Luis Haug: Sandinistas back him, but “support for Daniel Ortega and the FSLN is decreasing”

Director of Cid Gallup analyzes results of the latest poll: "Only 17% have hope that Ortega can solve the country's problems"

Daniel Ortega rodeado de sus partidarios durante un acto del 19 de julio

Daniel Ortega rodeado de sus partidarios durante un acto del 19 de julio. Foto: Confidencial | Archivo.

14 de junio 2023


Political consultant Luis Haug, managing director of the Costa Rican firm Cid Gallup, presented, on program Esta Semana, the results of the most recent national public opinion poll conducted in Nicaragua between May 20 and June 5, with 1,215 persons over 16 years of age. This was the 105th in a long series of polls since 1989. The results have a general level of confidence of 95% and a margin of error of +- 2.78%. 

This is the first public opinion survey to be carried out in Nicaragua since the release of 222 political prisoners on February 9, the imprisonment and sentencing of Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, and the worsening of the persecution against the Catholic Church.

The main findings of the survey confirm the continued high level of disapproval of Daniel Ortega's regime since 2018, and its inability to provide solutions to the problems of unemployment, economic recession, the rising cost of living, and corruption.

At the same time, the survey registers an increasing reduction in political sympathy for the Sandinista Front. While two former political prisoners received the highest levels of favorable opinion from the population, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo continued at the highest levels of unfavorable opinions.

Haug explained that in order to get a national sample, there was a random selection of 1,215 people with active cell phones. The calls are made using phone numbers from Costa Rica, with the intention of reducing the probability of refusal to respond, given the climate of repression, censorship and de facto police state that prevails in Nicaragua. 

Still, Haug admitted that "in recent months, the level of refusal, of not wanting to answer the survey questions in Nicaragua is much higher compared to other countries in Central and South America. We more or less have to call nine or ten people to get one person to answer the survey." 

How strong is the reliability you can infer from the people who do respond?  

Once the person starts answering us, there is a series of questions that we use to see the variability of the different answers and the level of trust the respondent has in the interview. And what we see is that the respondent trusts the process when they see the Costa Rican number, when they realize that the call is completely confidential, and then they speak to us freely. 

What is the impact of the environment in which this survey is taking place, at a time when once again in Nicaragua, there are many political prisoners and there is a relentless persecution against the Catholic Church? Can you evaluate the level of openness or fear that exists among the population to talk? 

The fact that the call is on a cell phone definitely facilitates more trust than if we were to call someone at their home. The person can answer wherever they are and feels less identifiable by the caller. Also, the respondent is given the option that they can answer or not answer any of the questions being asked. That gives the respondent the freedom to act and answer. 

To the question "What do you think of the direction the country is going in?" 62% answer "wrong" and 29% say "right". That 62% of people who say it is going in the "wrong" direction  is the same as what came out in 2022 and January 2023, but the percentage of those who say it is going the "right" direction is decreasing: from 33% in 2022, to 32% in January of this year and now 29%.

We see a general pessimism in the Nicaraguan population. Three out of five people, especially those who are hurting in terms of their household finances, consider that the future that awaits them is quite a bit bleaker than what they are experiencing today. We see further down in the results, and even here in this question, how this pessimism impacts the desire to emigrate, to leave Nicaragua, because they are not seeing opportunities to be able to get ahead in the country. 

The economic situation today, compared to the perception that existed a year ago, is "worse" and "much worse" for 66% of the respondents, and 24% say it is "better". Compared to the January survey, there is a deterioration of eight points. When asked about the future: "How is the country going to be in a year's time?", again, 59% expect the country to be worse off compared to 30% who still have positive expectations. 

This is a quite pessimistic view of what is happening not only in the country, but also at the household level. The economic situation is quite pressing for families. We see that two out of three –and especially those led by women and with a low level of education– are feeling a lot of pressure to have enough money to meet the basic needs of the household. And so there's a desire to see what can be done, because opportunities are not being presented, and it's also a time when there is low trust in leaders. 

In the question about the family economy, 58% say it is "worse" or "much worse" than a year ago, while those who say it is "much better" is only 7%. But in another question about the cost of living, 69% say it has gone up "a lot" and "somewhat" compared to four months ago.  

There are definitely within each household to cope with basic needs and we are no longer looking at the question of basic needs in the future, it's the need to know they're going to eat tomorrow. And in fact, when we asked if they have lacked money at some point in the previous month to be able to eat, in many cases, in many of the families, they say they don't have enough money to provide daily meals. 

55% say that there has been at least one day when they did not have money to buy food for their family.

Let's look at the seriousness of what we are talking about. In more than half of the households in the country they are already going hungry, people need greater income to be able to meet basic food needs, either for themselves or for the people in their household. 

Does the conclusion of the survey point to the fact that the central concern of Nicaraguans today has to do with the economic situation, the cost of living, and unemployment, in contrast to, or in comparison with, the political crisis or the lack of freedoms?  

The citizenry basically visualizes two types of problems. One is within the home, where the main difficulties are economic: cost of living, unemployment, need for access to a better roof, health care. But at the country level, another problem appears, which is corruption. We see a high number of people mentioning that political corruption at the government level, at the level of leaders, is the main problem Nicaragua is facing, and that it is directly impacting the economic situation at the country level and therefore directly affecting Nicaraguan families. 

