Forecasting the 2015 National Assembly Elections

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Simulador
This is just one scenario: the real fun comes from twiddling the knobs, so download yours today.

Is it possible to forecast how many seats the government and the opposition will get in the National Assembly on the basis of National-level polls? It’s a tough problem, but ahead of the 2010 National Assembly election, we showed it can be done.

And this year, with a little help from our friends over at Distortioland, we’re trying it again.

The problem is tough, and not necessarily for the reason you’re thinking. Venezuela’s Mixed Member Proportional Representation System for National Assembly elections is complex, blending 87 districts with Westminster-style first-past-the-post constituencies with a “proportional” element based on state-by-state candidate rosters that are themselves non-standard. (More about “las morochas” some other time.) Then there are specially set aside seats for representatives of indigenous groups…it’s a mess.

In a way, it isn’t one election: it’s 87 separate elections all carried out on the same day. Or, if you prefer, 111 elections, since you could consider the state-by-state list contests elections in their own right. Trouble is, we don’t have 111 separate polls: we have one poll, which shows voting trends at the national level. Is there any way to square this forecasting circle?

It’s hard but, despite what some might tell you, it’s not impossible. You can say something useful about circuit-by-circuit shifts on the basis of nationwide trends. Because while voters don’t move in lockstep with one another across all districts, changes in voting intentions are definitely correlated with one another from one region to another.

When people’s perceptions of how the country is doing overall worsen, their propensity to vote for the governing party falls. It doesn’t fall by the same proportion everywhere, but it does tend to fall everywhere.

Did you ever wonder why pollster are always keen to ask generic “is the country headed in the right direction?” type questions? This is the reason right here. Generic questions can tell us a lot about underlying voting trends. That’s PoliSci 101.

Clearly, the opinion climate is awful all around Venezuela right now, and governing parties generally pay a heavy price for that on election day. That doesn’t mean the opposition will win everywhere: some voting districts are so solidly pro-government that they are impervious to any national opinion fluctuation. Even factoring in these outliers, the opinion climate-voting intention correlation is stable enough to be predictable in a systematic way.

That’s the theory behind our Legislative Election Estimator Tool: changing national opinion trends have a predictable impact on circuit-by-circuit voting patterns. What the Estimator Tool does is calculate that relationship, and package it into a little Micosoft Excel sheet you can play with.

Developed by our friend @Econ_Vzla over at Distortioland, the tool uses Datanalisis’ “Situacion del Pais” question as an independent variable. You input your forecast of that on the upper-left side corner, then the tool calculates what impact different opinion climates are likely to have on vote distributions and – crucially, A.N. seat distributions.

In technical terms, what Distortioland did is calculate, circuit-by-circuit, the elasticity of the vote with respect to positive perceptions of the country’s situation, as measured by Datanalisis. (A more detailed description can be found over there.) If you really want to jump into the weeds, you can click on the “Hood” tab and see what a given level of Positive Perception implies for results in each circuit – though those results are much less reliable than the global one.)

In Datanalisis’s latest poll, just under 13% of the people surveyed said the country’s situation was on the positive side. But we were feeling generous, so we gave the government a two-point head start: by default, the Tool shows you how the election would turn out if the share of people perceiving that the country’s situation is “positive” rises to 15%.

This Tool is far from perfect, of course. It’s really very simple. It uses a single input variable. If you were so minded, you could construct a much more elaborate tool that uses multiple inputs, each of which is known to be correlated with voting intentions (GDP growth, inflation, presidential popularity, unemployment, etc. etc.) We decided to keep it simple.

To be sure, the Tool isn’t some crystal ball. It can’t account for self-coups or massively-greater-than-in-previous-elections outbreaks of fraud. It can’t account for idiosyncratic variables such as splits within either of the camps in a given circuit, or candidate quality. All it does is express the impact of a stable statistical relationship between a given public opinion scenario and circuit-by-circuit vote shares. It will make mistakes in some circuits, which we expect to cancel one another out. If all works well, it will be much more accurate globally – at forecasting the overall distribution of seats between the government and the opposition – than locally, at forecasting the outcome of any given race.

With all that said, in 2010 an even simpler Forecasting Tool did rather well. Let’s see how it goes this time.

