Government-FSLN Pact: Where Are the People?
For some time now envío has been making efforts to accompany its analysis and research with reliable surveys and quick public opinion soundings by our own team that respond to the specific concerns growing out of the changing national reality and less known local realities. It is with understandable satisfaction that we herewith present to our readers the first fruit of this effort by IDESO, our new institute of surveys and opinion polling. We hope these "small plebiscites" or "constant referendums," as one person polled called them, will become a regular feature in these pages.
IDESO surveyed 950 inhabitants of Managua on September 5-7. Of those, 40.9% were willing to state their political sympathies. The objective was to learn their views of the main points that politicians and the media have identified as part of the evolving political pact between the FSLN and the Liberal government of Arnoldo Alemán--the existence of which both President Alemán and FSLN secretary general Daniel Ortega have consistently denied.
Since the survey did not cover rural Managua, it would be incorrect to extrapolate its results to all the population of the Managua municipality, and even less to the whole of the national population. Nonetheless, because it is statistically representative, our survey is a good reflection of the thoughts and feelings of a considerable sector of the nation's population. Urban Managua represents 41.8% of the country's urban population and 21% of the country's combined rural and urban population. All of those polled were over 16 years of age, which is voting age in Nicaragua. The sample has a 10% margin of error and a 95% reliability interval.
The proposal to reform the 1987 Constitution—to which significant reforms were made in 1995—seems to divide Managuans. To the question, "What is your opinion of the idea to change the current Constitution of Nicaragua?" a relative majority believes that the constitutional reforms will benefit the political leaders above all others. Those who answered that way are mainly "mature" adults, in the 41-50 age group, are employed and range educationally between people who have not completed secondary school and university graduates.
Nonetheless, a significant minority thinks that the reforms will particularly benefit the majority of Nicaraguans. These people are predominately "young adults" (21-30 age group) who have not yet finished primary or secondary school and have no work. Perhaps they see in the changes that could be made to the Constitution a hope of escaping their precarious economic situation.
A smaller but still significant percentage did not respond or said they did not know who would benefit most from the reforms, while those who said that the changes would benefit both the political leaders and the majority of Nicaraguans comprised the smallest group. This opinion was stronger among women than men, and predominated in the youngest population, those aged between 16 and 20. A sector of those polled who are out of work also shared this opinion.
Among those who admitted to supporting the FSLN, 47.4% believe that the reforms will particularly benefit the political leaders, while 24.7% think the benefits will mainly be for the majority of Nicaraguans. Among those who sympathize with the governing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), 31.3% believe that the changes will benefit the majority of the population most and 27% that they will particularly favor the political leaders. Opinions among those who sympathize with other parties were divided nearly equally.
To the question, "What is your opinion about presidential reelection?" a strong majority of those surveyed expressed their disagreement. That percentage rose to 75% among those who acknowledged sympathizing with the FSLN, dropped only slightly (to 72.2%) among supporters of other parties, and even stayed at over half (53.4%) among those who declared their sympathy for the PLC. A significant minority (31%) of Liberal sympathizes, however, favor reelection. Very few offered no opinion.
This question was asked as follows:
"Are you in agreement with people who were Presidents of Nicaraguan enjoying immunity for life?" An even stronger majority than opposed presidential reelection said it opposed granting this privilege, which has never existed in national political history. The percentage of FSLN sympathizers against the measure (75.9%) is almost identical to the average, and that of governing party sympathizers is even greater (80.7%). The opposition of sympathizers with other parties is 72.2%.
The question to those surveyed was: "Do you agree with having a Senate, made up of 'notables' not elected by the citizenry, in addition to a Parliament made up of 93 representatives?" The majority of those surveyed did not agree with this proposal, made some months ago by the President of the Republic. The majority of sympathizers of all parties shares this opinion: FSLN (79.8%), PLC (67.5%) and others (83.3%).
The majority of those polled also said they were opposed in response to the question: "What do you think about the idea that former Presidents of Nicaragua should become senators for life?" Again, this held true across party lines: FSLN sympathizers 76.5%, Liberal sympathizers 71.1% and other parties 72.2%.
In this case those polled were asked: "Are you in favor of Supreme Court justices being named for life?" The vast majority of both FSLN sympathizers (87.1%) and Liberal sympathizers (81.9%) were opposed, and those who identify with other parties were opposed even more strongly (94.4%).
