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Most Nicaraguans want to see the political prisoners released

“The hard-core vote of the true Sandinista followers could be calculated as around 10% of the population,” affirms Luis Haug, of CID Gallup

Carlos F. Chamorro

28 de diciembre 2021


Over 70% of Nicaraguans think that the political trials of the more than 160 prisoners of conscience in Daniel Ortega’s jails should be annulled and the prisoners freed. This data was revealed in the latest poll the CID Gallup firm realized in Nicaragua.

“There’s consensus that the political prisoners should be freed,” explained interviewer and political consultant Luis Haug, director at CID Gallup. He spoke of the poll’s findings during a recent interview for the digital new site Confidencial and the online television news program Esta Semana.

The survey, sponsored by Confidencial, was conducted between December 5th and 13th. CID Gallup contacted 1,000 Nicaraguans via cellphone, all across the national territory. Haug said the results have a margin of error of 3.1 points, and a reliability of 95%.

Below are some of the highlights from the interview:

According to the survey, 50% of those consulted stated that they felt fearful: 16% felt threatened by the government and the police, and only 20% felt free. What kind of trust did citizens feel in answering the questions on the Cid-Gallup poll?

One of the actions we took to give people more confidence was to call from our Costa Rican and Panamanian call centers, with telephone numbers that they could see were foreign. In that way, they felt more confident that the calls weren’t coming from a Sandinista-allied enterprise, and that they could express their true sentiments to us.

How did you reach those 1,000 people, distributed across the entire country. That is, there must have been people who refused to answer. What was the level of acceptance or rejection during the polling?

The acceptance level was approximately 10% of all the calls we made. That’s similar to other studies, and also similar to door-to-door studies when we attempt to speak face-to-face with the interviewees. Not all those who answer the door accept the prospect of being interviewed.

In other words, to reach 1,000 responders…

We had to speak with over 8,000 people.

What happened with the vote on November 7th? In this survey, 58% say they voted, while 42% say they didn’t vote. Among those who voted, 27% say they voted for the Sandinista Front party, while 38% say they voted for one of the smaller allied parties. Another 20% said they deposited a blank ballot or a null vote, while the remaining 15% declined to answer. These percentages contrast greatly with the official results, which claim that the vote for the Sandinista Front represented 75.8% of ballots cast. How do you explain the discrepancy between this survey and the official results?

This survey reflects the distrust Nicaraguan citizens have in the official results, and in the institutions tasked with totaling the vote count, as well as with the entire organization of the elections. That distrust is reflected in the discrepancy we’re talking about. A large portion of the population indicated to us that they voted for other political forces, something we don’t see reflected in the official results. However, we do see indications of the distrust and fear that Nicaraguans today feel towards these institutions.

How does this vote total for the Sandinista Front compare with other elections? The survey indicates that 27% of those who voted cast their ballot for the FSLN, and among those who went out to vote there’s a high percentage of annulled ballots and blank votes. In another area, the poll put party sympathy for the FSLN at 14%.  Is this your conclusion about the solid Sandinista vote?

There’s definitely strong discontent with the official party and with Daniel Ortega. We see it in the different questions that evaluate these aspects: for example, the path the country is taking; the economic situation; respondents’ perception of the different institutions. Today, the hard-core vote for the Sandinista Front has been reduced to less than one in every five people, in contrast with other periods in which it reached up to 50%.

According to these projections, it could even be less than 20%.

In fact, when we come across those people who might sympathize with the official party and have favorable opinions of Daniel Ortega or Rosario Murillo, we observe that this core vote, the true Sandinista follower, may represent around 10% of the population.

According to the survey, 66% of those responding said the elections weren’t legitimate, and 68% say that the election results aren’t credible. The percentage of those who say yes, they are legitimate, comes to 28%.

When we analyze their responses, two out of three people express distrust of the results, and at the same time reveal distrust of the government’s attitude towards the political prisoners, towards Daniel Ortega’s different diatribes against the United States and the political prisoners, and against people who have dissented with the manner in which he’s been ruling.

Nicaraguans’ vision for the future can be summarized in a question that says: “Do you agree with the phrase: Daniel Ortega’s inauguration next January 10 will bring positive change to the country?” Seventy percent say they don’t agree with that statement, while 24% agree.

That general dissatisfaction is strongly related to exactly that phrase. In reality, the positive change that an election normally generates in other countries, isn’t visible here. Instead, the degree of pessimism has increased in relation to past months.

