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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