41 COMMENTS

  1. good job/post but I am afraid “self-coups or massively-greater-than-in-previous-elections outbreaks of fraud” will be indeed the key factor and things like that are impossible to measure… Let’s see what happens anyway…

  2. So, only 15% perceive that the country’s situation is positive, and yet, the government still gets around 40% of the seats…

    Damn it!

  3. This chaverment is not going without a fight to the death. So the opposition wins a small majority, what’s to prevent the passing of an enabling law for good for 2, 3 or 4 years that just bypasses parliament? Anyone willing to bet thy wouldn’t do that? Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead to the complete destruction of Venezuela.

    • C.C.,

      I agree that this will not result in a peaceful transition of power. However, it will expose the will of the people and the extent to which the regime is willing to go to to thwart it. The question is what the people will do with that information.

  4. Sigan creyendo en elecciones.

    Yo voy a dar mi pronostico aquí: El chavismo va a sacar 55% de los votos, usando un dakaso justo en el minuto del hambre al final. La razon: La oposicion no va a votar por no confiar en la MUD, y el chavismo hara fraude. Business as usual

    Tomen printscreen de esto y guárdenlo.

    • El Dakaso va ser la eliminación de la propiedad privada. El gobierno va establecer una oficina de planificación de vivienda donde se determinara como se va repartir los cuartos de cada casa del pais.
      El gonbierno va empezar a mandar familias de los barrios a las casas de clase media.
      Esto es lo unico que falta para el full comunismo…

      • Fefe,

        I’ve been thinking about your prediction about what will the upcoming Dakaso be, and I think you are right. Abolishing private property is what they should do. Think of it:

        – Does this measure match the purported ideology? Profundizar el proceso. Check.
        – Is there any other asset they can give away in vulgar populist way? No, Venezuela is broke.
        – Would it rally enthusiastic support? If you live in a rancho and you think you are going to move into a nice, albeit crowded house in Prados del Este, of course you would.
        – Does the government care about the consequences and push back? No, they have nothing reasonable to do. Furthermore, if they do nothing they know they are doomed, so why not go all out with a kamikaze move? Even cornered rats do this.

        Five years ago I would have laughed at such thoughts as hysterical reactions of middle class donitas, yet every line that I think Chavismo would respect is eventually trampled over.

        Will Venezuela go Ceausescu or Kim Jong-un…

  5. If I’m allowed: I did something too. It’s not a tool, it’s a more traditional way of analyzing the election. I assign ratings to each circuit based on electoral trends and I use a method like Cook’s Partisan Voting Index “PVI” (Read the Wiki page about it since it explains nicely). These ratings are, of course, subject to change. For example, I had the Anzoategui-04 district rated as Likely MUD, but since Marcos Figueroa jumped in the race as an independent, likely causing a split in the oppo vote, I had to downgrade it to Leans MUD. Likewise, it’s not perfect. It’s not a tool like the one posted here. The ratings assume that the election is going to be close, maybe with the MUD slipping with a 2-3 point victory. If, when the election is closer, I see that the MUD’s 20 point lead is inevitable, a lot of the ratings of the circuits will change dramatically. So far, I’m taking a more conservative approach. I’ll leave the link to download the document, feel free to give feedback since it will be appreciated.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/t52rmfgcxserqda/Circuitos%202015.xlsx?dl=0

  6. Why try to fix something that wasn’t broken? The 2010 tool did great. And this one seems a bit off: the best scenario for the oppo would be a razor thin 2/3rds majority, and that would be with a 0% positive evaluation of the country situation…

    • It wasn’t exactly broken, but it needed updating: Distortioland had to revise the circuit-by-circuit elasticities to include election (and datanalisis) data obtained in 2010-2013. Also, CNE messed around with the apportionment: some districts that used to elect 2 seats now elect just one, and vice-versa. So the tool definitely needed some updating.

      I think what you count as a but is actually a feature: there are a number of circuits where the opposition just won’t be competitive in any scenario, and this tool captures that.

      But hey, let’s talk on Dec. 7th!

      • I know it needed some updating (the circuit changes and new elasticities based on the last few elections are prime examples). But this seems more like a rebuilding, since the main variable changed.

        Anyway, you might be right. I liked the previous tool but is hard to tell which one is actually better before the election.

        We’ll see in less than 4 months! I’m looking forward to CC’s post-electoral coverage.

