How the Oppo Machines Fared


Longtime friend of the blog Omar Zambrano contributes this fun little ditty to the dismal art of 7-O-ology…

It’s a cold, hard fact: electorally speaking, Chavez whipped our asses on Oct. 7th.  One commonly cited reason is the efficiency of the chavista Get Out the Vote drive: a well oiled machine that runs on the databases of recipients of new and renewed social programs.

But that’s just a hypothesis: how can we test it?

Well, if the Get Out the Vote effort had been the key, you’d expect a homogeneous effect in different parts of the country. After, where is it that Gran Misión Vivienda or Gran Misión en Amor Mayor data could be gathered, where chavista grass root organizations are strong and have plenty of state resources for mobilization? In a word: everywhere.

Trouble is, our asses got handed to us highly unevenly across the country. How come they humiliated us even in some urban strongholds while we managed to outperform our historic results even in traditionally chavista states like Merida?

My hypothesis: not every local opposition machine behaved equally. I try to get at this by measuring the effort of the local party machine in absolute terms with respect to our best performance in the recent past.

The way I do that is to identify 83 municipalities where the opposition was strong in theory because it holds the local government, or because it’s a chavista municipality with a friendly state government and a lot of oppo voters. I then relativize the increase in the opposition’s 7-O vote in terms of the increase of the voter registry in those places; and then add in the Oppo Party most affiliated with the local political machine (proxied by the party of the Mayor or candidate of the Unidad) in those places. Finally, I average the behavior of municipalities under the same oppo party machine relative to the electoral weight of each district. This produces a kind of synthetic score for how effective a given oppo party’s machine was on October 7th. Broadly: the chart shows the relative increase in votes Henrique got in the areas under the leadership of a given oppo party.

As expected, there is a lot of variation here. As we all suspected, Un Nuevo Tiempo (in Zulia) and Proyecto Venezuela (in Carabobo) performed abominably. Interestingly, though, Capriles’s own Primero Justicia was far from the best performing oppo party machine –although PJ is mostly in urban areas where the baseline is high and gains are more difficult.

Interestingly smaller party machines outperformed bigger ones in their little corners of the nation’s geography.  Also interesting is the variation in the Jurassic fauna’s performance: not all parties from the ancien regime did badly. What the old COPEI did in Merida City was remarkable enough to turn the whole state around.

Bottom line: Unless you have a reason to believe that the chavista machine put more effort in, say, Bejuma and San Carlos del Zulia, than in Cordero and Lobatera then Henry Ramos Allup and Omar Barboza, as well as Carabobo’s wannabe-Kennedy clan – have some ‘splaining to do.


  1. Funny reading this after watching Ramos Allup sanctimoniously criticizing Capriles with the cliche argument that his campaign and message did not reach enough poor people.

  2. I agree and I think that very deep in our minds, we thought it was enough with what was said and done, for people to go out and vote for Capriles; that should do it to convence people that we ‘all’ needed a change, that those who went to every gathering to see Henrique were absolutely persuaded to vote. Now, I have serious doubts about if we were no only too much too secure, but rather naive to think that all those who permantly criticise Chavez, actually voted against him.

    I wouldn’t bet on it.

  3. OZ, precisely yesterday I was thinking about a little exercise related to yours. My idea is to test whether the chavista Get Out the Vote effort and the supposedly related high turn out is the main reason why the opposition lost for a wider margin than expected. I don’t quite agree with you that if the chavista machinery is the main reason why we got our asses handed to us, we should expect homogeneous results across the country. There are many reasons why we should actually expect some variation in the results across municipalities. One is based on your argument. Another one is that we should not expect the chavista machinery works the same way everywhere. Also, municipalities might have other characteristics (rural, urban, party affiliation of the local and the state government, etc.) that have an effect on the results.

    In any case, we could still test whether the chavista Get Out the Vote drive had a significant effect on the results. The argument is that the chavista electoral machine increased turnout, and that a very high fraction of those votes above the “normal” turnout went to Chávez. If that’s true, then we should see that in municipalities with high turnout the difference between Chavez and Capriles was also high. To test that we need the electoral results by municipalities and run a regression with state fixed effects and controlling for characteristics of the each municipality. The dependent variable would be the margin in percentage points between Chavez and Capriles and the parameter of interest is the one corresponding to turnout. Do you have that data???

