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. [Note, the headline poll-numbers have tightened somewhat since.]

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. “And will Maduro, a guy with no experience at all running for executive office, prove to be an even minimally competent campaigner?”

    I’d be interested as to whether anyone else besides me has reached a final conclusion on this point.

  2. An alternative title: “Maduro’s advantage Is Understated.” Capriles is closing, but time is short. The massive Petro State unfair/illegal vote-forcing machinery is intact. In any normal state Capriles would win, but hungry masses will probably vote for the safe immediate status-quo, especially when coerced/threatened if they don’t. That said, Capriles and his ptogram are the future, and will triumph, probably sooner rather than later. Maduro and his program will fall of their own weight.

  3. sonar es gratis, estamos jodidos……..

    at least he will have to manage the current disaster called venezuela. maybe a couple of years of this is exactly what we need for a good ol’ CTRL+ALT+DELETE

  4. This blog really, really doesn’t like to talk about actual policies, and how Maduro is campaigning on the continuation of those policies. Nothing much has changed, and the opposition is no more attractive to the majority than it was in October.

    On Sunday you’ll see that the most popular thing in Venezuela is not a person, but a revolution.

    • This blog writes PLENTY about policy, as well as other topics. (I understand the whole concept of not being able to dictate to media outlets what they should report when is difficult for you to wrap your head around, but give it a shot this once.)

      In this particular post we’re addressing the simple polling reality that the chavista coalition has always been cobbled together from one segment of deranged communist ideological dinosaurs (if you’re confused about what that looks like you may consider searching for a nearby mirror) and another segment of folks who don’t have very much time for political ideas, but had a strong, visceral identification with Hugo Chávez personally as well as a strong suspicion that his hangers on were useless.

      That your segment is going to turn out for Chávez was never in doubt. That you fail to grasp that there’s another segment is…well…it’s part of the derangement, isn’t it?

      • To the contrary, Chavez made the vast, vast majority of his followers very interested in politics, and especially the kinds of policies that have been the spine of the revolution so far.

        You may write a lot about policy, but rarely the core policies which cause 8 million to go and vote PSUV. And now, in this post, you again ignore the fact that Chavistas are wedded to Chavista policy, not Chavista politicians.

        • *bullshit*

          If that were true, the opposition would not have won the parliamentary elections in 2010 (in raw numbers, which is what you are talking about).

          The idea that 8 million voters in Venezuela vote for the PSUV because they are socialists or communists is a sad delusion on your part.

          • So even if they say they are, they’re not?

            Don’t let’s get started on how many opposition voters are capitalists. 2%?

          • Come on, we already went over lying in previous discussions.

            As to how many opposition voters are “capitalists”? That is exactly the point! Capitalist or communist is a very poor label, especially for the Venezuelan population, it would be much better discovered by asking more concrete questions, and in those concrete questions Capriles and the opposition is gaining ground by the day since 2006.

          • Good point!, Ideological ,labels too often misrepresent peoples actual set of living or operative beliefs which tend to be a bit fluid and incoherent shifting with every individual and change of circumstance . Both Tomas de Torquemada and Saint Francis of Assisi could be labeled as christian catholics and yet each lived their faith in totally contrasting manners. . The governor of a Chinese province bent on maximizing the economic development of his province by welcoming private investment was once asked whether what he was doing was consistent with Communist ideals , to which he answered “Im the boss in this province and I decide what communism is” Seeing the actual conduct of many people who profess to be pious christians one is amazed at how distant they are from any strictly understood ‘christian behaviour’.. People use ideological labels with the candid belief that they riguidly fit each person so labeled with a particular character and way of behaviour , which is almost never the case !!

          • It must be true that those 8 million people are communist who passionately discuss the virtues of dialectic materialism while fighting over a shirt in a Zara store, A little bird told me after inoculating me with cancer with its beak (That´s the kind of thinking you are trying to reason with, no pierdas el tiempo)

          • Good point, if you want to see what Venezuelans actually act on and therefore believe in their hearts, look at how they act at Mercal when chicken or any other good comes in stock. No need for expensive interviews, it’s quite obvious they are capitalists!

        • Chamo, you are right and you have confirmed what I’ve alwas thought. Chavistas are a bunch of sinverguenzas who vote for whoever is willing to bribe them with gifts. Because that’s all Chavista policy is about: vote for me and you might (take note: you might) receive a free bag of rice or a chinese dishwasher!!