  7. SInce we are in the forecasting mood here, i would also like to state my opinion for the record. My take is that the social explosion will go off before E day. Say in early November.

    The military will either cojer el coroto or split (!), in either case making elections a sideline casualty with some type of junta de transicion militar to follow.

    I really do not see a civilized transition of power out from this regime under any circumstance. I hope I am wrong.

    • Transition? We are talking legislative elections here!! What will happen is that if the oppo ever wins an *electoral* majority then Maduro will declare a perpetual state of emergency before the new assemblymen are seated, then maybe dissolve the asamblea or perform some other such maneuver. This will bring additional criticism but Maduro and his cadre will not go quietly. Then maybe we’ll see the men in uniform step in, if they deem it absolutely necessary for their own interests.

  8. This/Jose M’s/similar posts are excellent, give a warm/fuzzy feeling to rational/intellectual observers, work for normal/non-rigged electoral environments, but don’t work for Venezuela. Venezuela has 6 million voluntarily “registered” voters who haven’t/don’t know they’re registered, but who are in Govt. data bases assigned by Cedula to voting areas to be plugged in by Smartmatic machines as needed in the at least 40+% of voting machines not witnessed by the Oppo. Of the 19.5 mill.( 99% of total possible-by far a world record) supposedly registered voters, 10.1 mill. are in the Distrito Capital/Miranda/Carabobo/Zulia/Aragua/Lara states, where the Oppo stands a better chance, but which represent only 39% of the Asamblea seats. The other 9.4 mill. supposedly registered voters, representing 61% of the Asamblea seats, are in the other 18 largely Interior states, where, with the exception of Tachira, the Oppo doesn’t stand a good chance, since: the Oppo witnessing is spotty, at best; Govt. dominates the employment/income of the residents; frequently the numbers voting exceed the entire population (men/women/children); and there are 5m “itinerant” voting machines with no fixed location/impossible to audit.

    • Frightening. Where are all of those “international observers” making that point? All voters should have an EQUAL say in the make-up of their government. This is not a democracy!

      • They don’t care; they don’t analyze; some are bought off; many are too busy eating 5-course meals at 3-star Michelin restaurants.

  9. And if… The last days of the current assembly will grant decree powers to the President. The President then dismantles all authority from the assembly and grants it to communes. The victory in the national assembly will be hollow. I just can’t see Chavistas standing for an opposition-run assembly. I remember when, I think it was Ledezma, the opposition mayor was elected and people came running with baseball bats and tire irons to prevent he and his staff from even entering their offices. I can’t see those type of people just accepting defeat. I mean, the looks on their faces. You’d think the devil himself had come to harm them.

    • I am afraid you are right, Scott.

      When I read Aporrea or listen to Masburro they put forward an ideology of self importance, they state that they are the only salvation for Venezuela. Anything but them is worse, so in this paternalistic way, they will save the majority from their mistake. Elections are only useful if they affirm their messianic status.

      One telling symptom of the damage Chavismo has done to the political culture of Venezuela is that after all this years of Chavismo there is still a significant block of Ni-ni’s!! They, as any other Venezuelan, lives in country that is one notch above a failed state and still, ni con uno ni con el otro, POR FAVOR!!!

      Chavismo I get, you have a vested interested in it. Either you are a commie fanatic or a boliturd. But Ni-nis!!

      Finally, Chavistas should read the story of Nicolae Ceausescu.

      • Ni-nis/”Independents” aren’t the very minority of what’s left of the middle class/rational residents, who know what Chavismo is and will vote against it, nor are they the resentidos sociales/Commie fanatics/enchufados who will always vote for Chavismo–they’re the Chavismo-dependent 5mm Govt. employees and millions more of Mision/military/Cantv/PDVSA/Govt-taken over business employees/et.al., many of whom are smart enough to know that Chavismo is a disaster, but, in my opinion, will probably on balance, “a la chiquita”, be intimidated/threatened/forced/persuaded/paid to vote for Chavismo for fear of losing their miserable/inadequate Govt. stipends/giveaways

    • The Rule of Communes as the ultimate arbiters are already enshrined into law, and have been for at least 18 months.

      It’s just been a waiting game so far in terms of applying it.

      The comunas themselves are also “not ready for prime time” as it were, but that never stopped these idiots before.

  10. In order to get 2/3 of deputies in the National Assembly there needs to be a 3% positive evaluation of the country. Its practically imposible.

