data would require delving into the quality of party leadership/mobilization and more qualitative appreciations of message, campaign effectiveness, etc.
          I only cited Mr. Oropeza’s article as support for the portavión effect; clearly his analysis lacks statistical rigor.
          Nonetheless, the theory of “lower chavista turnout when Chavez is not on the ballot” does merit deeper analysis, from a strictly statistical standpoint measuring disparity of turnout, given numbers such as these: since 2006, the opposition voter turnout has shown a constant increasing trend, regardless of the type of election, (except for the 2009 referendum, where oppo. turnout dipped 100.000 votes) whereas chavista voter turnout has been all over the place, obeying more-or- less the higher-turnout-for-presidential-elections law. So, even controlling for variables such as an increase in the overall electorate, for some reason global opposition voting has consistently risen whereas chavismo turnout has oscillated, and not necessarily correlating to the nature of elections (2012 regionals, for example, turned out 4,8 million chavista votes, the lowest number since the 2007 referendum, which gave chavez 4,4 million votes). Also, despite the clear downturn in oppo votes for the 2012 regional election (6,5 m vs. 3,8 m), those results saw a rise from total opposition primary votes (2,9 m), which does give an indication as to what the baseline oppo turnout is.

          • This is a very well reasoned explanation of why we cant accurately predict whether the level of Chavista absentiism will be comparatively higher or lower than the Oppositions even if its a very important factor in determining the outcome !! Going for the oppo is the Chavistas thriumphalism , and the absence of a living chavez to ‘galvanize the masses’, going for them their well oiled and funded voter movilization machine and the galvanizing power of Chavez the dead deified icon calling on his followers (from beyond the grave) to support Maduro. Going for the Oppo the flat uninspiring leadership style of Maduro and the coming to roost of the many years of gross mismanagement , going against the oppo the fact that they come from two demoralizing defeats and the lack of resources that in the past may have been provided by oppo controlled state governments. My own take is that the effort to get the best possible electoral result is not dependent on the prospects of winning or losing but on a cost benefit analysis that works both if there is a win or if there is a loss which leaves the regimes image wounded and prepares the ground for future electoral confrontations when the advantages of the regime will start to dissappear or wane as the consequences of its economic mismanagement become more difficult to explain or hide and strike peoples life more harshly., also as the power of Chavez the dead icon to attract popular support for his succesors begns to weaken .

          • Emiliana,
            Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I agree, the turnout dynamics can´t be easily dismissed and it´s a point that requires proper analysis. Por cierto, to add a layer of complexity, I guess it´s different that Chavez is not on the ballot since he´s not running from Chavez is not in the ballot since he is dead.

            But, anyway, to be completely honest with you, I do believe in the existence of the Chavez-is-not-on-the-ballot effect -and a sufficient proof of that is Nicolas trying to convince everyone that Chávez IS in the ballot- …but, in my opinion is rather a small effect. I guess my reaction was more towards Mr. Oropeza´s article implications, which btw was used as a talking points by the Comando SB yesterday and today, which I do think leads us to the wrong type of optimism.

  7. Dear Mr. Oropeza: Drawing conclusions from the observed differences in participation rates between events, without making a halt to think the characteristics of each event (controlling for it), is pure 100% nonsense. Gracias. La Gerencia

  8. I think in Rodríguez Chacin’s poster, they should have used Chavez´s face not for anything relating to his Charisma or his popularity, but any picture is better than having Rodriguez, who always looks unbelievably creepy and sinister even when he tries to smile, problaby more so

  9. ‘But who really subjects themselves to the self-effacing humiliation of not being pictured in your own campaign poster?’.

    I can think of at least one precedent in the region.

    In the 1985 Honduran presidential election, the supremely uncharismatic octogenarian Oscar Mejia Arellano (candidate of the outgoing Liberal President Suazo Cordoba) had an image problem. Ugly, wrinkly and boring, he was generally known as OMA, which the wags said stood either for ‘once mil arrugas’ or ‘organo masculino atrofiado’. Instead of his own rather unappealing mugshot, his campaign posters featured that of the deceased Liberal caudillo Modesto Rodas Alvarado – a hugely popular politician who, like Chavez, had suffered a premature death at 58 a few years earlier.

    OMA only got about a quarter of the votes. But thanks to a deal brokered by the military, it was his fellow Liberal Jose Azcona who assumed the presidency, rather than the Conservative candidate, Rafael Callejas, who received the most votes.

    • Thanks for that neat anecdote! I searched all over the place for a similar case, but came up empty handed ( except for the Leopoldo poster).

  10. Great post, Emiliana.

    I’m only want to say this: If Chavismo is dropping the tricolor heart as its logo, it’s a huge mistake of their part. That logo was very useful for them and abandoning it is a short-sighted decision.

  11. But who really subjects themselves to the self-effacing humiliation of not being pictured in your own campaign poster?

    An obscure local case in Chicago: in 1979, after the death of longtime Mayor Richard J. Daley (the Boss), there was an election for Mayor. The Democrat organization backed Michael Bilandic, who had been named interim Mayor by the City Council. He was challenged (in the Democrat primary) by Jane Byrne, who had a Consumer Affairs position under Daley.

    Byrne played up the Daley connection; her campaign leaflet (she could only afford one) featured two pictures – one of Daley, and one of Daley with her.

    (There was a bad snowstorm just before the primary, and Bilandic’s adminstration fumbled the response badly. In an astonishing upset, Byrne won the primary, which was tantamount to election.)

  12. Is it too late to put Hugo Chavez name on the ballot?
    Chavez campaign is in full swing. He is holding big rallys and dominating media time.
    Chavez posters are everywhere. Maduro is acting as Chavez campaign manager, providing full funding, and mentioning Chavez every chance he gets. Except for maybe 4 minutes each day, you cannot hear a single complaint or criticism about Chavez.

    In many places such as Chicago, dead people still vote. Why not have a dead president?


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