        • How do you define a socialist in Venezuela? Someone who has a basic idea of how it functions? Or is the bar set at someone who has read Marx? Someone who feels a deep need for social justice that manifests itself by taking the deserved or undeserved capital of someone else for their own needs?

          Real socialists in Venezuela are likely less than 5-10% of Chavista voters. The others, are ironically enough, motivated by something called “rational self interest”.

          Must be galling to think about where that one came from and how it is applied in this context.

          • No, the great bulk of chavista voters were motivated by emotional attachment to an attractive leader figure and festering resentment of the previous cohort of politicians. The massive failure of chavista policy has been obvious for years: crime, shortages, blackouts, corruption. The benefits actually provided to the Venezuelan public by chavismo have been small. They affect votes not because the voters are substantively “bought”, but as tokens to confirm that emotional attachment.

    • That’s exactly what I think…wish it would be otherwise but I really believe that venezuelans have gotten used to living in “mediocrindad” and being given everything in misiones are not used anymore to hard working and getting acomplished.

  5. Quico, I agree that our pessimism from the outset is unwarranted. I, however, am almost convinced we are going to lose.

    Although a lot of chavistas might not be as motivated to vote as they were in october and although PDVSA doesn’t have as much money to mobilize voters, I don’t think these two add to more than the 1.6 million votes difference (I think you guys quoted a guy who estimated the number of “‘arrastrados” at about 800k voters). Moreover, we shouldn’t assume we are going to reach 6.7 Million votes, we reached that number back in October when we were super motivated and many even convinced we were going to win. The gap might be reduced, but probably not to flip the winner. That’s my take

    • I’d like to mention that from my perspective there’s a lot more people motivated now than back in October about the possibility of winning. Also there’s a lot of people that believed in Chavez and not in “the revolution”. Those two factors give me a glimpse of hope that I personally didn’t feel back in October.

    • Either way it’s good that Capriles is forcing Maduro to make all sorts of impossible promises, and eroding his margin of victory. Maduro once elected will be in a very weak position and will be forced to adopt more realistic policies for his own survival, which will benefit Venezuela.The less policy wreckage left behind once the opposition takes over, the better.

  6. This is really well written. Maduro isn’t Chavez (I sound like a parrot). He doesn’t have the charisma, the bizarre rhetoric and he certainly can’t stand in front of a crowd (albeit a small one) and talk with passion (I’m actually surprised he can read from the ever present ipad). The only thing Maduro is good at is repeating Chavez’s name over and over again. The reality is that if Maduro “wins”, the Castros will be running this country.

  7. When will Maduro complete his imitation of Chavez by going incommunicado for medical care in Cuba for two months? I am waiting.

  8. The saying goes that “you got to have guts”. Capriles got them. What do you think will happen to him should he lose? He literally is “arriesgando el pellejo”.
    That brings me to the conclusion, that the intellectuals in this blog will not like, that “brains” should not intervene, NOT NOW, because what they accomplish is to demoralize those that, in many different ways, will risk their skins by voting and defending the votes.
    Could you shut up for a while for the sake of those who will risk their “pellejos”?

  9. I don’t know if it’s the over the counter hormones I’ve been taking, or the 40% salario that’s been promised, I just know I’m happy to be able to get out on the “15th” and vote, what with all the military protection on the streets that day and the free transportation. It’ll be festive.


  10. Thinking on how people behave in elections I am reminded of all those fans of sports teams in the US which fanatically support their teams no mater how times they lose pennant afer pennant , game after game , even if they are dissapointed with their players or team managers , how they are always alive to the dream that come next year their team is going to win . These alliegances persist because those fans have become emotionally bonded to their teams symbolic imagery and identity so that they cannot concieve of themselves as supporting a different team . This may be happening to many chavistas who although increasingly dissapointed or half dissapointed in Maduro or in the regimes performance still see themselves as Chavistas , its their cherished badge of colletive identity , they are the People , the beloved of their tin pot messiah , the brave host who have sworn eternal emnity against the bourgouis and imperialism !! Besides the regime is always ready to shower all kinds of gifts on them , or at least on some of them, as a prize to their loyalty : Political struggles are not alway a battle between two opposed groups of reasoning people , but between two different kind of histrionized passions . I am always amazed at Heideggers answer to a friend who queried him on his allegiance to Hitler , a boorish vulgar frenzied character, and how Heidegger ( that most sophisticated of XX century philosophers) said ” ah but have you seen what beautiful hands he has!!”) . You cannot reason your way into many peoples hearts , it takes a living catastrophe to open their eyes . Im certain that in time most Chavez followers will see the light , but for may of them that time has yet to come . Of course history teaches us that life is full of surprises and that sometimes the presumed favourite unexpectedly loses to a fast running adversary , lets hope that next sunday Venezuelan voters give us that sattisfaction of making Capriles the winner !!

