The fear factor and the AP/Ipsos poll: A caveat for pollsters in Venezuela

Por Venezuela Real - 27 de Noviembre, 2006, 13:59, Categoría: Electorales

Gustavo Coronel
November 27, 2006

On Thanksgiving Day, The Associated Press working together with French pollster Ipsos, released a poll related to the December 3rd presidential election in Venezuela in which Hugo Chávez led candidate Manuel Rosales by some 30 points. A Venezuelan analyst, Mrs. Maritza Ramírez de Agena, called Ipsos' representative in Venezuela, Mr. Jaime Seijas, to find more details about these curious results and Mr. Seijas told her that the survey had been done in a random manner, door-to-door, choosing every fifth house in a clockwise manner. The mechanics of the survey, says Mrs. De Agena, look fine but the social and political context in which the survey was carried out might not have been taken into due consideration by the French polling firm. In today's Venezuela, claims Mrs. De Agena and other analysts of the Venezuelan presidential race, the fear factor has to be taken into account. A Venezuelan opening his or her door to a stranger taking a poll on the political preferences of that person will either be inclined to refuse to answer (we don't know how many did refuse) or to say what is safest. In our country what is safest today is to say that, "yes, by all means, I am planning to vote for Chávez." In a country where the president publicly and systematically threatens citizens with retaliation if they vote against him, where there are black lists of Venezuelans who voted in the past against Chávez being used to deny these citizens their right to a job or to an identity document and where public employees have been told that it's either the government's way or the highway, most Venezuelans will think carefully about saying who they are going to vote for. Specially to a stranger knocking at their door.

AP/Ipsos is probably used to conducting polls where this atmosphere of repression does not exist. This is why they went ahead and conducted an open poll. The fear factor was totally ignored. I sincerely believe that AP/Ipsos is headed for a loss of credibility after the election takes place.

In a recently published article, Mr. William Klemme makes the point that other pollsters such as Penn, Schoen & Berland have conducted polls in which the privacy of the person being polled is assured. Such polls show dramatically different results. They show a tight presidential race that can be defined as a technical tie, with candidate Manuel Rosales having the momentum coming to the end stage of the race and still gaining against the stagnant Chávez candidacy.

Who should we believe? Asks Klemme. I think that anyone living in Venezuela or closely watching the current political situation in the country from abroad would prefer to dismiss these and other polls and rely on what they see, smell and hear in the country. There is an air of euphoria in Venezuela, related to the candidacy of Manuel Rosales, which contrasts strongly with the forced optimism of the regime. In public events such as baseball games Rosales is wildly acclaimed, while Chávez has decided not to attend them, for fear of public rejection. For example, as I write this, a giant rally in favor of Rosales is taking place in Caracas. Chávez has forbidden overflights of Caracas (except for government, military and police), so that no one will be able to take photographs illustrating its magnitude. He has ordered teams of laborers to conduct phantom repairs along the highways leading to the site of the rally, in order to prevent people from getting there. He is like a boxer kicking, spitting and biting the opponent, throwing sand in his face, using all the dirty tricks in the book and some which are not in the book, to prevent him from winning. This gangster attitude strongly suggests that the regime feels terrified of the results of the election. Chávez controls four of the five members of the National Electoral Council and for the last two years has been beefing up the electoral registry with foreigners who will vote for him in exchange for quick nationalization. Colombian narcoterrorists have been known to be registered and have voted for Chávez in past elections. The company that supplied the electronic voting machines, Smartmatic, received a controversial contract from Chávez and has had a murky history. It is currently being investigated in the U.S. The electoral registry is deeply corrupted, having at one point in time over 39,000 voters more than 100 years old and 2,000 living at the same address. Chávez utilizes the state-owned media at his total discretion, while limiting the time of the opposition candidate in private stations and barring him from using the state-owned media that should be available, by law, to all citizens.

The fear factor, if not taken into consideration, can lead to great errors in polls and other electoral predictions on what is going to take place on December 3rd in Venezuela. Let us wait and see. If there is no transparency in the electoral process Venezuela will erupt in violence or an open dictatorship will take over the country that once was, not so long ago, a democratic model for Latin America.

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