  4. they didnt even share their padron… carabobo and zulia i mean… but i am curious about one thing omar… about PJ you say it “is mostly in urban areas where the baseline is high and gains are more difficult”… cant the same be said for UNT and PV?… my question is especially with regards to PV since their percentage, while low, is not necessarily as low as UNT for example…

    thanks for “splaining” this bit

    • UNT and PV are more influential (according to my database, anyway) in rural districts within the region of influence. In that sense they are not quite different from COPEI in Tachira. In the other hand. PJ has struggled trying to be dominant in places like Barlovento o Valles del Tuy

  5. I’m a bit fed up with these seemingly fashionable and radical “whipped our asses” and “la derrota de Capriles” talk; we all know what the outcome was and sadly, are now apprised in more gruesome detail of what a sorry day for Venezuela looks like. But Capriles’ effort was certainly something to be proud of: to have harvested 6,500,000 votes against the massive ‘unclean, unfree’ and mostly dread-driven activities of an unprincipled adversary can readily be seen as a victory, despite its not having won the day. A further point is that we can take is as read that more radical, fine tuned steps would have been set in train had the Opposition gotten even more votes out: the Chavista machine seems to have been quite flexible and was surely engineered to rack up to the next level in line with the real-time demands of the situation – to which they had privileged access. Besides, going through with this election was an obligatory step in demonstrating the nature of what ‘civilized Venezuela’ is up against, thereby allowing conclusions, however unwelcome and unsavory, can be drawn in a less cluttered atmosphere, for, after all’s said and done and analyses, in part at least, of academic interest only, have been chewed over, the on-the-ground question now is exactly where does the New & Wised Up Opposition go from here?” So, no; asses weren’t whipped nor either was there an ignominious defeat. The day was not won and, in retrospect, may never have even been within reach but the Opposition’s alternative, cobbled together cohesively and better configured for political confrontation (So long Mr. Ramos-A, for instance), has shown itself to be a formidable contender that the nation at large needs to be able to see.

    • Ned, the sooner we acknowledge that:

      A) The machinery we are up against is formidable and we need to figure out a way to short circuit it.

      B) We need to learn how to talk better to Yubileisi in Sarria and La Sra. Herminia in Palo Palo de los Palotes.

      C) The MUD, or whatever it calls itself from here on out, needs to lose it’s fear to strenously voice its doubts about the voting process, the REP, the CNE, etc.

      Plus many other points I can’t think of right now, but I’m sure you and other commenters here can mention

      The sooner we can start to be a more effective opposition.

      We got 6.5 MM. Great!

      Now pat yourself on the back and keep moving. Proud shmoud. Proud don’t win elections.

      Not to underestimate this high water mark, but we got a loooooooooooong way to go, and becoming Chavez Lite, Mark VII, is not going to do it.

      • The MUD needs to change it’s name to MUN. Mesa de la Unidad Nacional to emphasize that its aim is to represent the unity of all Venezuelans. No more us & them. It could also be MUV.

          • Interesting article; however, it should be noted that the PSUV strategy might have been different in different states, and whether different party efforts correlate with the proportion of MUD card in those places. Moreover, besides Chacao, where does VP hold a local government?

            As for the names, the “Lineamientos” talked about an “Unidad Nacional” government. The MUD page says simply Unidad Venezuela, and it was ofter referred to as “Unidad Democrática” (previously registered at the CNE)… MUD remains the acronym under which it is registered as a political entity in front of the CNE.

          • BTW, we talk of political machines as some sort of mystical, virus-like frenzy, or as some sort of fraud against democracy. In a competitive system, everybody has party machines, and they should use it. Hundreds of people would not vote if they are not taken to a polling station, because most changes in the statu quo would be irrelevant to them.

      • Dear Roberto, Exactly my point, namely, where does the opposition go from here? But not head bowed, derrotado and nursiing whipped asses but rather, more acutely aware of the pitfalls — but also that we not four cats; I especially agree with your exhortation to to adopt more robust stances vis-a-vis the CNE and its partialized protocols, beginning with the fingerprinting devices. I was just getting sick of reading how badly we did when, in fact, the performance getting all the brickbats was actually very creditable: apart from quite rightly excoriating criticism of electoral stay-at-homes, no-one seems to think that 6,500,000 was a lousy result.

