Sympathy for Chavismo sinks under the dead weight of Maduro

Photo credits: Mural by Carlos Zerpa, photo by Meredith Kohut

What are the latest trends of support for Chavismo and for Maduro in Venezuela? Although both tend to get lumped together, there’s an important although diminishing sector of the population which identifies itself as Chavista, but not as Madurista. This is a consequence of the breakaway from government support of most of the traditional social base of Chavismo.

When president Chávez died, in March of 2013, support for Chavismo was already falling. In October of 2012 Chávez had won the presidential election with 55% of the vote and an 80,5% turnout, but only after straining state finances in a frenetic campaign with a sharp increase in imports and public spending. Under Maduro’s chaotic, dictatorial rule, support for Chavismo has crashed into historic lows, as the regime applied the worst austerity programs in Venezuelan history, destroying public health and education budgets, eroding wages and imposing semi-slavery labor conditions, while letting the country sink into hyperinflation, ultimately expelling over 5 million migrants in roughly six years.

The parliamentary elections of 2015, which were the last in which most political parties were allowed to participate, delivered a landslide defeat for Chavismo, which lost for the first time in 16 years its majority in the National Assembly. The anger vote gave the right- wing opposition a two thirds majority. Chavismo then resorted to annulling the Assembly and setting up its own Constituent National Assembly, a facade for dictatorial rule in favour of the “Bolibourgeoisie”, the civilian and military caste of new millionaires who benefit from handling the oil rent in association with transnational capital.

Elections in 2017 and 2018 were absolutely undemocratic, as most right and left opposition parties were banned from participation, and there were numerous voices pointing out the forgery of the data published by the electoral authorities. Even the company in charge of the transmission of the electronic votes denounced in 2017 that at least a million votes in the Constituent Assembly election did not match the transmission data.

Polls confirm that government support has continued to shrink in the midst of the worst social and economic crisis in the country’s contemporary period. In July 2017, a poll by Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB) and Vanderbilt University showed that 62% identified as opposition to the government and 38% as Chavistas. But breaking the number of Chavistas, it emerges that 25% of all respondents identified as Chavistas without supporting Maduro, while only 13% actually supported the government. As the popular rebellion which started in April was coming to an end, 51% of Chavistas who didn’t support the government considered that Maduro should not finish his legal presidential period. Even 38% of those who supported Maduro considered his presidency should be cut short before its legal end in December 2018.

In 2019 a young and obscure deputy from the party Voluntad Popular, Juan Guaido emerged as leader of the parliamentary Opposition in January 2019, claiming to be the head of a so-called “interim government” which would put an end to Maduro’s “usurpation” of power by means of external pressure, and by winning over the Chavista military leadership for a coup. Beyond his absolute subordination to Trump, the corruption scandals that erupted around him, it was the clear failure of his strategy of calling on the population to wait patiently for diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a change of loyalty in the military that ultimately eroded the sympathy he initially gathered on millions of Venezuelans exasperated by the demagogy and brutality of the regime. According to a poll conducted by the Center of Government and Political Studies of the UCAB and the Delphos polling firm, confidence in Guaido had dropped by May 2019 to 24,4%. That same month, Datincorp published a poll in which 70% were in favor of the renovation of the government leadership and 73% favored renewing the opposition leadership. Support for Maduro remained at 14% while 35% supported Guaido.

In July 2019, a Datanalisis poll showed 82,2% wanted Maduro to step down before the end of the year. Only 12,9% supported Maduro, but hope for change in the near future dropped from 60% in January to 30% in July, reflecting the perceived failure of the Guaido-Trump project. Another poll by Datanalisis three months later indicated 52,9% claimed to be independent, 31,8% opposition and 13,8% Chavista.

In December, a poll by Delphos indicated that while 23,4% of respondents identified as Chavista, only 14,3% supported Maduro, with a large fraction of 9,1% rejecting his government. The largest fraction of respondents was the 43,6% didn’t sympathize with any political party, while 18,2% identified as sympathizers of the official PSUV.

The party founded by Chávez claims to have more than seven million members, but usually receives many less votes than the official membership figure, artificially inflated by the forced affiliation of state employees and people who depend on food distribution programs to survive, often not having any actual militancy or ideological affinity with Chavismo.

In that same Delphos poll, only 45,4% of Maduro supporters and 22,6% of non-madurista Chavistas claim to be hopeful. Three out of every five non-madurista Chavistas consider Maduro to bear the main responsibility for the crisis. Regarding an electoral way out, 60% of Non-Madurista Chavistas want presidential elections and 49% of madurista Chavistas share that aspiration. According to the government, new presidential elections would be held in 2024.

In 2020, everyday social and economic conditions have been worsening for working-class Venezuelans. We hope that the combination of an increasing number of workers’ strikes and popular protests (more than 14 thousand between January and October of last year, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflictivity), and the evaporation of illusions in Guaido, can converge in a situation where popular autonomous struggle recovers prominence.

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