Last minute thoughts and non-predictions about tomorrow

December 2, 2006

(Elecciones3D) I will be posting tomorrow throughout the day if I have something interesting to say. I am preparing for the worst scenario which is that lines will be like those of the recall referendum vote, when it took me ten hours in line to be able to vote. I will be able to post from the line, but clearly there is little I could tell you except express my frustration. If I have time, I will go around the city and take pictures.

I certainly hope the vote is clean and as transparent as can be tomorrow. To me for this to happen, there can’t be any sudden rules changes like there were in the recall vote in 2004. There are four particular aspects that will signal to me that the vote was not tampered with:

—Voting Machines are disconnected all day and only connected after the “original” tally is printed.
—Voting hours are not stretched even after no lines are seen outside the voting centers.
—All audits are carried out in the 54% of the tables.
—All CNE Directors are allowed into the totalization room.

If these four conditions are met and no rule changes are made, then I will believe and abide by the results. That is what democracy is about.

As to what I think will happen, this is the first Presidential election in which I have felt somewhat disoriented. I used to be friends with a pollster which passed away in 2001. He was not only a good pollster, but he was very bright and honest. One of his most important characteristics was that his polls were private, so that he did not look for the limelight. And while he got the last five Presidential elections right, including the top three places in 1993, the only pollster to do so, he was always willing to question his data.

My friend was always worried because he never got abstention right after the 1984 election. This bothered him a lot and he tried various techniques to attempt to reduce this effect. He also did surveys trying to understand why people were ashamed of saying they were not going to vote or why they would not say they were going to vote for a certain candidate, like in the 1993 election in which AD candidate Claudio Fermin had 10% in the polls and was slated to come in fourth place, but came in second with 23%.

I bring all of this up, because polls have been coming in all over the place, from Rosales behind by 20% to Rosales ahead by a couple of points. Typically, polls made at homes give Chavez a larger lead than those using methods that try to separate fear or embarrasment from the equation.

But the point is that no matter which technique is used, polls say that abstention will be low, between 15% and 20%. And I simply don’t find this credible, because as I said the other day, when Hugo Chavez was first elected President in 1998, abstention was 36.55%, it jumped to 43.7% when he was reelected under the new Constitution and dropped to 33% in the recall vote.

To me, there is absolutely no reason to think the numbers will improve. In fact, my guess is that they will be closer to those of 2000 than anything, given the level of apathy I have found on both sides, when we compare today to the recall vote. However, it is also true that enthusiasm for Rosales’ candidacy has picked up significantly. (I knew three people who were not going to vote tomorrow one month ago, two of them have changed their minds). The same can not be said for the Chavista crowds that have been much smaller than those of the recall vote and the 2000 and 1998 election.

Having said that, it is my conviction that today the number of pro-Chavez registered voters in Venezuela is higher than the number of pro-Rosales voters. What I have no clue about is what they plan to do tomorrow. Thus, it is my belief that abstention will decide the outcome. High abstention levels will favor Rosales, low abstention levels will favor Chavez. Why? Because the opposition hard core is today larger than the Chavista hard core and because given the profile of voters for each camp, abstention has always been higher among the lowest social strata, where Chavez has more support. thus, at or below 33% abstention I expect a Chavez win, while higher levels should tip it over to Rosales.

The Chavista machinery will be hard at work tomorrow, much like the Rosales machinery. The First one though has the advantage of having access to real time data about how many people have voted and where. That is why I would view keeping the polls open until very late as a trick: The law clearly states that after 4 PM only poll stations with lines should remain open, if the CNE orders all of them to stay open, it will be because the Chavista machinery will be going all over to pressure those that have not voted into going.

Going back to abstention levels, it is my belief that what we have seen in rallies reflects precisely that: The pro-Chavez voters are no longer as motivated as they used to be, while the pro-Rosales crowd seem much more enthusiastic. In the end, time may be what Rosales lacked. he only had 10% in August and he has managed to make the race close. With an additional month he may have won even with low abstention levels. Tomorrow by this time, we will likely know if it was sufficient or not…

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