Are there any differences in the answers that you obtain from the population in Managua, in the main provincial capitals, and in the interior of the country, in relation to concerns regarding the cost of living and unemployment, and on the other hand, corruption and delinquency?

There are certain differences according to place of residence. In Managua, corruption tends to be much more relevant to those with university studies. They also tend to cite corruption and lack of credibility of leaders as one of the important problems or barriers to a better quality of life, as we mentioned. At the rural level, hunger and the economic situation are the problems, and especially in female-headed families. They need greater income to be able to put food on their tables everyday, something that is currently not happening. 

In the citizenry's evaluation of President Ortega's work, more than 53% have a negative opinion. When the question asks to state their approval or disapproval of Ortega's presidency, 56% disapproves, while 34% approves. This level of disapproval has been there in recent months, but it's striking that President Ortega's approval rating has dropped from 38% to 34%. 

We see that Sandinismo, which historically has had the support of approximately one third of the population with the rest strongly rejecting it, is losing favor. And we also relate this to party sympathies. Ortega maintains an approval rating of one third of the population who is somewhat optimistic, who considers that the economic problems -- although they are present -- are not so relevant. But this level of approval, when we tie it to party sympathies, is already beginning to weaken. It is not as strong as it used to be. 

There are two key questions in the survey. One is: "How likely do you think it is that President Ortega's government will resolve your family's concerns?" Only 16% respond "very likely". These would be, probably, supporters of the government, and that coincides with those who sympathize with the Sandinista Front party, which according to the survey is also 16%. 

In fact, we see quite strong stability and significant support for the party among those who declare themselves Sandinistas and among those who consider that President Ortega is doing a very good job. There is almost total support, but it is decreasing. One of the questions we use internationally to measure confidence in the president is about the hope he or she reflects for the future. And we see that the vast majority in Nicaragua –almost seven out of ten people– have simply lost hope that this administration can do a better job. 

There is a disapproval level of more than 56%, with approval at 34%. But when asked about expectations of problems being solved, that 34% goes down to 16%. And when asked about political party preference, 16% sympathize with the FSLN. But in January, to this same question, sympathy for the FSLN was 22%, which was more or less the same as it remained during 2022. Now it has dropped to 16%. 

The vast majority have no preference for any one political organization. And the level of infatuation that the citizenry had with the Frente Sandinista is also going down. Yes, a third part of the population is still "there", living with the Ortega government. But, the level of satisfaction they showed in previous months has gotten weaker. 

This is the first time that a public opinion poll has been done in Nicaragua since the release and banishment of 222 political prisoners on February 9 of this year, and also since the conviction of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, sentenced to 26 years in prison. So it is important to take a look at the current opinion of the population about public government, opposition, and civil society personalities. The question is: "What is your opinion about public personalities?" 

This question gets to personal image and perception, not necessarily their performance in the different positions that are being asked about. For example, in this question, when we ask about Daniel Ortega, it's about the person, when we ask about Rosario Murillo, it's about the person, and here we see a great dissatisfaction with them. We also measure name recognition. It is clear that Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo, Cristiana Chamorro, are quite well known people. But, unlike Cristiana Chamorro or Felix Maradiaga, who have a positive image among the population, the presidential couple has a very unfavorable rating, and this personal image rating goes across the board in terms of different socio-demographic groups. Ortega and Murillo do maintain a positive position among Sandinista supporters, but we're also seeing that this is also going down, little by little. 

In the question about the reasons why people want to leave the country, the predominant answers are: "There is more and better paid work": 62%. "There is no job opportunity here in my country": 24%. In other words, there is a predominance of economic reasons. People don't make any explicit mention of political factors in this intention to emigrate?

The truth is it's an economic situation. The needs they are seeing in their homes, the lack of money for food, for the different products they need. The lack of employment is what is motivating this desire to leave, as well as the hopelessness they see regarding the future that awaits them.

When you asked these questions, are there other qualitative assessments of what is happening in the country? 

We're seeing a stressed population, afraid of how they are going to cope with their lives in the next year. They see jobs being lost, different sources of income being lost, the cost of living going up every day. That's what people perceive. But at the same time, they are without hope, because they do not see an option different from the Sandinistas. The great majority of people do not have a political party, but when we also ask about this, we see there is really no other grouping at this time, that the majority opposition party has barely 3% of followers. And it's not that people aren't looking for something. People want to have hope, they want to have a new path, but at this moment, in Nicaragua, people are not seeing that option. They are feeling as if they are not allowed to have power, that they're not able to choose between one and the other, because this "other" is blocked. 

If we compare these results with those of the poll done a year ago, after the electoral farce of November 2021, or the one made in January at the beginning of this year, it seems that the same tendencies continue, but that there are some factors that are getting worse, such as the deterioration in terms of the cost of living and, on the other hand, the reduction of the level of support that the Government has among its own followers. 

Definitely, the economic impact within households is taking an important toll on support for the government, which has affected Daniel Ortega's image. The hope that people had, regarding what the President and his administration could do to solve the problems experienced by families, is becoming less and less, and once people begin to lose hope, the more they desire to leave the country in search of new opportunities, the more frustration they experience on a daily basis, and the less happiness they feel.

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

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.


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