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Voter Uncertainty Favors Traditional Political Parties in Honduras

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Costa Rica's Tico Times newspaper published an article on June 19 by Adam Williams citing a May 2-8 CID-Gallup poll on the presidential race in Honduras. The poll, which surveyed 1,233 people, found that 28 percent favored Xiomara Zelaya of the socialist Liberty and Refoundation Party (Libre). Mrs. Zelaya is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was overthrown by a coup on June 28, 2009.

The CID-Gallup poll found that Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) came in second to Mrs. Zelaya with 21 percent, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative National Party with 18 percent, and Liberal Party candidate Mauricio Villeda with 14 percent. The remaining 19 percent of those surveyed either did not know for whom they would vote or did not respond.

The poll was a follow-up to another one conducted by CID-Gallup on January 14-18. A total of 1,256 people were surveyed then, and the results had Mrs. Zelaya on top with 25 percent, followed by Mr. Hernández with 23 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 18 percent, and Mr. Villeda with 16 percent. The remaining 18 percent surveyed either did not know or did not respond.

It's worth noting briefly that the Associated Press's Alberto Arce on June 22 wrote a piece about the May CID-Gallup poll, and that AP release was picked up by hundreds (perhaps thousands) of newspapers and TV and radio stations around the world. But Mr. Arce wrote that this was a "Gallup" poll, when in fact it was a CID poll. CID, which stands for Consultoría Interdisciplinaria en Desarrollo (Interdisciplinary Consultancy on Development) is a Costa Rican-based research firm, which has an "affiliation" with Gallup International.

I mention this not to diminish the legitimacy of CID-Gallup polling, but merely for the sake of accuracy. The world famous Gallup is not doing the polling in Honduras.

Another poll, conducted in April by a firm called Le Vote/Harris, showed Mrs. Zelaya leading with 18.67 percent, followed by Mr. Nasralla with 17.33 percent, Mr. Hernández with 13.33 percent, and Mr. Villeda with 10.33 percent. The remaining 40.34 percent either did not know, did not respond, or supported one of the other four candidates -- minor ones from the Patriotic Alliance Party, the UD-FAPER Party, the PINU Party, and the Christian Democratic Party, which have no chance whatsoever of winning.

Note that Le Vote/Harris is not the well-known Harris Interactive, but rather a Honduran affiliate.

Yet a third polling firm, Encuestadora Paradmigma of Honduras, conducted a presidential poll on April 14-23. A total of 2,292 people were surveyed, and again Mrs. Zelaya came out ahead with 19.7 percent, followed by Mr. Hernández with 13.3 percent, Mr. Villeda with 10.2 percent, and Mr. Nasralla with 9.9 percent. The remaining 46.9 percent either did not know, did not respond, or supported one of the four minor candidates.

There are other polls that have been done on the presidential election in Honduras, but essentially the polls by CID-Gallup, Le Vote/Harris, and Encuestadora Paradigma are the ones that follow some "scientific" polling formula. It's not to say that there are no flaws or biases in them, only that these are probably the best polls available on the Honduran presidential race so far.

So what do these polls tell us?

Well, let's be clear... What they don't tell us is who will be the likely winner of the presidential election in Honduras on November 24. While Mrs. Zelaya consistently polls higher than her three closest competitors and could well win in November, the critical question is, "For whom are those who said they did not know or did not respond going to vote?"

In the CID-Gallup polls, this group made up 18 and 19 percent of those surveyed. In the Le Vote/Harris poll, it was 37.3 percent (excluding votes for the minor candidates). In the Encuestadora Paradigma poll, it was 46.5 percent (excluding votes for the minor candidates).

In short, you have between roughly one-fifth to nearly half of those polled who have either not made up their mind for whom they're going to vote or do not plan to vote. The question members of Mrs. Zelaya's campaign team should be asking themselves is, "What are the chances that we're going to pick up voters within this uncertain segment of the electorate?"

One of the strengths of Mrs. Zelaya's base of supporters is its enthusiasm and genuine affection for their candidate. Backers of Xiomara Zelaya are going to go out and vote for her en masse. They are not luke-warm in their feelings, but rather passionate and energetic. They've already made up their minds, and there's no way they would vote for any of the other candidates.

It is unlikely then that you'll find many potential voters for Mrs. Zelaya among the one-fifth to half of those polled. Most of those voters within this uncertain group will go to Mr. Hernández, Mr. Nasralla, or Mr. Villeda. And I contend that it is highly likely that Hondurans who have traditionally voted for the Liberal or National parties, but are uncertain this time around, will end up going with whom they're most comfortable once they sit down and fill out their voting ballots.

Some of these uncertain voters may be tempted to vote for Mr. Nasralla at the last minute, because everyone in Honduras is desperate to find a way to deal with corruption, and Mr. Nasralla appears to be campaigning almost entirely on fighting corruption. But few, if any, of these voters will opt for Mrs. Zelaya, because socialism and the second coming of the Zelaya clan still remains a scary or unpleasant prospect for most Hondurans.