You mentioned previously the respondents’ opinion of the direction the country is heading in. Sixty-eight percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction. However, in October that percentage was even greater, even though those who say it’s headed in the right direction remains practically the same – increasing from 22% to 23%. Further, when questioned about the principal problems for families, the predominant concern is for the economic situation, and in second place the political situation.

The political situation is definitely causing instability within the households. There are worries about the possibilities of finding a job, the possibilities of getting enough of a raise in salary to balance the cost of living.  That’s what’s worrying the citizens and what’s keeping them awake at night: the question “How will I eat tomorrow?”

The percentage of people who believe the detentions of the political prisoners are unjust increased from 68% in October to 73% now. On the other hand, there was also an increase in the percentage of people who say that the political prisoners should be freed and their trials annulled.

There’s consensus with respect to the position the government should take regarding the political prisoners. The citizens don’t feel they should have been arrested; they think these prisoners should be freed; and that they should be absolved of the different charges and sentences imposed on them. They think they should be allowed to go free, and also to continue in Nicaragua and not have to leave the country.

The other question stems from the hate speech that Daniel Ortega gave on November 8th, one day after he was “reelected” with no political competition. In that speech, he called the political prisoners, “Imperialism’s sons of bitches”. The survey asks: Are you in agreement with that phrase Ortega used? Eighty-one percent say no, and only 12% express agreement. Later, the poll asks if the prisoners should be freed, or exiled as Ortega indicated. Seventy percent responded “freed”, and only 16% expressed agreement with Ortega’s opinion that the United States should take them in, because they’re no longer Nicaraguans.

It’s clear that the population are united in favor of the political prisoners. There’s a great majority asking for them to be free, and who consider their arrest to have been unjust. This same attitude con also be seen reflected on a general level in the pessimism with which the current administration is judged.

In this response, we can also see the hard-core vote for Daniel Ortega reflected in the 12% who say they agree with him, and the 16% who say that the United States should come and get the prisoners. That’s not even the 27% who said they voted for him, or the 31% who expressed a favorable opinion of him.

That’s what we see on a general level. There’s around 10% of a very solid vote: those who are going to back Daniel Ortega no matter what he says or does. There’s some 10 – 15% more who listen to the president and take him into consideration, and probably have a favorable opinion of him. Nonetheless, when we add this all up, we find that two out of every three Nicaraguans seek a change, consider that the country is going in the wrong direction, and, as such, view the upcoming months with pessimism.

Another question had to do with the population’s view of those who were formerly vying to face Ortega as opposition presidential candidates. Those candidates were unable to participate in the election, because they were imprisoned. Nonetheless, all of these former presidential hopefuls are viewed favorably by over 50% of the population – some have favorable percentages over 60%. On the other side, Ortega, Murillo, and some possible successors such as Fidel Moreno or Gustavo Porras are viewed favorably by only 25% to 30% of the people. Ortega and Murillo are viewed unfavorably by more than 57%.

Once again, we see that the population looks favorably upon all these political prisoners. Cristiana Chamorro and Juan Sebastian Chamorro have high percentages of popularity and have the backing of these Nicaraguans who see their different trials and charges negatively. 

The question about migration has been asked repeatedly in the different surveys. In this one, 65% of the population say they would emigrate if they had the chance.

The current economic and political situation in Nicaragua is making every day more difficult, and as a result we see that, if they had the opportunity, two out of every three people would leave Nicaragua. The principal reason is generally economic, not having enough money to eat.

Who do Nicaraguans believe? According to this poll, the institutions that enjoy the most credibility are the university students and the youth, whom 51% see as credible. The Catholic Church and independent media are believed by 47%; the opposition, in a general sense, are considered credible by 42%. In contrast, the government entities are trusted only by 20%, while 25% trust the Sandinista Front party.

Here is where we analyze Daniel Ortega’s position with respect to the percentage of people who trust in his actions. We can see that same incredulousness that’s reflected in Nicaraguans’ pessimism about the future. That is, there’s no confidence that the government and its leaders will act with a view towards the people’s well-being.

How would you sum up the future, in view of what those surveyed are expressing? There’s a question that asks: Can a change be generated in Nicaragua? Here, opinions are divided.

There’s still hope, but it’s going to be very difficult to implement, if the strong distrust remains in the institutions charged with upholding democracy.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times



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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.