So, I have been in Caracas for less than 48 hours to cast what is likely to be one of the most expensive votes (my airfare was outrageous!) on Sunday’s elections and even pollsters that I don’t trust too much, because of their pro-Chávez stance, are trying to change my mind with their ever decreasing gap between Maduro (Who is still ahead in these polls) and Capriles.
I don’t want to throw too many new numbers at you, but two pro-Chavez pollsters and one considered to be more neutral have seen the gap narrow from almost 20 points, during Chávez’ mourning period, to single digits a week ago (all three), based on polls before Easter, to 7.2% in Datanalisis poll today, with more recent data.
And while I have never been a big Datanalisis fan, it is precisely because of that, that the numbers are interesting. You see, Datanalisis never seems to get the abstention right and in elections where that has yielded an unexpected result, they have been wrong. Thus, when they say that abstention will be in the 20% range and the fast changing difference is now only 7.2%, I have to wonder: What if?
Because I just can not possibly believe that abstention will be that low. Chávez was loved, adored and admired, this is Maduro we are talking about now. Maduro ain’t Chávez. Even Chávez saw abstention levels of 25% in the 2006 Presidential election, where he whipped Manuel Rosales. I find it hard to believe that Maduro, will be able to match that, even with Chávez’ endorsement.
And if abstention gets into the 30% range, that 7% gap gets down to where it may be almost impossible to predict what may happen, even if I still think Maduro is likely to have the edge. But not a huge edge, maybe 3 to 5% at most.
So, what seemed improbable a month ago still seems difficult, but not impossible. Last December regional elections saw 50%abstention, but largely because the opposition did not go out and vote and somehow Capriles has managed to get people excited again.
But given that Maduro’s campaign, while improving, has been less than inspired, one simply has to wonder whether people will go out and vote for the man Chávez anointed, just because he did it.
I am a numbers guy and the numbers suggest Maduro will win by a smaller margin that polls say, but looking at just the overall numbers (which also say Capriles is more popular than Maduro, for example) without knowing exactly what people feel about the Son Of Chávez, it is very hard to predict that the outcome will be different than polls predict.
In fact, abstention has been key in promoting and demoting pollsters in Venezuela as the “best”, to the point that not one can claim to have predicted each and every election and referendum result since 2006. Every single time, one of them has miscalculated and the number that did them in, was precisely misjudging the abstention level.
Give me 20% abstention, Maduro wins easily. Give me 30%, things get interesting and unpredictable, but cheating and tricks still make it hard, give me 35% and we are into Black Swan territory.
I think it will be closer to 30%, making it close, but with Maduro holding the edge. If less, game over.