    • The issue I have with this tool is that it works under the assumption that a 97% negative evaluation of the country will automatically translate into votes for MUD and I truly don’t think that is the case

  11. I have to say I liked the 2010 one better. I understand that there needs to be some sort of update but this changes the fundamental variable for forecasting which now is “Situación del País en Noviembre”. This gives you a range of the opposition winning form 112 curules (if it’s 0%) to 42 curules (if it’s 100%) – and there would need to be a 3.2% to get that 111 perfect score.
    I’m curious, is there a closer correlation on the “Situación del País” than the national “Intención de Voto por Bando”? I’m guessing that assuming small fluctuations it could be, but I think it would be interesting to feed the same info you have into the old one just for contrast

      • LOL. I know what you mean, jelly bean. But the correlation would be incorrect, which is what, to me, subtracts reliability from the analysis, specially when trying to figure out el escenario de la mayoría calificada. I don’t think the “Situación del País” needs to be below 3.2% in order to get our 111.

        My point is that using the proportion of people who will vote on one side or the other, as you did on 2010, seems to make a better forecast.

    • Fair. My criteria here is that the long serie of “intencion de voto” is less reliable when you are far from an electoral event, while “situacion país” is measurable always.

      In some sense I guess you are right: the tool says that is hard (very) to obtein the 2/3 super-majority GIVEN the historical trends of the districts EVEN when accounting for the current debacle in chavismo. BUT a big caveat: We do not know if the by-circuit estimated statistical relantionship (elasticity) holds for THESE levels of “situacion país”. In technical words, that relationship is not necesarilly lineal.

      I guess we´ll find out on Dec 7th.

      • Capriles showed a poll this month saying the MUD was ahead 44/37 on Miranda-06, a hugely chavista district (Maduro got 2/3rds of the vote there IIRC). Of course, the poll was from Consultores 21, which had him leading Chávez for October 2012.

      • Agreed. It’s definitely not lineal and it shows in the extremes. I also think you have a good point with “Intención de Voto”, but I wouldn’t change the critical variable over it. If its purpose is to tryout different scenarios with incomplete data (just 1 general poll) I think that it’s not only better but it would be more versatile as you could account for other factors like capacidad de movilización.

        On another topic. I would also include a second input box that shows a minimum number of points by which the opposition must win districts in order to get the diputado. They won’t cheat on all 87 districts but in the ones they can, they will.

  12. I’d rather use Maduro’s approval ratings instead of “Situation of the Country”, but well, it’s a valid way of doing it.

  13. No matter how this all shakes out, everyone accepts that a shift of power for the opposition – from none/less to a whole lot more – is an inevitable ourcome of the Dec. elections. We know from history that totalitarian regimes NEVER cede power unless forcecd to. So for my money, the real discussion is not trying to quantify exactly what the numbers will be, but rather, how might the country address the inevitable crisis of having two powers fighting for the helm. You know it’s going to happen, just as you know Maduro will do ANYTHING to nullify and emasculate the opposition. How far down the drain dows it all have to go before the military steps in? What are the likely options?

    JL

  14. Es un excelente trabajo, que incorpora eventos pasados. (Curiosamente esta será una elección que las pasadas poco ayudarán a predecir). El único tema es que la encuesta Datanalisis no tiene cobertura nacional como la puede tener IVAD. Que no incorpora, y es muy difícil medir hoy: 1) Creación de nuevos centros de 1 o 2 mesas, muchos de ellos en consejos comunales o edf. de Misión Vivienda. Afectación estimada de 300 mil votos. 2) Abstención. No es lo mismo correr esto bajo una participación de 70% que una de 55-60%. Resultados diferentes. 3) Una variable clave los últimos 20 meses es SALIDA DEL GOBIERNO, diferente a aprobación presidencial o intención de voto.

    En nuestro trabajo, los resultados más recurrentes en el modelaje de escenarios son de 47%-53% Diputados para cada bando, llegando otros a 49%-51%. Participación 61-65%.

  15. I see some unrealistic scenarios here, Kico: the tool says we weould sweep chavismo off in chavismo-leaning Monagas by taking all the posts (including the two in the list), but says we are going to lose Ccas 2 circuit, where Antonio Ecarri trailed by 3% last time. I don’t know how you are calculating it, but there is something wrong about it.

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