"The word on the streets kills polls as weapons for political campaigning"
"The electoral outcome at present is a tie; it is impossible to predict the final result" "The trend is for Capriles to gain popularity while Chavez will lose some, and there is no reason to think this would shift in the near future"
Pollster Alfredo Keller (Keller y Asociados) remembers when Daniel Ortega was president (the first time), in Nicaragua, as all surveys heavily favored him for reelection but, in the end, Violeta Chamorro won: "Only one poll agency got it right (Borges y Asociados). They believed that voters were afraid to reply and used a pencil with the acronym Uno, which stood for Violeta Chamorro's Unidad Nacional Opositora (National Opposition Panel). As a result, people polled assumed that they were not dealing with government spies, and they answered based on how they really wanted to vote.
-Another way is to altogether ditch the poll and issue entirely false results.
-That is an utterly primitive practice and, though frequent in the past, it is nearly impossible to apply nowadays. I have been doing this for 34 years and have taken part in over 170 campaigns in 17 Latin American countries. In nearly each campaign, there have been poll wars. Twenty years ago, polls were rigged, and people under fake names and ghost agencies published them, generally with US-sounding names as there has been an ongoing myth that they (US pollsters) never make mistakes.
- Are polls being used as electoral weapons then?
-Polls are being used here as propaganda tools just like in several other countries. But there is no evidence that poll wars churn out the expected results.
-Those results are aimed at getting people to vote for someone who, according to rigged surveys, are winning by a landslide.
-An aura of invincibility is trying to be built around President Chávez to offset the weakness derived from his illness. In light of the debate as to whether he can continue to hold office and run a campaign, this invincibility is being portrayed to counteract the sentiment surrounding the opposing factor. It does not matter that he is ill; he is bent on winning. Also, emphasis is trying to be detracted from his capacity, or lack thereof, to be a candidate on the campaign route. This would give voters confidence to vote for him. Obviously, there is also a desire to trump potential financial assistance for the opposing candidate, as it is believed that no financial aid would be shelled out to a campaign that may be deemed lost. Then, last-minute voters, who may be standing on the fence throughout the campaign, are being sought to determine the outcome. Finally, polls are intended to be used as means for propaganda.
-Why do you believe that those strategies do not work?
-Because it is very difficult to fool the perception and feelings of voters. The word on the streets kills polls as weapons for political campaigning. That is why the stance opposition candidate Capriles has taken is the right one. Large-scale rallies in different cities make people think: "Whatever the polls are saying does not seem to be true."
-These rallies may be signs of being highly organized or strong, but they do not necessary indicate trends.
-Those polls end up generating great confusion amongst voters, and the desired effect of poll wars is lost. At present, people no longer believe any polls.
-Yet campaign headquarters talk about polls as being the basis for their respective strategies.
-It obvious that the people paying for the polls believe in the pollster's efficiency. But, on the other hand, Chavez's supporters believe the surveys published by the government, and opposition supporters believe those published by their candidate.
-So, the customer (whoever hires the pollster) is always right.
-I have been doing this for many years, and no one has ever asked me to tamper with results. When an adverse result is obtained, you may get disappointment or be asked not to disclose it or be asked what could be done to overcome that situation, but nothing else.
-Is that not what surveys are for?
-Precisely. That is exactly what they are for and not for anything else.
-With regards to surveys, does that mean that massive proliferation of contradicting information comes from both sides?
-Not from Capriles's side. He has his own pollster, someone other than I, by the way. They also opted not to take part in poll wars. We have not seen data from them in recent months. Therefore, it seems that they are aligned with the strategy being applied by Capriles: avoiding confrontation. The government wants confrontation because its candidate is weak on many fronts. Too many years in power leads to structural weariness evidenced in poll indicators. He is also weak not only because of his health but also because people are tired of ongoing conflicts that lead nowhere. Then the harsh reality also sets in: high unemployment, soaring costs of living, elevated crime rates.
-They must be aware of this.
-That is why they make such a fuss. They try to draw attention away from the effects of that reality and from a campaign that cannot be neutralized.
-Nevertheless, this aggressive and discrediting strategy is always the same. Chávez knows nothing else.
-I guess it is in his nature.
-But it has actually worked for him.
-If you analyze the electoral results from 1998 to now, Chávez has not once gotten more than half the votes. That is because polarization is aimed at discarding voters who refuse to enter into conflict. In so doing, a decisive factor is lost, a third of all voters. Also, if a portion of voters is controlled, opposition is split in two, one active group and another one warded off by conflict. That is the reason behind confrontation. But Capriles caught on to this, and the opposition is for the first time breaking up the confrontation strategy by creating a bond between the active and passive opposition. By doing this, the opposition consolidates its majority in qualitative terms and only needs the strength to get them to the ballots.
-Do you have any technical evidence of this?
-Of course. It is always the same strategy.
-Then, if the elections were to take place today, would Henrique Capriles win?
-Not today. But the way things are going, he could win them in the end. From a technical standpoint, it is absolutely possible that he may win.
-Is there enough time for lines to be crossed?
-From what I have seen in public opinion surveys, there are enough elements to believe that there is an electoral tie at present, and it is impossible to predict the outcome right now. He may lose today, but not necessarily tomorrow.
-It all depends on trends. If the trend were for Chávez to rise and Capriles to fall, it would be impossible for lines to cross.
-But that is not what is currently going on.
-Is the trend the exact opposite?
-The trend is, in fact, the exact opposite.
-Are there any reasons for this to change?
-There is no reason whatsoever. Before primary elections, whenever you asked people whom they would vote for, Capriles would beat Chávez. Then, after the primary elections, a great enthusiasm reached unprecedented levels. But that lasted only nine days. Then, the president announced that his cancer was till there. Immediately, a campaign to sanctify and consecrate Chávez was overwhelmingly launched. It turned him into some sort of Saint Chávez, with masses, processions, candles and prayers on his behalf. On the other hand, there was great uncertainty about what was really going on. Keeping his illness secret led to the second quarter of the year being filled with the topic of Chávez. It was a campaign, all right, but it did not involve Capriles. This carried Chávez to the helm of public attention. Henrique Capriles, in the meantime, focused on the A home for a home' campaign, which is a low-intensity effort. But he has now got his campaign under way and is applying different criteria. Chávez decided that he had overcome that phase of his illness. So, a lot of what he has developed as part of his strategy lacks any value today. Despite his efforts, with nearly endless resources, his numbers failed to improve, and he gained not a single point or vote. Then, the poll wars began to shift attention from the actual pressing issues. Polls are more important than the content or evaluation of government performance.
Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."