The Mobilization Gap and Middle Class Blinders

Mobilization PSUV
Eye on the ball, folks: this is where it all goes down.

One final thought on the ill-humored comments thread that followed my (to be sure, wilfully provocative) last post: while it turns out it’s very easy to get a rise out of opposition supporters by suggesting that there are better uses for hundreds of dollars than driving overnight to cast a single ballot, nobody really seems all that bothered that we’re likely to leave tens of thousands of Capriles votes uncast simply because our mobilization effort isn’t really properly resourced.

There’s a deep culture gap with chavismo here, and it maps onto a class gap.

Working class Venezuelans live in communities where election day means a big, big mobilization drive, just as it has since the 1960s. Middle class Venezuelans live in communities where election day means putting your civic virtue on display by taking yourself to your voting station without anyone having to ask you.

In a lot of barrios, the difference between having a hundred supporters and having a hundred votes is whether you get your shit together to identify them, contact them, look them in the eye as you ask them for their votes and then organize rides for them to go to the polling stations – and that’s a reality is so alien to the political culture of someone willing to spend $150 for an overnight bus-ride that it becomes invisible.

Venezuelans in class D and E (80% of the country, lest we forget) get voter mobilization on a gut level, without anyone needing to explain it to them. Venezuelans in classes A, B and C largely don’t, because mobilization is a far less prominent part of their experience of elections.

The problem is that, while the political culture of the middle classes dominates opposition political discourses, in numerical terms the working class is where a large majority of opposition votes come from.

It’s a demographic inevitability in a country where around 3 million voters total are in classes A, B and C (and not all of them vote, and those who do don’t necessarily vote for the opposition), but where Capriles received seven million votes last time.

Within chavismo, where the political culture of the barrio is much closer to the core of the movement, the absolute centrality of mobilization surprises no one. That – along, of course, with the zillions of petrodollars – is why chavismo will never leave mobilization to chance and will never under-resource it.

And that, I guess, is my last word both on this debate, and on what’s coming tomorrow. To a degree that most of my readers seem scarcely able to conceive of, the thing that matters the most tomorrow is what happens on the ground, in class D and E communities all over the country, as a massive chavista turnout operation rolls out and a much smaller, much weaker and much worse resourced opposition operation does what it can to try to limit the cayapa.

Our one hope – and let’s be clear, it’s a pretty slim one – is of a historic breakdown in the PSUV mobilization machine. It’s happened once before – on December 2nd, 2007 – so it’s not entirely beyond the realm of possibility.  And Maduro’s shortcomings leave some room to hope it could happen again.

But in the end, it’s only that: a hope.

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  1. Why are you so vocal about all this now?? A few weeks ago you could have awakened a few Venezuelan ex-pats to the idea that instead of spending money on travel they should donate it to the campaign. Good idea – too late. We don’t need Monday night quarterbacks now. There will be plenty of time to pick over all the strategies, criticize everything that you know they should have done and they didn’t, second quess everything. Yes, we know, you would have played it better, but right now we are still focused on tomorrow.

    • Yet you never said Emiliana is working on mobilization, funds are needed and she can be contacted at [email protected]

      I agree with you, my point here is that maybe some help could have been obtained from readers of the blog.

    • Talking about it and giving proposals are completely different.

      One person can talk about cancer anytime he likes, but whether you are actually working on the cure or not, is when people start paying attention.

      I’m sorry your rant it was just that, a rant aimed to minify the effort of those that wanted to vote and understand that they have a duty to fulfill, and you discredit them on the basis that they are rich kids with an undeserved attention.

      Second, what makes your idea completely dismissive is that we should sacrifice the votes of some in order to get even more votes, for the greater good, the end justify the means, and that sort of arguments gives the creep in a whole new level. That is sort the basic argument in chavismo camp which means that you are not so different and that you are much alike to them that you care to admit.

      For me the greater good can be achieved without sacrificing some, and had the idea being presented before in a polite manner, sure I’d say people would have helped with the cause. But not so late in the game…. sigh….

  2. You missed completely the key point that many of your commenters made.
    The opportunity cost that you refer to doesn’t just apply to those who travel to New Orleans to vote. It applies to EVERYONE with EVERY expenditure.
    So, if you went out to eat last night, you wasted money that could have gone to CSB; if you took a vacation this year, you wasted money that could have gone to CSB: if you bought new clothes or new anything, you wasted money that could have gone to CSB;
    You see, FT, this opportunity cost doesn’t just apply to those going to New Orleans – it applies to those who spend any many in any unnecessary way and don’t give that money to the campaign.
    That is, it applies to YOU, as much as to anyone.
    Therefore, stop avoiding the question that keeps being asked of you – how much money did YOU donate to this election effort. If you scrimped and saved and donated a lot then you have something to talk about. If not, then the you are just spouting hot air.
    I can tell you this though – in October YOU personally went to Venezuela to cover the election. Why, so you could help your blog get an inside scoop and bolster your ego?
    Sorry, but unless you can show how much you’ve saved and given to the campaign your math may be correct but you are in the EXACT SAME BUS as those going to New Orleans.

