This is the first time since I joined Caracas Chronicles that I write a post as a direct rebuttal to something written by either Quico or JC. I knew that this day was coming sooner or later. In fact, I’m excited about it, because some of my favorite CC posts in recent memory have been conversations between the two of them about issues.
It worked like this: Quico or JC wrote a post, then the other one wrote a post to criticize the whole previous post or just parts of it, then the original author wrote a response and so on. This wasn’t a refined version of a “Yo mama’s so fat” contest but actually it felt like a real grown-up conversation, filled with a sometimes heated debate of ideas but that was very respectful at the same time. They agreed sometimes and disagreed in others.
Let’s go straight to the point, shall we?
The latest poll by Datanalisis provoked discussions between Quico and some commenters, including yours truly. This wasn’t the first time. Quico responded with a post where he explains that the huge amount of public spending by the Chavernment will condition the upcoming election, hinting that the already slim chances of challenger Henrique Capriles of winning are now almost null.
Quico’s affirmation that the money windfall fueled by high oil prices will be a decisive factor in this election is not false. That is not what I am here to refute.
Creating an illusion of prosperity has been always “the ace in the hole” for Chavismo, just like in every single electoral process of the last decade.
Days ago, Quico wrote in an earlier post this nugget: “What’s for sure is that we’re heading into the weirdest, most volatile campaign in living memory.” He’s right on that too. The reality on the ground is that 2012 is not like 2004 or 2006 at all. Hell, it’s not even like 2010. This is a completely different ballgame we’re in.
Quico and JC have some confidence in Datanálisis. They have their reasons and I respect them. Personally, I don’t have any relation with a pollster company of any kind and, as you have read before, I have serious skepticism about Venezuelan pollsters in general, not just Datanálisis.
My skepticism is rooted in the fact the “public sphere” in which people’s opinions are formed is contaminated. The very thing polls are here to measure … is the first victim of the insane political climate Venezuelans enjoy day in, day out.
Our public sphere was already in trouble by the time Chavez took power. Mediocre journalism, lack of access to investigative sources, and laziness when explaining the issues were early symptoms. The “anti-politics” mentality present in our has not helped heal it. After the turbulent period of 2002-2003, the damage done to it was even greater … and it hasn’t fully recovered.
At the same time, Chavez has built his “communicational hegemony”, a well-funded media machinery dedicated to ideological propaganda 24/7 which, combined with ferocious repression against independent media outlets, has brought a severe limitation to the flow of information and diverse opinions.
There are other tools to manipulate the public sphere, including the use of intimidation. From the sofisticated to the more traditional and selective, it kindaworks. But the biggest method used is not even based on violent repression, but through economic coercion.
All those elements have conditioned Venezuelan public opinion in general. It’s not hard to see it. The conditions of this campaign won’t be fair at all.
Even if his position has been eroding since 2006, Hugo Chavez is without question the front-runner for the upcoming election. His campaign points into the emotional direction and will go full throttle from there. He has been forced to talk about security and can be put on the defensive on other issues. The only question about him now is how the health telenovela will influence the state of play.
Given these limitations and obstacles, Henrique’s campaign does its best while confronting some shortcomings. His discplined messaging has been successful in setting the issues agenda and energizing his own base, but it needs to evolve the next stage and show more ambition. He would benefit from expanding the overall theme and offeriing more detailed proposals.
His chances for victory are limited, his primary objective is to reduce the gap.
As a journalist, I would like to rely on trustworthy polls, but those in charge of doing them must be more transparent and open to scrutiny. We have enough black boxes in Venezuela. We don’t need more.
In the end, my main request is to let the campaign unfold. There are a little more than 100 days left, with the final stage on July 1st. To say right now that this game is over before even starting is an insult to all Venezuelan people, regardless of their position. They have the right to make their own minds, even those who have already somehow decided. And for those making arrogant statements: arrogance is a sign of weakness, not strength.
Whatever the final result is, then we can analyze it properly when all is said and done. In the meantime, it’s not over until it’s over.