Venezuelan Presidential Election: Notes on Mobilization

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernaíz

With one week remaining until the Venezuelan presidential election, most polls show either a close contest or one in which the gap between Capriles and Chávez is smaller than the number of undecided voters. For example, last week Datanalisis released numbers for voters who are “very sure” they will vote, that have Chávez at 49%, Capriles at 39% and 11% undecided. If undecided voters continue to break 4 to 1 in favor of Capriles the result would be a statistical tie. In this case the electoral result would be determined by turnout and mobilization. And indeed, the candidates’ campaigns have been greasing their mobilizations machines. 

Comando Carabobo Mobilization Strategy

Chávez, despite continually saying that they have the election locked-up, mentions mobilization every time he speaks. In fact in recent speeches he seemed concerned that triumphalism could hamper mobilization. Last Thursday he said, “Not a single popular and Bolivarian vote should remain home…Let no one think: Chávez already won, I will not vote.”

Chavez’s main mobilization program is called 1×10. The PSUV and the Comando Carabobo have separate web pages for registration but with the same format (For the PSUV click here. For Comando Carabobo click here). The idea is that every person that registers on the webpage will provide the names and ID numbers of 8 to 15 persons he or she will be personally mobilizing to vote for Chávez on October 7. Once the registration process is done, the person receives a certificate recognizing them as an “active militant” from the PSUV or from the Comando Carabobo depending on which you registered with. If all the people on his list actually show up to vote on Election Day, the active militant will receive a certificate of “mission accomplished” signed by Chávez himself. During the meeting with his electoral machine, at El Poliedro sports arena, Chávez staged a public test of this system. He chose a volunteer from the crowd of 14,000 active militants and asked her to call one of her 1×10 list members on her cell phone. She did so and handed the phone to Chávez who was greeted with a “Pa´lante Comandante!” (Onward Commander!) by the person on the other end of the line. 

The 1×10 program is a mechanism intended to motivate individual effort by party activists. However, the PSUV has also developed a specific infrastructure for election day mobilization called the maquinaria roja i.e. the “Red Machine.“ The maquinaria has a hierarchical structure with military names for each mobilization unit: at the lowest level are the Patrullas Bolívar 200 (with 50 members in each “patrol,” there are supposed to be 36,603, one for each election table. According to the PSUV webpage this would mean 1,830,150 patrulleros); The Patrullas of the same voting center a grouped in Unidad de Batalla Bolívar 200 (this means 12,471 Unidades. However, Chávez in his discourses often refers to the Unidades de Batallas, and not to the Patrullas as the minimum mobilization unit); The Unidades respond to 87 Comandos Circuitales and they respond to 24 Comandos Estadales; At the highest level of the hierarchy is the Comando Nacional de Campaña Bolívar 200, led by Aristólulo Izturiz, who is a member of the National Directorate of the PSUV.

Comando Venezuela Mobilization Strategy

The opposition’s electoral mobilization campaign is called tuy2mas (you and two more). Similar to the 1×10 campaign, the person registers on a web page (notably the web page has no individual party signs and only the campaign logo). He or she then registers the names and ID numbers of his or her “team.” These teams are composed of two persons that have either not voted in previous elections, or that voted pro-government, and that the mobilizer has convinced to now vote for Capriles. A series of instructions follow on how the person is to organize support meetings with his team and how he should mobilize them on Election Day. The difference in numbers required by the Capriles and Chávez campaigns demonstrates the difference in party strength, which we discuss below.

Capriles is relying on his own campaign organization, Comando Venezuela, to coordinate his multi-party coalition. His own party, Primero Justicia, only has strong mobilization machines in urban areas, like Caracas. Other parties contribute in other parts of the country.  For example, Un Nuevo Tiempo is strong in Zulia, and Copei is well organized in the Andes region. Acción Democrática has traditionally had a strong mobilization machine in rural areas–however, it is well known that, within the coalition of parties, AD is the least enthusiastic about Capriles’ candidacy. Despite these parties’ contributions, compared to the PSUV, the opposition lacks a strong unified mobilization structure.

Party Advantage for Chávez

Poll numbers show that in this election, Chávez has a clear advantage in party identification—a situation that has inverted since the legislative elections of 2010. In September 2010 opposition parties had around 22% party identification while the PSUV had 20%. By August 2012 party identification with opposition parties had dropped to 12.5% while identification with PSUV had increased to 38%. This means that while 97% of those respondents who identify themselves as Chávez supporters also identify with the PSUV, only 55% of those who identify with the opposition identify with an opposition party.

Given its party strength, the Chávez campaign is focusing on party activists bringing ten people each to the polls. In contrast, without a strong, nationwide party, the Capriles campaign is focusing on the enthusiasm of average Capriles voters, which if we judge by attendance at Capriles events, is considerable. The idea of each person bringing two more to the polls first emerged after the opposition primaries, in which 3 million people voted. At that time opposition organizers immediately put forward the idea that if every person who voted in the primary brought two more to the general election, it would give Capriles 9 million votes and a clear victory.

Election Simulation

Both sides used the election simulation called by the CNE on September 2 as a test for their mobilization machines. The simulation was done without witnesses or parties representations inside the voting centers. However party groups staged propaganda and mobilization kiosks outside many voting centers. The CNE officials declared that numbers from the simulation would not be made public. Unsurprisingly, both sides claimed victory for their mobilization efforts.  

However, two weeks later, during another public meeting with his “Red Machine,” Chávez announced that he had received complaints from militants claiming that during the simulation of September 2, the “Battle Units” had received spoiled food, no water, and that transportation to the centers had been nonexistent. He called for more collaboration and self-reliance with logistics and chided activists that “not everything can be done by the Comando Carabobo.”

Mobilizing Electoral Table Witnesses

Mobilization on voting day will be crucial not only for getting out the vote but also for ensuring that voting centers have witnesses. The voting process is automated but parties in Venezuela put great stress on fielding witnesses at all voting centers in order to “protect” their votes. According to Blanca Eeckout (Coordinator for the Polo Patriótico and Allied Parties of Comando Carabobo) the Comando Carabobo claims to have 134,000 witnesses that will be posted at voting centers grouped in 13,697 Unidades de Batalla Carabobo. To get these witnesses to their posts early on October 7, the Fuerza Bolivariana de Taxistas will contribute with 2,000 taxis.  Furthermore, each voting center in Caracas and the states of Apure, Guárico and Portuguesa, will be provided with 5 motorcycles. 

On the opposition side, the strategy for October 7 has a name: “Día V.” Leopoldo López (National Coordinator of Comando Venezuela) claims that the MUD has 133,893 witnesses, putting them at a total of 256,423 volunteers for that day. According to López, 82,530 volunteers will be in charge of transporting voters that have difficulties getting to the voting centers. 40,000 volunteers will take care of food and water for the witnesses at the voting centers. López has recognized that the opposition has a shortage of witnesses in certain rural districts; in some of these districts the opposition will cover fewer than 75% of the centers. As for Capriles, he continues to campaign heavily in the provinces, where he hopes to generate enough voter enthusiasm to make up for deficits in mobilization infrastructure.