National Assembly 2010: It’s on…

With an increasingly unpopular government, and the country mired in stagflation, the opposition heads into this campaign stronger than ever: united, setting the debate, and mobilized around a common goal. But the government’s massive built-in advantages – overwhelming funding superiority, unimpeded access to broadcast media, and unambiguous control of key institutions, including the National Electoral Council – mean everything is up for grabs.

Yet for the first time since Hugo Chávez came to power, the opposition is firmly in control of the agenda. As a campaigning newspaper, El Nacional has been surprisingly effective at dragging the national conversation onto the terrain most favorable to the opposition: the country’s soaring crime rate.

The opposition’s message discipline on this issue has been remarkable. The government’s message has been muddled, contradictory and sometimes, bat-shit crazy. Crime is not just their biggest substantive weakness, it’s become their biggest rhetorical weakness as well. 

Together with a group of volunteers, I’m still working on a new, more sophisticated version of the Swing-o-meter, Caracas Chronicles’ flagship forecasting tool for the 26S vote. I’ll publish it as soon as I’m able, but preliminary indications are rather positive for the opposition, particularly if these ongoing indications of an implosion in government popularity hold up. 

Unless the laws of political science are temporarily suspended in Venezuela a month from tomorrow, a government with a popularity rating of just 37% cannot get a majority of the popular vote.

But political science is not really a science, is it?

Given the rigged election map the Chávez-controlled CNE has cooked up, a bare majority of the popular vote is not enough to get the opposition a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Much of the work we’re doing now on the Swing-o-meter focuses on identifying just where the opposition’s "majority point" lies, and estimates range anywhere from 52% of the popular vote to as high as 54.8%.

You read that right: it’s possible to construct a not-at-all-far-fetched scenario where the opposition wins the popular vote in a 55% to 45% landslide … but the government still wins most of the seats in the National Assembly.

Put that in your egg-roll and smoke it.

It’s the vagaries of that maliciously rigged map that make this election so damn hard to forecast.

For now, though, it’s all in play, and though many knowledgeable opposition analysts are leery of even raising it as a possibility, the numbers are clear to us.

We really can win this one.