  11. What I can see from where I am is that people are much more motivated now than in October. Of course, I can only see a part of the scenario. I didn’t see last October a spontaneous comando of people, formed mostly by women, in the set of buildings where I live, and now there is one. And the asambleas de ciudadanos they organized before campaing started officially were seen everywhere. I know that this is not a scientific observation. I am just communicating my perception. Will that be enough? I don’t know.

  12. Take a look at these numbers from Datanalisis, courtesy of Yvpolis:

    MADURO 46.4 49.2 54.8

    CAPRILES 34.3 34.8 45.1

    Both candidates numbers are going up, but Capriles’ numbers had a larger bump.

    It COULD be argued that undecideds are breaking more for Capriles than Maduro.

    If that tendency continues it should turn out to be very close!!

    My brain says Maduro but my heart hopes for Capriles

    • What I just dont believe is that those polls see abstention below 20% (in fact two below the Oct. abstention) i just dont buy that. Abstention is the key in surprises in Venezuelan elections, from theParliamentaryresults, to October, to December. (Unknown, 19%, 50%)

  13. I have a question that applies to everyone, do you know any chavista that voted for Chavez on 7-O that will either abstain or vote for Capriles this time? I know only one who is deeply disappointed with Maduro and will abstain. The rest are not very convinced but will vote for Maduro, who is to them “the lesser of the two evils”

  14. Anyway, come late Sunday afternoon be prepared for the political fireworks. Anything can happen. This time around, surprise is in the air……..

  15. Today I saw a poster from Maduro, not far away from the Cuban embassy in Chuao, that said: ” Nicolas Maduro Presidente, Cuba y Venezuela una sola patria” (Nicolas Maduro President, Cuba and Veenzuela one nation) with a photo of Maduro with a sport jacket with the Cuban flag . . .

  16. Given that Quico has a lot of “We don’t know” here, I suggest a simple predictor: Take all the polls and average them. The guy (I forgot his name, but CC kept referring to his blog) who was following all the 7-O election polls did that, and the result matched exactly the outcome of the election. As much as I’d be devastated by a victory by Maduro, I am afraid that the election has been decided. Sadly, Maduro will be the next Presidente of Venezuela.

      • Sucks big time but it’s no surprise. Venezuela has become a country of sinverguenzas and delinquents. Only economic catastrophe will break the support of chavismo.

      • It seems pretty obvious at this point. There are several scenarios where Maduro and the cuban boys win, and only one where Capriles wins. Capriles needs to max out his potential (close to 7M) and hope for chavista abstentionism to be at least in the mid-range between the 7-O and 16-D, which would result in about 6.5M.

        In any case, the opposition is still a minority, even if they win the elections. Maybe Venezuela needs to go through an even worse situation. “No hemos tocado fondo”

  17. And let it be clear that it was the oligarchs and intelectuals Chavez so much despised that placed him there in first place, starting with President Caldera who condoned his crimes and the owners of mainstream media outlets.

    • My thoughts too. In Venezuela intellectualism and privilege are usually the same thing.

      “I’ll have an arepa with gambas and a degree as well please.
      “Si Señor, that’ll be ummm 20 Bs for the arepa and 10 bBs for the degree.

      That about sums up the intellectual class, more or less.

  18. I am reminded of the cartoon of the PSUV activista dragging the grumbling housewife on his moto to vote. I don’t think the Opposition can count on abstention from the Chavista camp. The machine is too powerful. However, if enough of those are disgusted enough to vote for the Opposition (secretly) there is a chance. The Opposition needs to step up the message that the vote really IS secret.

  19. Good afternoon. First, I want to say that these “elections” are not at all, part of a political process, not, is part of the same madness that has sparked Chavez personalist leadership left, dictatorial and wasteful of human and civil rights and freedoms. As legacy have left a structure that can only be maintained if the CNE helps win Maduro, with electoral fraud. Maduro is not Chavez and if the chavistas vote for Maduro, will be demonstrating something very simple: in Venezuela there will be no democracy and socialism seeks to eradicate it in any way possible and that was the last mission Chavez launched, win, die appoint a successor (and the constitution is unknown) and legitimize itself to return now, this country into a socialist model of misery, violence and lies. Although it is difficult to analyze this process, the result is simple: if you win Maduro, Venezuela will be destroyed.


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