Understanding the Ni Ni’s

David Smilde

Francisco Toro has an excellent discussion on the NYT’s Latitude blog, of Venezuela’s elusive “Neither Nor” voters, i.e. voters that identify with neither Chávez nor the opposition. He says these voters are not dithering between two attractive candidacies, but rather are turned off by both sides.

The very existence of these voters has come into question recently as polling companies differ not only in support for Chávez versus Capriles but in how many “undecided” voters there are with some polls showing over 20% and others showing undecideds in the low single digits. What pollsters do with these undecideds seems to explain much of the difference in the polls–from Chavez with a 20+ point advantage (if they think undecideds will mirror decided voters) to Chavez with a 3 point advantage (if they think undecideds will all break toward Capriles).

In contrast to the common perception, especially among hard line opposition supporters, that there could not possibly be that many Ni Ni’s thirteen years after Chávez assumed the presidency, they still do represent a significant swath of voters. But they are not unreachable and past elections show that they do in the end vote. Datanalisis’ numbers show that in a year’s time people who do not identify politically with either side have dropped from 45% (June 2011) to less than 33% (June 2012). (This is larger than the percentage of undecided voters because some Ni Ni’s have already decided who they will vote for even if they are not enthusiastic about it).

Datanalisis shows that through June the Ni Ni’s were indeed breaking in favor of Capriles, but not in the numbers he needs. Nevertheless, this is where the future of the election lies. I think Toro’s interpretation that “many ni-nis have settled views on both the Venezuelan government, which they see as an ineffective cult run by a ridiculous megalomaniac, and on the opposition, perceived as a plutocratic club run by a resentful, greedy former elite,” is accurate for a segment of these Ni Ni’s. But others are a little more instrumental. They think the Chávez government has done a lot of good things for people of their class, but worry about his concentration and abuse of power. They think Capriles seems like an interesting possibility. But they don’t trust that once in office he will actually remember them rather than coddling the elites that want to roll back the clock.