Chavez re-election: Many Venezuelan voters are undecided

An influx of new voters and widespread apathy may be key factors, writes guest blogger Miguel Octavio.

Efrain Gonzalez/Miraflores Press Office/AP
In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gives a speech upon his arrival to Simon Bolivar international airport in Maiquetia near Caracas, Venezuela, May 11.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.

I have been getting mixed messages from people the last two times I have been in Caracas about the outlook for the upcoming presidential election in October, pitting Hugo Chavez against opposition leader Henrique Capriles. And polls seem to be sending the same confusing and inconsistent signals.There is a mixture of results, the key being a high number of undecided in those polls that give Chavez a large lead. Talk to pro-Capriles people and they tell you their candidate is down only 4 to 5 points, and it can be made up by the race. Talk to pro-Chavez people and they tell you the enthusiasm is just not there among the Chavista rank and file any more, and they are worried.

Toss in Chavezs’ illness, and things become uncertain.

First the polls.The main difference between the poll that gives Chavez a huge lead and the one that does not, is that the first poll sees a huge number of undecided (around 30-plus percent), which the second poll does not see. Neither pollster can explain the difference. This worries pro-Capriles people, precisely because they can’t understand it.

Then you go and talk to pro-Chavez people and they do have a possible interpretation, and it worries them. Their feeling is that the motivation is no longer there, and it will be difficult to get the non-hard core Chavista to go out and vote. Chavez being sick worries them, not only because he may not be able to run, but more importantly, because if he can run, he may not be able to campaign and may not generate the excitement required to out vote Capriles. Simply put, the revolution is failing in too many fronts, clearly identified in this aporrea article (in Spanish). But note the additional concern: This pro-Chavez analyst does not see the 4 million new voters going the Chavista way. In fact, the opposite seems to be true: according to the writer the new generation seems to care little for the revolution and is more concerned with malls and iPads, he notes.

Or as another pro-Chavez friend told me more or less: “I know a few states where 60-65 percent of the people are Chavista, but of those, many will not go and vote for this failed Government. They will not vote for Capriles either, but just their absence on election day will give Capriles a victory in two or three states where the opposition has never done well since Chavez showed up. Add the populous metropolitan states where the opposition wins, toss in the new voters and Capriles could beat Chavez."

And El Nacional [...] recently [published] statements made privately by William Izarra, father of the Minister of Information, where he says that Capriles is resonating in parts of the electorate with as many as 8 million voters (which he now says is not exactly what he said (in Spanish), likely he did not know his words were being recorded). And given his scenario that Chavez may get 8.4 million, this also makes it too close for comfort.

Opposition analysts are similarly concerned.They understand that Capriles at 30 percent seems to make little sense, given the number of votes he got in the primary, but they can’t understand the undecided. Why has the number of undecided gone up so much since the primary and Chavez’s recurrence? Why is 30 percent-plus of the electorate suddenly shunning both Chavez and Capriles, with both candidates losing support? Can it be Zulia [state] nationalism in the case of Capriles? These last votes will not go to Chavez either.

The answer, I contend, has more to do with apathy and voter intention, than with being undecided. And I think it goes straight to my friend’s argument: Many uncertain Chavista voters will not vote for Chavez, but they certainly don’t plan to go and vote for Capriles, they plan to stay home.

And a similar apathy applies to the 4 million new voters. They registered to vote, but they are not sure they will go and vote for Capriles, they will wait to decide.

Which simply says that Chavez’s physical appearance will be crucial in the determination of these voters, and it is hard to predict which way it will go. A weak Chavez may turn off the apathetic Chavistas, while a recovered Chavez may turn on the apathetic new voters, who have yet to be convinced about Capriles.

For now, only time will begin clearing up these questions, and it will be a while before it happens. It has been nearly three weeks since there was a live appearance by Chavez, while Capriles continues to campaign door to door and accompanied by some of the primary candidates. The next important date is June 10th, the last date on which candidates may register for the October 7th election. Chavez is unlikely to announce way ahead of time when he will register. This will reduce the impact of the event. Capriles on the other hand can plan ahead.

But in the end, it will be the hard core that will show up in both sides those days, masking the apathy of the Venezuelan electorate.

– Miguel Octavio, a Venezuelan, is not a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. You can read his blog here.

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