Ant-colored Polling

8539298757_7de3503d91_zThe September IVAD poll is on a level of awful that must be making the government think twice now. Consider:

  • 70% of respondents have little or no confidence in Maduro’s ability to solve the nation’s problems.
  • Better than 2-to-1 majorities think Leopoldo López is innocent.
  • The government is losing the National Assembly generic ballot question by 17 points (45%-28%).
  • Maduro is losing a hypothetical presidential vote against a generic opposition candidate 61 to 27.

The technical term for this is YIKES.

You can download the full poll document here ... for now, a glimpse:


I want to take a moment to be explicit about why any of this is relevant.

It is not because with numbers like these the opposition is likely to win any election called. It has nothing to do with that.

We’ve been hollering about the death of democracy in Venezuela on this blog for years. We grasp that there’s no predictable relationship between the proportion of votes the government gets and whether or not it stays in power: that’s pretty much the definition of the death of democracy, isn’t it?

The relevance of a poll like this – and of the reality it conveys – goes far beyond its use as a tool for forecasting an election we all know won’t be fair.

When a society-wide consensus begins to solidify around the idea that the country is totally fucked up, and that the people in charge are part of the problem rather than part of the solution, the stability of the regime can begin to falter. It need not falter quickly, it need not falter at all – this consensus is a necessary condition for regime change, but by no means a sufficient one.

Once that consensus is in place, the people the regime relies on to ensure its survival through violence have to make a calculation: is it really in their interests to position themselves as the last die-hard defenders of a regime that society sees as a calamity, or is it better for them to throw in the towel?

To pose that question is not to answer it. Smart autocrats structure incentives for their violence specialists that get them to stay-stay-stay. The Castro brothers have comfortably settled into their Depends Adult Undergarments from the comfort of the presidential palace by convincing Cuba’s violence specialists that if they stay there will be trouble, but if they go it will be double.

IVAD’s September numbers are relevant insofar as they suggest that a consensus – not a bare majority opinion, but something with the staying power of common sense – is forming around the idea that the regime Chávez bequeathed us is useless and cannot be reformed. This consensus is not just forming, it is strengthening. Moreover, the only tool available to revert that trend is disappearing right before our eyes.

Once that consensus solidifies, more and more of the guys with the guns will find themselves facing an increasingly uncomfortable choice. At some point, privately, a defection cascade could just develop as many of them realize at once that staying is worse than leaving.

When this will happen is anyone’s guess.