Mobilization Efforts for Venezuela’s April Election

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

David Smilde

As Iñaki Sagarzazu argued yesterday, the only path to victory for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles runs through issues of turnout. Put differently, since opinion polls put ruling socialist party candidate Nicolas Maduro far ahead, the only thing that could make the April 14 election into an actual contest is if Capriles turns out all his voters, and some pro-Chávez voters who have doubts about Maduro stay home. This hope in the Capriles camp can’t simply be dismissed as wishful thinking. Indeed in the two elections that Chávez “lost” (the December 2007 referendum and the 2010 legislative elections) turnout was a key factor.

In a previous post regarding the 2012 elections we argued that the government has consistently shown a greater capacity for mobilizing supporters than the opposition. However, it is hard to know what that means for this election. In a series of tweets this morning, pollster Luis Vicente Leon said “This is not a traditional election and we do not know if the models we have successfully used before to estimate abstention will work." 

The upcoming election is sui generis in several aspects: it is preceded by a very short official campaign of barely two weeks (even if the candidates have been engaged in a high intensity un-official campaign almost since Chávez passing last month), it is also preceded by two important national elections very close in time (October and December 2012). Finally, it closely follows an extraordinary event: Chávez’s passing on March 5. 

Therefore, parties have very little time to adjust their mobilization strategies and they have to rely on what they already have in place. The government still holds the advantage because it can rely on the proven mobilization machinery of the PSUV. Last year, in his few public appearances during the campaign Chávez never failed to mention the 10X1 mobilization strategy, once he even called volunteers from the crowd and asked them to phone their mobilization support groups as examples. 

No such insistence has been expressed by Maduro during the campaign so far, implying that perhaps the PSUV feels sure of their machinery and see no need to insist on the issue during the campaign. The 10X1 strategy is still up in the PSUV web page at the "red machine” link. It is the same as last year but now with the Maduro campaign logos instead of Chávez’s. 

In the opposition camp, last year’s mobilization strategy called Tuy2mas (you and two more), has been discontinued and its web page is no longer online. Capriles is insisting on the need to “defeat abstention” and boost voter participation. There is still a widely held belief among the opposition that the defeat of the December 16th regional elections was due to low opposition voter turn out, although that was not the case. The parties supporting Capriles however do need to greatly improve their turn out strategy for April 14 if they hope to improve their poor performance from October and December of last year. 

Luis Vicente Leon argues that “the opposition is more dependent on spontaneous mobilization than on its capacity to mobilize the voter…The government does have more capacity of mobilization, but it is also true that the opposition has been much more self-propelled and motivated…While chavismo works on its strategy to move people, the opposition must work on emotional motivators so that people go to vote by themselves."