David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernaíz

In a previous post we suggested that incumbent President Hugo Chávez went into the October 7 elections with a mobilization advantage. While both sides were well organized, the government’s 10×1 strategy (based on the idea that each party activist would mobilize 10 more voters), benefiting from the government’s party unity, was more focused and organized than the opposition’s Tuy2mas campaign (“You and two more” based on the idea that every voter in the primaries would bring two more to the polls). 

Indeed National Electoral Council (CNE) data show that turnout was lower than the national average in some districts. For example, voter turnout in the municipality of Chacao, a middle-class stronghold of the opposition, was 73.64%, well below the national average of 80.52%. In contrast, the parish of 23 de Enero, a Chávez stronghold, had a turnout of 82.32%, above the national average.

In an newspaper interview, Henrique Capriles blamed lower turnout in middle-class areas on operación morrocoy [“operation tortoise” referring to a presumably intentional slowdown by CNE functionaries]. “People might have gotten bored [waiting in long lines] and thought ‘Well Capriles already won here and there is no need for me to vote.’ I was amazed that in my own voting center…only 70% voted. Where was the other 30%?” 

But Capriles also pointed to the pro-Chávez machine for its “brutal” efficiency: “They have a brutal structure, honestly…What we saw that day we had never before witnessed here: they came at it with everything and they got 55% of the votes.”

Operación Remate

In Venezuela operación remate (operation mop-up) refers to a final mobilization push by parties before polls close. Both opposition and government leaders have commented that the Socialist Party (PSUV) was more efficient than the opposition in mobilizing voters in the afternoon. 

After midday, rumors on social networks claimed that Capriles was leading exit polls by a small margin. In the afternoon Spanish tabloid ABC published the results of a supposed exit poll by Varianzas that gave Capriles a slight lead. These rumors could explain the activation of an aggressive operación remate by the PSUV. 

However, as we explained in our previous post, the mobilization strategy of the PSUV, including a door-to-door search and transport of voters by motorcyclists of the Frente Motorizado, had been planned well in advance of the election day. Jorge Rodriguez suggested in a television interview that, while the opposition did have a strong turnout in the morning, “in the afternoon, from 5 to 6 pm on, we Chavistas came out strong.“ 

Incumbent’s Advantage?

While accusations of fraud gained few supporters this time around, there were many accusations that the Chávez campaign used government resources to mobilize its supporters and pressure voters. Henrique Capriles said: “I don’t want to use this as an excuse: but all the people that were in the Misión Vivienda, in all the missions, were called one by one. I sent people to check the voting lines [in the afternoon] and they were all PSUV voters. All of them! With operación remate between 5 and 7 pm, they went door-to-door to get people.” Opposition journalist Marta Colomina claimed that public employees had been pressured to vote for Chávez; that the PSUV had resorted to Misiones lists to seek out voters; and that some voters had been paid Bs. 1,000 (around $200). 

The most serious of these accusations referred to the use of the National Guard (GNB) and military vehicles to get pro-government voters to voting centers. But evidence of this has been hard to come by. According to El Universal, Alexis Tovar, President of the Frente Motorizado (bikers, taxi drivers, and bus drivers) of the PSUV declared that they had been in “permanent contact” with the GNB, but only for security purposes. El Universal also published a document supposedly issued by the GNB that established direct organizational links between the military and the PSUV electoral machine during Election Day. However the GNB denied the veracity of the document.

It is also frequently suggested or implied that the CNE kept voting centers open to favor Chávez, since Capriles had a better early turnout. However, president of the CNE Tibisay Lucena actually put out a reminder that voting centers could not be closed as long as people were still in line. Indeed this is clear in Venezuelan electoral law. Article 308 of Title IX, Chapter 1 of the 2012 Organic Law on Electoral Processes says:

Once the Electoral Table is ready, the President of the table will announce by voice that voting has begun. Voting will take place without interruption from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, unless there are still voters waiting to exercise their right to vote.

It is important to note also that this does not mean that voters have to arrive before 6:00 pm. Even if voters arrive long after 6:00 pm, they can vote if there are still people waiting in line. 

Fielding Witnesses

In Venezuela electoral mobilization means not only getting out the vote, but also ensuring that every electoral center has electoral witnesses. There were concerns before the elections that the opposition would not be able to get enough witnesses to the polling centers, especially in pro-government strongholds in the barrios and remote rural areas. After Election Day there were suggestions that this in fact had been the case. 

The debate over this point reveals some of the internal divisions that exist within the opposition. Some within the opposition accused social democratic party Acción Democrática of not even collecting the credentials necessary to field its witnesses. AD was known to be the opposition party least supportive of the Capriles candidacy. But AD’s General Secretary, Henry Ramos suggested that Leopoldo López, head of the Capriles campaign’s ground organization needed to explain why all the electoral centers had not been covered by witnesses when he had assured they would be. 

Leopoldo López, in turn, responded that the opposition had distributed CNE credentials to 133,000 witnesses, which should have covered 99.6% of all electoral centers. In a recent interview he declared that the Comando Venezuela had confirmed with the voting center minutes (actas de votación) that 97% of the opposition witnesses had done their jobs.

What actually happened will probably never be known, but the dispute points to persisting differences within the opposition parties that probably hampered a coordinated mobilization effort of both voters and witnesses on Election Day.

Votes by Party

The government headed into the election with a serious advantage in terms of party articulation. Datanálisis’s August Omnibus poll showed that party identification with opposition parties had dropped to 12.5% while identification with PSUV had increased to 38%. This meant that while over 90% of Chávez supporters identified with the PSUV, only around 50% of Capriles supporters identified with an opposition party. 

In Venezuelan elections, voters choose not only the candidate of their preference but the party of their preference. There were 12 different parties supporting Chávez, and 18 backing Capriles (including the coalition of parties called the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática).

Chávez received 77.96% of his votes through the PSUV option. The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) contributed 5.98%, and no other pro-Chávez options reached 2% support. This shows considerable party unity on the pro-government side; however, it is worth noting that PSUV did not by itself provide enough votes for victory. Indeed, the PCV has portrayed itself as contributing the margin of victory and sees itself as meriting more respect. It has announced they would support their own candidates in four states for the December regional elections.

The pro-Capriles option that received the most votes was the opposition coalition called the Table of Democratic Unity (MUD), which received 33.39%. Primero Justicia (Capriles’ party) followed with 27.9% of the votes for Capriles; Un Nuevo Tiempo, got 18.25%, and Voluntad Popular 6.19%. No other party reached 2%. The fact that the MUD received over a third of the votes and more than any individual party surprised many opposition politicians and seems like a clear sign that many opposition voters desire a unified opposition. 

December Regional Elections

Regional elections for governors will be held on December 16. Government candidates are riding the coattails of Chávez’s victory, and seem likely to benefit from a proven mobilization machine. The opposition, in contrast, needs to address a mobilization structure that showed weaknesses on October 7. The opposition is also struggling against voter disenchantment. While only a handful of extremists think the October 7 elections were fraudulent, many opposition voters have given up hope that they can hold back Chávez’s revolution. 

However regional elections are different from presidential elections in several respects. Regional parties and leadership play a much bigger role. Furthermore, local PSUV politicians are much less popular than Chávez and there have been numerous cases in the past when voters have supported Chávez for President, but turned around to vote for an opposition Governor (for example in Zulia). The opposition must deal with the mentioned party disunity, but the Government also has to face internal discontent, for example in the cases of “alternative” candidates by a reasserted PCV. We will analyze the candidacies for the December regional elections in an upcoming post.