I had an interesting lunch today with a few Venezuelans from the Inter-America Development Bank and another gringo (who just sounds Venezuelan when he speaks Spanish) discussing the election this weekend in their country. We talked about a lot of interesting things, including hypotheticals about a post-Capriles victory world, but I was intrigued by their ideas on how abstention could play into Capriles’ favor in the election.
On one side, the thinking goes, is the fact that many chavistas are really that only in the sense that they supported Chávez the man and not any specific chavista governing philosophy. Therefore, with Chávez gone, they will be less enthusiastic and may even be reluctant to support Maduro since Chávez’s popularity did not carry over to his government or ministers (of whom Maduro was among the most prominent). On the opposition side, the idea is that with Capriles running again, and Chávez gone, the opposition will be fired up at the chance for victory and will turn up in basically the same numbers as in October, when there was a strong belief they could actually beat Chávez.
I’m less sold on the latter argument than the former, personally. While opposition turnout will certainly be higher than it was in December for parliamentary elections, I don’t know if the opposition is as fired up as they were in October. It’s impossible to know the extent to which opposition supporters have decided that this election is essentially rigged against them and won’t bother voting, but it seems certain it will mean somewhat lower turnout than in October.
So what if Capriles supporters turn out in exactly the same numbers as they did in October? How much chavista abstention* would be necessary for the 6.6 million votes Capriles won then to equal 50% of the votes cast? Since the registration list will be the same as in October, we know there will be just short of 18.9 million registered voters in this election. We also know that 1.89% of votes were blank or invalid in October and will assume that it will be about the same as last time. Assuming third party candidates don’t win even the .58% they combined for in 2012, this leaves Capriles and Maduro competing for 98.11% of those 18.9 million potential votes. For Carpiles to win with 6.6 million votes this time around would therefore require turnout be no higher than 71%, or 9 points less than it was in October.
This is obviously possible. However, it remains a tall order to expect 1.7 million people to stay home rather than voting for Maduro. In a regular election, I think Capriles could make up that ground, but a mirco-campaign with no funding and almost no access to the media is a different story.
*This could also include switching sides from voting chavista cancelling out opposition abstention.