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Luis Haug: “FSLN is at its lowest point in the last 30 years”

Director of CID-Gallup analyzes Ortega’s plunge in September poll: political repression takes its toll on the FSLN

Carlos F. Chamorro

21 de octubre 2021


The latest CID-Gallup poll, conducted in Nicaragua in September, reveals that 69% of the population disapproves of the management of Daniel Ortega’s government, 74% consider that the country is on the “wrong course” and, if the November 7 elections were held today, 65% would vote for an opposition candidate and 19% for the Sandinista Front, whose party sympathy plummeted from 32% in May to 8% in September. 

“This is the lowest point we have registered for the Sandinista Front, it's the first time it has reached one digit in the last 30 years, since 1990, when we started the studies in Nicaragua, this is the harshest vote”, affirms pollster and political consultant Luis Haug, director of CID-Gallup. 

The pollster explains that corruption in the Government, which affects the household economy, the worsening health crisis, and the political repression unleashed by the regime that imprisoned seven aspiring presidential candidates of the opposition dozens of civic and political leaders, is taking a toll on Daniel Ortega and the FSLN. “It is not that there has been a very strong opposition party”, clarifies Haug, but rather that the independents (according to the survey, 78% do not sympathize with any political party) “have turned to the search for an option for change”. 

The survey was conducted among 1200 people over 16 years old, who own a cell phone, between September 14 and October 4, and has a confidence level of 95% with a margin of error of +/-2.5%, based on a random sample of all those with cell phones and calls are made from Costa Rican phone numbers to generate confidence. “A very important aspect in times of repression is to maintain confidentiality,” says Haug. 

The pollster admits that before reaching 1200 people, there is always a percentage of rejection, because there are people who cannot talk at that time for various reasons, or do not agree to answer the survey. “We manage to do one interview for every five calls, approximately, which is exactly the same thing that happens to us when we are going house to house,” he says.

Haug warns of the climate of insecurity in Nicaragua and says that normally the person who does not want to answer “denies the interview from the beginning, and that also happens when we do the house-to-house interviews, that there is distrust due to insecurity and they tell us no from the beginning. At the end of the day, we find these 1200 people who reflect the thinking of the population”, assures the pollster, in an interview with Esta Semana and Confidencial. 

The causes of the rejection to Ortega's regime

Most of the answers to the questions about the evaluation of the government's management and the direction of the country, agree that it is going in the wrong direction with 76%, and with a high level of disapproval of 69%. What happened between May, when you made the last survey, and September?

Different aspects have directly impacted the feelings of the population, starting with the worsening of the health crisis, with the problem of the pandemic and covid-19, the lack of vaccines, the lack of medicines in the hospitals, which have prevented people from feeling safe to go out to the streets; also the increase in unemployment, the lack of money in the homes to be able to get the basic needs of the family. This was directly correlated with the political repression that has been taking place in recent months, starting with the arrest of Cristiana Chamorro, followed by Arturo Cruz, and other opposition figures, generating a very strong fear in the population with respect to the Government of Daniel Ortega.

When people are asked what is the country's main problem, government corruption at 32%, appears as the main problem, even surpassing the lack of employment, which has 21%, and the rising cost of living, 16%. What does this comment about government corruption refer to? Is it the theft of public money or is it political corruption?

It is both. People are already (associating) those thefts directly with the shortages they are experiencing at home; such as the need for health care, the need for vaccines, the need for employment, which directly affects their families. At the same time, corruption is very present, especially among those who oppose the Sandinista Party and those who do not show sympathy for any political party, corruption is very present in the sense that they see a clear repression from the government in respect to the opposition. 

Previously, when we talked, they did see corruption from the economic point of view; but now, when we do the in-depth interviews to be able to understand the results, we begin to observe, systematically, a very strong criticism of political corruption aimed, more than anything else, at remaining in power, no matter what has to be done.

You mentioned the issue of the impact of the pandemic. More than 60% of those surveyed say that either directly within their family or someone close to them has been infected (by the virus); and they also have many reservationns about the vaccination program. It seems to me that there was a similar situation a year ago. How bad is the assessment of how the pandemic is being handled now? 

At the moment, it is even worse than what we observed last September. We started to notice it in May 2020, and now it is worse, since with the lack of space in the different hospitals, there is a great amount of fear among the people. Not only about getting sick and not having a room in the hospital, but also about what will happen to them or their loved ones if they get infected. People are almost accepting their death given that there is a lack of beds (at the hospital) to lie down in case they are infected. 

The effect of political repression

Let's go to the million-dollar question. If the elections were today, asked CID-Gallup, would you vote for the FSLN candidate or for an opposition candidate. The answer is, the FSLN candidate, 19%, and the opposition candidate 65%, and 16% for “don’t know or no answer”. In this question, was the population offered a choice of names for these candidates?

The population was offered the option of an opposition candidate, and we clearly see the congruence that exists in the different answers of the population, where a great part of the people tell us: that they are going down the wrong path; that they have no hope regarding the future of the country; that the economic situation they have today with respect to last year is worse, and that the one they expect to have in 2022 is worse than the one they have today. Given these conditions, people are asking for a change, and when all the repression is added to it, the desire to turn 180 degrees in exchange for a new hope is even greater, with a new person who represents something different from what Daniel Ortega is today.

