Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How the vote went down

Although many committed Chavistas turned out to support the ¨si¨ vote in Sanare, many stayed home. Thus the opposition won in a town that voted 70% for Chavez in 2006.

The official results of the December 2nd vote on the Consitutional reforms, 50.7% “No,” 49.3% “Si.” 9 million people voted, the winning margin was 125,000 votes.

Last week I tried to give an informed, but quite speculative estimate of the percentage of Chavez supporters among the upper classes (rich and middle class) and the lower classes (poor and working class): 4% upper + 64% lower equaled a total of 68% who were supporters. As for Chavez opponents: 16% upper class + 16% lower class equaled 32% of opponents.

In a footnote, I suggested that since this was a rough estimate, and since many lower class people seem to be confused about the reforms, maybe we should consider a more conservative split. This was a good idea, and also a way of covering my ass given the over-optimistic appraisal of the pro-Chavez forces that I had offered. So now, let’s consider a 60/40 split, a nice round number that is probably more realistic.

60 % of the population is pro-Chavez, 40% is anti-Chavez, so how did the “No” vote win?

Even though Chavez won with a 63/37 majority (nearly two thirds) in 2006, a 60/40 split is very much in keeping with the average pro/anti sentiment in previous elections over the past nine years. Chavez won by three million votes in 2006 because 12 million people voted, 75% of the electorate, a much higher proportion than had ever voted before. (U.S. turnouts for presidential elections, by comparison, have been between 49% and 60% over the past few decades.)

This year because Chavez was not a candidate, and because the constitutional reforms were presented in a haphazard and confusing way (even the wording of some articles was incoherent), election turnout was much lower, 56%. (This has always been the case with referendum and off-year elections, as it is in the U.S., where 35% to 40% of the electorate turns out to vote for Congress people and Senators.) The anti-Chavez people were able to win this year because they turned out to vote at much greater rate than the pro-Chavez people.

Here is a what happened, more or less. About 45% of the Chavez supporters (60% of the population) turned out to vote, but many others did not because they were confused or weren’t sufficiently motivated, so that the reforms only got the backing of 27% of the total population. And 70% of the Chavez opponents (40% of the population) voted, because they were excited and well-organized for a change, meaning that 28% of the voting population wanted the reforms to be defeated.

Supporters 60% x 45% turnout = 27%, Opponents 40% x 70% turnout = 28%, making a total turnout of 55%.

This happens to be very close to the actual 2007 voter turnout of 55.9%, almost 20 points lower than the December 2006 voter participation rate of 75%. In the 2007 election in Venezuela, there was superior interest and commitment on the part of the upper classes, and they won. If the lower classes had participated at the same rate as in 2007, they would have had another 3 million votes. Would all of them supported the reforms? Probably not. But they still would have won handily.

Sounds like the U.S.A.

I have been arguing for years (see my books Sharing the Pie and Robbing Us Blind) that the United States continues to have such a conservative government because the Democratic Party is unwilling to build a popular base and a political program that supports the aspirations of the poor, working class, and lower middle-class people who make up the large majority of the U.S. population.

“Lower-income people, especially the third of the electorate with household incomes of under $30,000 a year, vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The upper twenty-five percent of households, who make over $70,000 a year, have always favored the Republicans. Voter turnout in presidential elections is about 35 percent of the former, versus 70 percent of the latter. If Democrats can get the lower half of the working class to register and vote, they will win handily. If they convince the upper half of the working class” [those earning between $30,000 and $70,000] “to vote for their own interests instead of the interests of the wealthy, they’ll win by an extraordinary margin.” (Robbing Us Blind, 2004, Chapter 18)

On the afternoon after the election, when I talked to Gaudy Garcia, a long-time campesina activist in Monte Carmelo, she was a bit sad and still tired. (She was one of those who had labored at the election tables for 15 hours on the previous day.) But she wasn’t about to stop working for El Proceso.

“What we’re lacking is ideological education,” Gaudy said. “Too many of the Chavistas are still unaware that there is a class war going on. If they don’t show up to fight, they’re going to lose. But don’t worry, we’ll keep fighting.”

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