Bolivia's Morales Takes Leads in Polls

(International Relations and Security Network, 19/09/2005)


Bolivian Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) presidential candidate Evo Morales has surged to a lead of 28 per cent of potential votes ahead of December elections, according to a recent poll conducted by an independent research firm.


The two other candidates, former Bolivian president Jorge Quiroga and businessman Samuel Doria Median, are in second and third place, respectively, with 22 and 19 per cent.


Until now, many of Bolivia's papers and opinion polls had placed Morales in second place, behind Quiroga. MAS supporters have claimed the results were inaccurate because rural voters, who are more likely to support MAS, had never been interviewed.


The MAS campaign platform calls for increased state control of Bolivia's natural resources, a new policy for managing Bolivia's coca production not based on fumigation and other US-driven policies, education, land and health reform, and a push towards Bolivia's integration with the region.


A Morales victory would result in an agenda focusing on the needs of Bolivia's rural poor, especially those who grow coca leaves in the Bolivian low lands surrounding Cochabamba. A strong dialog with the US over drug control policies could also ensue.


Bolivia, under Morales, would take a tougher position on controlling the export of Bolivian natural gas by foreign firms. However, observers believe that Morales may consider maintaining a certain degree of fiscal austerity to keep investors, and especially the International Monetary Fund, interested in supporting the country's weak economy.


The poll, the results of which were released late last week, was the first to place Morales in the lead since the presidential election campaigning began. By doing so, the poll strengthens the MAS candidate in the minds of undecided voters in the 4 December elections.


In the last elections in 2002, Morales lost by only 2 per cent.


Apoyo, Opinion y Mercado Bolivia conducted the poll from 9 to 15 September and interviewed 2,150 people in both urban and rural areas.


"Of those 2,150 interviewed, 85 per cent are in the National Register, 94 per cent of whom intend to vote in the 4 December presidential elections," Director of Apoyo, Opinion, y Mercado Bolivia, Luis Garay, told ISN Security Watch on Monday.


People between 18 and 70 years of age were polled. "This includes 1,073 males and 1,077 women; 639 within the 18 to 24 age group, 851 between 25 and 39, and 660 between 40 and 70," Garay said.


Those in the rural population, polled for the first time in this election, "were selected in areas that surround the three most important Bolivian departments," Garay said, adding that, "from these urban populations we selected our team to interview rural voters".


Those interviewed were from the urban areas of La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Sucre, Tarija, Oruro, and Potosi, and in the rural areas of Guaqui, near La Paz, Cliza, near Cochabamba, and Porongo, near Santa Cruz.


The polling methodology followed an organizational pattern of selecting the city, or rural town, then the neighborhood, then the block, then a specific household, where an individual over 18 was interviewed.


"Los Tiempos in Cochabamba constantly publishes polls that say Quiroga is in the lead, then in fine print at the bottom, they say that the poll was only done in urban areas," Democracy Center Director Jim Shultz said to ISN Security Watch last week.


Days before the survey results were released, Shultz predicted that more serious poll would come out showing Morales in the lead.


"It's not that Morales has some new momentum," Shultz argued, "it's that they've finally polled in a more accurate way."


Morales, together with his vice presidential candidate, Alvaro Garcia Linera, has taken a lead in winning votes from the social movement on the political left, where he has no competition.


Linera's name on the MAS presidential ticket is seen as a boost for votes coming from the left. Morales, meanwhile, has worked to win votes from those on the center left.


While internationally Morales is considered a social firebrand, he is regarded as a moderate in Bolivia and has been attacked from his left for not pushing for strict nationalization of Bolivia's natural resources.