Turns out a lot of my readers are downright offended by the notion that Chávez might comfortably ahead in the presidential race. That, at any rate, is the sense I get from ill-tempered exchanges that follow in comments everytime I post about Datanalisis’s polls, the last three of which have made for ghastly reading for the opposition.
I think the certainty that Chávez can’t possibly be winning and any poll that says so must be wrong is blinkered. I go into the reaons in my latest piece over on Foreign Policy’s website. Have a look.
On this site I’ll just add that, if you’re the kind of person who likes to read un blog sobre politica esnobista en inglés, my guess is you’re not in daily contact with Misión Mi Casa Bien Equipada, with its next-to-free appliance giveaways, or Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela, which is so big it turns up in the GDP statistics, or Misión en Amor Mayor, and the torrents of petro-cash it’s aiming at the nation’s viejitos, or much of the rest of the fearsome petrodollar spending apparatus the government has put together ahead of the October vote.
These initiatives are largely invisible to Class A and B Venezuelans (all 3% of us). They don’t get written about in El Universal. Globovision doesn’t cover them. Our friends and neighbors don’t tell us stories about them. They’re off our radar screens. And so we tend to dismiss them.
To class D and E Venezuelans (all 80% of them) they’re very, very present, extremely visible, and very real. For households trying to get by on or around the minimum wage, the misiones are central to their livelihood strategies. When money is tight and job prospects dim, a free apartment, a 75% off washing machine, a small but reliable pension for grandma…these things are huge to you. And the government knows it.
What’s sad is that I think we’re seeing a repeat of the August 2004 story. Back then, the first wave of Misiones caught us totally unprepared. We just had no idea the government could move public opinion on such a scale, a realazo limpio. And just think, back then oil was trading at $40 a barrel. Now, even after a nasty little 20% fall, it’s more than double that price!
So no, it doesn’t seem even a little bit weird to me that Chávez has a big lead going into this. It may be that Datanalisis’s polling methodology is overstating the scale of that lead – maybe they need to ask those No Sabe/No Contesta folks a follow-up question to find out who they’re leaning toward.
But that’s at the margin. The reality is that we’re a petrostate in the middle of a spending boom: the lead itself is anything but surprising.