        • agree with you, neddie. phrases like “we got our asses whipped”, or worse, “we were naïve”, are negative, defeatist, exaggerated, and to some extent, inaccurate. Over 6 million of VOLUNTARY votes is NOTHING to feel ashamed of. And while the chavista machinery is formidable, it has not always been so. With a more forceful MUD or UD (gettin’ awful close to AD!), and better logistics, I’d like to see the oppo improve its ratings next time around, in spite of voter fatigue.

          And now, a little defense mechanism for Aveledo et al. I think the MUD/UD had to tread on eggs. They had to walk a fine balance, while presenting a candidate and a philosophy that was palatable to the majority of non-chavistas. Had they muscled the CNE from the get-go, there was every chance of losing the war, well ahead of elections.

          So I say, yes, we lost. Por ahora. Now’s the time to learn from it, to improve upon the record and to fight the next fight.

    • Agreed, I cringed every time someone refers to our best result in such dramatic terms. Is focusing entirely on the negative and not understanding that politics is a long process that does not stop (or start) with elections.

      On the other hand the government, knowing that they had many things going against them, organized a formidable machinery like they have never done before.
      How important in terms of votes was that machinery? I would like to know.
      How much did it cost? According to Felipe Mujica president of MAS it was 30M$ which sounds like a drop in the bucket to me.
      Can the opposition fight fire with fire? They’re at a disadvantage to be sure.

      Anyhow there is still a long road ahead.

    • I did not inttend to sound derogative with a campaign I was personally very involved with. I think we made formidable progress and I am on the record in this very blog as a rabid defender of the MUD and even the older parties. We obtained a very important political victory, we consolidated a new leadership and proved unity can resist extreme circumstances. BTW I am also very optimistic about our path back to power. BUt that the government kicked our butts ELLECTORALLY speaking sounds very uncontroversial to me…

      • BTW, the reasons for the wider than expected margin observed in OCT7 are multiple, and some of them has been already mentioned in this very thread. The intention of my post is to explore some of the somehow nuanced reasons that could be a factor of contributiion in that outcome. I believe that the day will come -probably after the local election in april- when we will have to talk openly about what worked and what did not along this process

        • Yes! By all means, let’s talk openly about what worked and what did not. Let’s talk openly about how the MUD can demand a more level playing field. But for God’s sake, let’s drop the blanket statements of negativity that don’t address, specifically, how to solve the problems. Worse yet, are those blanket statements from those who don’t even vote. Un descaro total.

  6. If the operacion remate was in place and that did indeed make the difference in the election, would there not be a spike in voting activity from 5 to 7 PM? Such spike had to be at least equal to the relative difference in vote between camps (20%). Any way to check this out?

    • According to some exit polls, the gap between the candidates started to widen in the afternoon after the galope operation. I dont think there is another reliable way to tell if there was a spike in voting at the afternoon.

      • Well, if the oppo camp knew they were winning by 5 PM, then there’s gotta be a way to know what happened between 5 and 7 PM. Otherwise, all this is based on exit polls, which I am unwilling to believe in Venezuela.

  7. Hi Omar,
    Can I get the data too? I would love to check political parties performance.
    Your analysis add evidence in favor of some ideas I had. Zulia was the only state in which chavismo shows substantial gains. I was pointing out that UNT did not work as they should had. And they may pay their penalties on December. On the other hand, looking at Sucre results–where votes for Capriles almost doubled votes received by Rosales in 2006– I was wondering how much of that outstanding performance was due to VP work in favor of his Governor candidate.

  8. Something similar happened with the enmienda. We were winning the enmienda before December 2008. Then in December, Chávez changed the enmienda and proposed that eternal re-election would be availability at all levels, not just for the President. What happened? Well, that all of a sudden governors and majors could be re-elected forever as well…guess what? The local caciques in January 2009 did not think the enmienda was such a bad idea after all and did not put the effort requested…and we lost in february and thanks to that, we have now Chávez for another term.

    The opposition must understand that they have to set aside their own petty interests if we are ever getting rid of chavismo.

  9. Given GOTV efforts by the parties, could it be that they actually found as many votes as they could? Zulia, in that sense, is worrying, but thanks to Corpozulia, FAC has been able to put up a machinery which could trump that of UNT (and, let’s bear in mind that governorship’s resources and tasks were heavily curtailed after the oppo gains in 2008).

Leave a Reply