This question was also asked in May, four months ago. At that time the percentage for the opposition candidate was 39% and Daniel Ortega had 33%. Now, the opposition candidate increases 26 points and reaches 65; and Ortega falls 14 points and is at 19. Again, what happened in these last four months? 

There is a very important change. We have all these people who perceive their economic future and that of their families in a negative light, as well as those people who are talking about the corruption problem in the country, and they have clearly expressed that if they were given the opportunity to vote for an opposition candidate, that person would be the one they support. 

In the last three months, we have seen a very important change in attitude in terms of how the Government of Daniel Ortega handles the political opposition, and this has caused all those who are independent, and don’t belong to one party or another, have turned to search for an option of change. In reality, there hasn’t been a strong opposition party, but rather an independence from what the Sandinista Front is. 

There is another question about the opinion of the population regarding some of these presidential aspirants who are in prison: Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Medardo Mairena, Félix Madariaga, Miguel Mora, with predominantly favorable opinions of them, in some cases over 60%; and on the other hand, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have a favorable opinion of 30-34%, and an unfavorable opinion of over 60%. 


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The president and vice president, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, are definitely very well known figures, but at the same time, very unpopular, they cause discontent in a large part of the population; however, they have a strong core that supports them, of approximately one out of five people; and we see that the image of the different opposition leaders has strengthened, during process of imprisonment and political persecution they have suffered, since they represent a hope for change for the great majority of the people.

The Government, through the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Police, has accused these opposition leaders of different criminal offenses: conspiracy, treason, money laundering. Does this have any impact on the perception of the population and the electorate?

People do not have confidence in the Public Ministry, there is currently no credibility in the Government and the different crimes with which the accused are charged, to the point that the more the Government says about these criminal acts, it is almost causing an opposite effect, creating a more positive image for the accused. 

 The collapse of Ortega and the FSLN

You said that 20%, one out of ten people, tend to support the Sandinista Front. There is a question about sympathy for political parties, more than 70% say they do not sympathize with any party; the Sandinista Front has a sympathy of 8%. In May it was 32%, but now it is 8%.

This is the lowest point we have registered for the Sandinista Front, it's the first time it has reached one digit in the last 30 years, since 1990, when we started the studies in Nicaragua, this is the harshest vote. After that, there are approximately 10% more people who, we see, have received help from the Government, have received certain grocery bags, economic aid, employment for one or another member of the family, who remain around a nucleus that supports the Government of Daniel Ortega, but this has reduced considerably in the last three months. 

The political parties that are registered in the electoral ballot with the Sandinista Front, the PLC, APRE, PLI, ALN, Camino Cristiano, these parties and their candidates, which the Nicaraguan people call “zancudos” (meaning parties that collaborate with the government) are they in the voters' minds, are they mentioned in some of these preference trends?

They have minimal participation, one or two points, almost by a historical memory, no grouping is seen to maintain a strong leadership with respect to the 8% that the Sandinistas have at this moment, except for Ciudadanos por la Libertad, which also tends to be mentioned more often. 

However, regarding the interest in participating in this election, 51% say it is very likely that they will participate on November 7; 17% say it is somewhat likely. Isn't this interest in participating contradictory if the opposition candidates who have the greatest support of the electorate are in prison and are not going to be candidates; and on the other hand, Ortega generates less than 20% of support?

We always analyze those who are “very likely” to go to vote, because those who state somewhat likely or unlikely, will always find some reason not to go to the polls; that 50% is relatively high at this moment. 

Something important about this half of the population that indicates probability of participating is that those who sympathize with Daniel Ortega are the ones who are more active and interested in the political affairs of the country and are more likely to attend; at the same time they are the ones who show greater credibility in the electoral organizations of the country, since all those who are not Sandinistas or who do not show sympathy for the Government of Daniel Ortega tend to doubt the viability of transparent and honest elections.

Given the current conditions, where the credibility of the electoral bodies is relatively low, a massive participation is not foreseen.

You mentioned people who receive help from the Government, do you perceive any kind of pressure to vote for the Sandinista Front or for any other party?

What is perceived is a fear to stop receiving this aid if they do not support the Sandinista Front and, definitely, fear to stop receiving aid if they are directly related to an opposition party.

This political fall of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Front may be a temporary phenomenon of what happened in September, when this poll was conducted. Can Ortega recover his political flow in the next three weeks?

There are several factors that are directly impeding Ortega's rise in the next weeks; one is the political repression that people perceive, that is being experienced in the country; as well as the corruption that is directly impacting public health issues, where Nicaraguan households are being impacted at a very intimate level. If these variables do not change, there is no reason to foresee a change in the direction in the public's perception of Daniel Ortega. 

You say that the political repression may be having a counterproductive effect for Daniel Ortega's regime. What, then, would be Ortega's logic in maintaining the repression if it is having an effect contrary to his own self-interest?

The only logic I see is that if a strong candidate with a favorable image gets on the ballot, the vast majority of the people will lean towards this person. We already see it in the image that these imprisoned leaders have, there is a very positive perception of them, with negative responses mostly coming from the followers of the Sandinista party or those who support Daniel Ortega at that moment. Thus, the only logic I see is to prevent having an opponent on the other side of the ring; apart from that, the personal impact this has on the president and the image that he is presenting to the citizens is definitely very negative; there is no other logic to keeping them imprisoned.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff



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Carlos F. Chamorro

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.