Plenty. We will return to it.
First, though, the overall picture:
We are looking at three scenarios for the Venezuelan election on April 14. They conflict -- only one is right.
(1) Poll results published April 1 show Nicolás Maduro with 45%, Henrique Capriles with 37%. 11% are undecided. 7% say they will not vote. For similar poll results, click here. They show a deterioration of Maduro´s vote.
I must add parenthetically that anything under 50% for a well-known incumbent is bad news for him. The reason: the voters know who he is. They either (1) like him or (2) don´t like him. To achieve 50% he faces an unenviable task: persuade the dissuaded.
(2) However, a different poll published April 5 shows 56% for Maduro, 41% for Capriles (other polling firms obtained the same results).
(3) Finally, yet another poll published April 7 shows Capriles leading with 40%, Maduro with 35%. That means fully 25% are undecided/aren´t telling/will not vote only a week away from the election. I must note this poll was conducted between March 7 and April 5, an extraordinary long period. Is there a typographic error in the dates? If not, the poll should be discarded.
What on earth (or elsewhere) is going on?
Six months ago, President Hugo Chávez, Maduro´s mentor, won reelection with 55% of the vote. If the second set of polls is correct, Maduro is hanging on to the Chávez base; obviously, he has done the right thing by running on the Chávez record. However, if the first and third sets are correct, the 10% slip suggests Maduro´s situation is comparable to Obama´s in 2012 (see our post of January 27, 2013, "Stumblin´ In"). To wit:
In general, voters do not cross over directly from one candidate to another; rather, they pass through the intermediate "undecided" and/or nonvoter phase. Many voters -- me included -- who voted for Obama in 2008 moved into the transitional category in 2012. Seven million in number, they were there for the taking.
Romney did not know how to pick them up, and lost.
We noted in our March 19 post: "Not every candidate can win an election. But every candidate can lose one. Maduro is no exception." Both Maduro and Capriles, in my opinion, are making horrible blunders and missing exquisite opportunities.
Let´s look first at Capriles.
(1) We mentioned (March 19) the major error -- probably fatal -- committed by Capriles, his C.I.A. minders, and their Washington D.C. political consultants. The first law of running for office: most campaigns only confirm what is already in place. What matters, then, is what happens before -- not during -- the formal campaign. Capriles had almost six months (October 2012-April 2013) to run his non-campaign campaign to consolidate his base vote and move on to the swing voters (see below). He did not do it.
(2) Anybody running against an incumbent confronts the following challenge.
By his mere presence an upstart newcomer is telling the majority of voters: you made a mistake when you chose my opponent. The voters look askance. "Me? A mistake? Oh yeah? Where?" The challenger must have his answer ready, then step back and fire.
Nicolás Maduro was Chávez´s vice-president and today is the sitting president. We noted in the March post that to beat the incumbent president, Capriles must offer clear, objective, specific solutions to Venezuela´s problems, most notably an inflation rate of over 20%.
He is not doing it. To see what Capriles is saying about inflation, as well as insecurity, click here. Sorry, nothing specific, concrete there. Even worse, Capriles´ economic advisor can do no better.
Capriles has been governor of the state of Miranda since 2008. He should be mentioning his specific, real accomplishments as a chief executive. I am unable to find them anywhere on the Internet.
(3) Finally, in a campaign, you try to hang a jacket on the opponent. If it works, he wears it wherever he goes, in everything he says and does; he beats himself. But in order for the jacket to work, it must fit. In other words, it must be true.
Capriles has a jacket for Maduro: "Maduro no es Chávez." The problem: the jacket´s message targets Chávez´s base vote. We have noted before that to get The Big Mo -- momentum -- a campaign must start with favorable voters (its base), then move to swing voters (they can go either way), and last and least, if time and resources permit (which seldom happens) try to convert the hostiles, i.e., the opponent´s base.
As for the jacket, Capriles and his C.I.A. minders have turned the proper strategy on its head, i.e., he addresses the hostiles first. They see Maduro as Chávez´s appointed heir, so will they pay attention to the jacket? I doubt it. Because Capriles did not properly prepare the ground, we are not looking at a hard sale; we are looking at a no sale.
By the way, to the extent the jacket does fit, it sends the wrong message to everybody outside the Chávez base. For them, the fact that "Maduro is not Chávez" is a strong point in his favor.
Boys and girls of the C.I.A. and your Beltway bandit political consultants: here we go again. You don´t know how to win an election. To show readers what a good jacket would have been, I will post one this weekend -- too late to be useful to Capriles, but still valuable as a reference point for evaluating the Washington D.C. "advice" extended to him.
Turning to Nicolás Maduro:
(1) Go back to the picture at the top of this post. Maduro once was a bus driver. He is proud of his working class origin, and rightfully so. He has come a long way.
However, any chief executive position is 90% role playing. The last time I looked, there was no elected office on the planet for "bus driver." This Sunday what Venezuelan voters will do is elect a president.
To play successfully the role of chief executive, it is crucial not to be confused about what you are doing or who you are. A graphic example: a campaign cannot have 3 different color designs for a candidate -- the voters will get the impression there are 3 different candidates running with the same name. In the same way, a candidate for president cannot play 3 different roles without confusing -- and losing -- voters. They will drift in droves into the "undecided" and nonvoter categories. It will be interesting to see the numbers for both groups this Sunday.
(2) In addition to bus driver, Maduro´s campaign presents him as a medium with the dead. He claimed Hugo Chávez recently visited him in the form of a small bird. If you don´t know what to do with that one, stay out of the campaign business. Ditto
(3) Maduro´s third campaign role is that of shaman. He placed a curse on everybody who votes against him on Sunday. A preacher-presidential candidate in Ecuador, Nelson Zavala, tried the same trick in February and came in last in an 8-man race. You could have run a dead cat against him and beat him.
What Maduro should be doing, but isn´t, is focus on the Hugo Chávez program he says he will continue. He should also bring to light Capriles´ record as governor and take it apart one stitch at a time.
One thing is certain: the winner on Sunday will be either Maduro or Capriles. Given the losing campaigns both men are running, the winner will back into victory.
If Capriles wins, you can be sure there will be hours of fist-pumping and high-fiving by the C.I.A. and its D.C. consultants. You, Dear Reader, will not be fooled.
The proverbial bottom line:
(i) Let us accept the second set of polls, the most optimistic group for Maduro. They show he is holding on to the Chávez base vote, that he is 8% -10% ahead of Capriles.
(ii) Now, let´s look at the election results for October 2012: 8,191,132 (55%) for Chávez, 6,591,304 (44%) for Capriles. 10% sounds like a huge margin, unbeatable, but in terms of real live voters, it is less than two million people. That means
(iii) if one million voters switch to Capriles, he wins.
The poll cited above, which showed Maduro leading by 8%, also showed 11% were undecided. If those numbers are correct, the future of Venezuela comes down to this question: will Capriles succeed where Romney failed?
I doubt it.