IAD Q&A: Is Chavismo Coming to an End in Venezuela?

Today’s issue of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor ran a Q&A on Nicolas Maduro’s declining poll numbers and the future of Chavismo. Otto Riech, Michael Shifter and Dan Hellinger also responded. My contribution is below. You can access the newsletter here.

IAD: A Datanalisis survey published May 5 by El Universal showed growing impatience among Venezuelans for President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Sixty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Maduro’s administration, while 80 percent thought the country was going in the wrong direction. What factors are driving those poll numbers, and will Maduro continue losing support among Venezuelans? Might he be forced out of office before his term is scheduled to expire in 2019? Is Chavismo coming to an end, and what would most likely replace it?

DS: The fieldwork for this poll was done as dialogue between the government and opposition gained inertia and street protests diminished. This seems to have refocused people on the poor economy. Of the top five most important problems respondents mentioned, four were economic, accounting for 51% of the total. Food scarcities and inflation topped the list. In contrast, less than 10% mentioned in some way the government’s heavy-handed response to the protests.

Since the economy will get worse before it gets better, President Maduro’s job approval could well drop to the bedrock 25-30% of the population that solidly identifies with Chavismo. Unless his government turns the economy around over the next two years he could lose a recall referendum which will become available in 2016. An incredible 59% of respondents say they don’t think Maduro should finish his term, including 15% of government supporters.

While this spells trouble for the Maduro government, it will not mean the end of Chavismo as a political force. Most average Venezuelans remember Hugo Chávez as someone who delivered on his promise to raise their standards of living. What is more, the last time they saw him alive was in December 2012, a year that saw 5% economic growth. This reinforces their perception that the precipitous decline of the Venezuelan economy is the fault of Maduro rather than the unsustainable economic policies he inherited. And this perception will continue to contribute to Chávez’s long term symbolic glorification.