  3. Even if you are right, which I don’t think you are, the value of pointing this out to your readership the day before the vote: less than zero. If one extranjero voter stayed home because of this logic and also made no campaign donation ( because enlightenment is now too late) you have directly aided Maduro, no? Why not display your knowledge of how classes D and E work in a timely manner?

    • You read the blog, you know: I’ve been writing about almost nothing other than Mobilization since Omar Z. showed me his study on this…

      Incidentally, I’m touched to see so many people think this blog has SUCH influence on the behavior of Venezuelan voters, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of that at all…

      • You’re telling your readers that live outside the country their vote is an act of self indulgence. I’m a big fan. This is sophistry. It’s smart, but its sophistry.

  4. Imágenes: el Big Ben, El Coliseo romano, el teatro de la Opera en Sydney, la Estatua de la Libertad, el tren bala en Japón, la torre Eiffel, Chichen Itzá, la sirena en Copenhagen, la puerta de Brandenburgo, las pirámides en Egipto, Machu Pichu, el Cristo en Corcovado… un locutor en off dice “No necesitamos tu voto, necesitamos los reales. Evítate el peligro y los posibles inconvenientes del traslado al consulado venezolano mas cercano a tu domicilio y deposita el equivalente de los gastos de tu grupo familiar en la cuenta PayPal que aparece en pantalla”

    La pueden musicalizar con la cancioncita de la cuña que está rodando el CNE “Soooy…”

  5. It would be terrible if Venezuelans with the money to do so failed to help the Capriles campaign. That criticism should be made broadly, if it is broadly true. There is no need to narrow the criticism to include only those on the bus to New Orleans.

    • Sure. I suppose my critique is more cultural: I’m trying to make a point about the parallel hypervisibility of what amounts to a rounding-error of a few thousand votes in New Orleans vs. the almost complete invisbility of the many, many more votes the opposition leaves on the table by failing to mobilize them.

      Now I see the error in my earlier post. I don’t really have much animus against folks chosing to bus it to New Orleans. But I absolutely detest the fawning adulation they elicit.

      • I myself have thought they must have a pretty good p.r. agent, because they get a lot of positive airtime. I guess it is harder for the media to penetrate a destitute Caracas neighbourhood than it is to showcase Miami.

        • I am not aware of the fawning adulation. We’re going to meet a bunch of people who travelled by bus and by plane tomorrow to vote, and like last time, I don’t think anyone thinks they are doing more than their duty as Venezuelan citizens.

  6. “It’s happened once before – on December 2nd, 2007 – so it’s not entirely beyond the realm of possibility.” A key figure played a role in making sure that the results were counted and communicated to the citizenry on that date. Perhaps the more disturbing aspect of the Venezuelan political landscape is not opportunity cost vs. civic duty but the role that the military plays in determining leaders. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility because of this man:

  7. Abstention on 12/2/2007 didn’t necessarily mean lack of Chavista mobilization, but perhaps Chavista public lack of agreement with the proposals (particularly indefinite re-election)-this phenomenom is growing daily in Venezuela in response to Maduro’s incompetence. Middle-class MUD planners well-know the need to mobilize the majority DE classes, but don’t even begin to have the manpower/resources/coercion to begin to do the job adequately–it is truly a David vs. Goliath undertaking.

  8. In Venezuela, we take “mobilization” for granted, as almost synonym with our native mass-democracy practices since the XIX century. But some of our neighbors take a critical view on “mobilization” many rule-of-law-minded folks will like:

    Brazil is perhaps the most “electoral” country in raw numbers, behind perhaps India, using as measure the number of elected offices (i.e. 5.500 municipalities, 600 congressmen, countless councilmen, etc.). China, of course, does not count.

    In our neighbor country, “mobilizing” is a crime even punishable by prison. Free transportation, free food, etc. are completely banned. You do not need to be a super-psychologist to know that such gifts or perks can, at least, bend a neutral voter towards the candidate of the guy handing out the goodies on election day. Also, not even a toddler will believe that whomever hands the goodies is not prozelitizing by doing such acts. To confirm this tacitly, even in Venezuela-2013, where moral references are as scarce as Mazeite, campaining on election day is against the law (at least the law applied to the opposition…).

    So, how and why do Brazilians vote without “mobilization”, considering that on a Sunday they might have better things to do (soccer, beach, caipirinha, Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, watching Globo, etc. etc. etc.)?

    Well, voting is mandatory. People who do not vote cannot be employed by the State, nor enroll into public universities, nor get loans at some State-owned entities, etc. The solution to this bureacratic purgatory is to pay a small fine and do boring paperwork, making you lose more time than casting a vote in the first place.

    Perhaps one day (God willing, starting this Monday), or whenever Venezuela starts becoming a “normal” country again, we can stop to think about this type of delicatessen.

    Cheers to All

    • Great point, southern reader. Here in Chile, the vote has stopped being mandatory, and politicians are already regretting it.

  9. @colominaM: RT @Benytocarmelas: @colominaM SI NECESITAS Q TE MOVILICEN ESTE 14 A SIGUE A @MovilizadoresVE O USA EL HT #soymovilizador DALE RT!

    • Jaja sorry vici, nothing against you but with that comment are you saying that twitter will be the way to find out if someone can give you a ride? That’s our mobilization strategy? Twitter!!! Talking about middle class binders…

      • No, I’m saying they use Tweets to spread the info. How else would you post phone numbers etc of #yosoymovilizador people willing to take you voting in the urbanizaciones? No todos viven el barrio. Y hay mucha inseguridad asi que es un forma de colaborar. Yo vivo arriba en una loma, no siempre hay transporte. Siempre llevo a la conserje o cualquier vecino(a) que no pueda ir. La clase media también existe. Chacao ofreció transporte gratuito para todos los vecinos. Que yo sepa Baruta no. So… Cualquier cosa vale, hasta señales de humo. No?

  10. Ooouuuh, Francisco, how dare you mock the sensibilities of the sifrinos with facts??? Couldnt agree more with you. Half of the people in my Fbook framing their names with the tricolor circle believe Venezuela is Prados Del Este. You describe accurately in your book the disconnect between those whose vote is rational and those who light candles to estampitas of Chavez. The problem is that our “educated” elites are not educated at all about the political realities of the fatherland. I will vote for Capriles fully aware that he’s going to lose but happy that HE KNOWS that Venezuelan elections are won in El Cerro, not El Doral. The guy is building his career right in front of our eyes.

    • I was particularly struck by this part:

      Half of the people in my Fbook framing their names with the tricolor circle believe Venezuela is Prados Del Este.

      My wife and I have been seeing a recent Telenovela made by Venevision which is supposed to be in Caracas. But It’s NOT a Caracas I recognize at all. It seems to treat the whole place like Doral or Praods del Este circa 1975. People walk around freely with no security concerns, people drive with their windows down. It takes 15 minutes to drive from one place to another, etc. The Novela paints a picture of Venezuela that is utterly disconnected from reality.

  11. I do not know what is so difficult about this. Most of the people in Classes A & B have cars, as do many in Class C. Everyone of you know who supports the Opposition. A couple of years ago, in one of the elections, I asked everyone I knew who learned toward the Opposition if they had voted. Most had. Two of them had not, because they were working and didn’t have transport. So, I organized someone to relieve them and drove them to their polling places and back. The ones who had voted, I encouraged them to do as I was doing. Several of them did. By doing this, I think I added about half a dozen Opposition votes, even though I wasn’t a citizen. At the moment, I am not in Venezuela, and can’t help. But everyone there can, and that is how you do it.

  12. Quico what bothered people was not the bold, yet valid idea of donating money to the capriles campaign instead of traveling hundreds of miles to cast “expensive” votes. What bother everyone including me was:

    1- The DISRESPECT of saying that they spend this money to fullfill their egos.This is not only false in most case, but you also FAIL to see that families in Venezuela always ask them “hey! Are you going to vote?”. They feel it is their responsibility with their country to cast their vote. I know these people and most of them are middle class people to which 150$ is a huge sacrifice in a moment of economic crisis in the US, which happens to be much deeper in Miami. Most of them will waste a day or two at work for doing this and spend several hours on a bus. You are diminishing their effors while at the same time calling them out. Epic fail.

    2- the post comes at the very last minute where nothing can be done about this, which makes it useless and makes your idea seem like a last second rant. A lot of these people think that the BEST way they can help is by voting. It is not about ego. I dont think most of those people who traveled from Miami to New Orleans and spent between 150-500$ for their ego. That’s rodiculous. They could give that money to the campaign and it would be a much easier effort not involving a very uncomfortable and lenghty bus trip. Also consider that a lot of them also donate money.

    3- the way in which the post is written is not that of an objective analysis, but that of an aggresive and insulting rant, which completely overshadows the idea.

  13. Quico, I’m a daily reader, and I don’t remember you ever suggesting that the out-of-country voters might consider what you suggested, until this posting. Maybe you and Juan just need to take some time off.(hopefully to celebrate).

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