This question was formulated as follows: "What is your opinion about the creation of another comptroller's office that would be over the current one and would depend on the President of the Republic?" In this case, the opposition of governing party sympathizers, while still a majority (54.3%), brought down the overall average, since 78.9% of the FSLN sympathizers oppose it as do 77.8% of those who sympathize with other parties. A significant Liberal minority (30.2%) approves the idea of a parallel auditing institution.
We asked: "Are you in favor of the current Comptroller General of the Republic being dismissed?" Again, Liberal sympathizers brought down the 60.9% overall opposition to the dismissal of Agustín Jarquín. A strong majority of both FSLN sympathizers (74.1%) and sympathizers of other parties (77.8%) opposed it as did exactly half of the Liberals. At the same time, only 27.4% of Liberals actively favored the idea.
The exact question was: "Are you in favor of legalizing the confiscated properties that are today in the hands of top political leaders?" Among the interesting points here is the fact that, at 52.8%, Sandinista sympathizers agreed with the average in opposing the measure and governing party sympathizers were not far behind with 50%. Even more noteworthy is that, despite such a direct formulation of the question, a significant minority was in favor, including 41.4% of the Liberal sympathizers. The greatest opposition to legalizing the "piñata" properties was found among those who identify with other parties (61.1%).
A strong majority responded negatively to the question, "Are you in agreement with naming individuals to managerial posts of state companies according to the political party to which they belong?" An even stronger majority of FSLN sympathizers (85.8%) disagrees with assigning posts according to party criteria. Although still a majority, this response dropped to 69.6% among those who sympathize with the party in office and to 61.1% among those who support other parties.
To the question, "What do you think about the proposal that people who once renounced their Nicaraguan nationality be allowed to run for President in the next elections?" a strong majority said they opposed the idea. This opposition held across the political spectrum: FSLN sympathizers (79.6%), PLC sympathizers (69.6%) and those who follow other parties (61.1%).
This timely and delicate question was formulated as follows: "Do you agree that high public officials should lose their immunity when facing a serious charge in the courts of justice?" While the majority of all those polled (67.5%) agreed that functionaries should have their immunity privilege withdrawn in such cases, the percentage rose slightly among party-identified respondents. Among FSLN sympathizers, 68.3% agreed, as did 69% of the governing party backers and 70.6% of those who opt for other parties.
A strong plurality (43.9%) but not a majority of those polled answered affirmatively to the question, "Are you in favor of removing all members of the current Supreme Electoral Council?" and a relatively close percentage (39.5%) was opposed. Opinions among Liberal sympathizers were still more evenly divided: 41.8% in favor of dismissal and 40.9% opposed. Followers of other parties were more ambivalent, with 41.2% against, 29.4% in favor and the remaining 29.4% either indifferent or not sure. In contrast, an absolute if not overwhelming majority of FSLN sympathizers (58.4%) were in favor.
Here the question was: "Do you support a two-party electoral system that excludes or makes very difficult the possibility of any other political party participating in the elections?" The majority of all polled rejected a strictly two-party electoral system, including 64.8% of Sandinista sympathizers and 59.6% of those sympathetic to the governing Liberals. Not surprisingly, the opposition was even stronger (72.2%) among supporters of the third parties in question.
Although this issue has not appeared as a component of the PLC-FSLN pact, we took the opportunity to ask about it since National Assembly representatives frequently raise the possibility of approving at least another $1,000 a month for themselves, thus bringing their salaries to $4,500 a month. The exact question was: "What do you think about the idea of raising the salary of National Assembly Representatives?" The overall opposition ranked higher than was registered for any other question in the poll, and was still higher among FSLN supporters (91.4%) and third-party sympathizers (94.4%), though Liberal rejection (88.5%) was not exactly timid.
"Are you in favor of the removal of all members of the current Supreme Court bench?" This question revealed the first major schism between overall disapproval, which fell just short of a majority, and the overwhelming disapproval shared by all professed party supporters. FSLN sympathizers opposed firing the justices by 91.4%, governing party backers by 88.5% and those who identify with other parties by 94.4%.
A Pact with No BackersThe results of this first envío public opinion poll show that the majority of Managuans from urban neighborhoods know this pact will offer them little if any benefits. They have seen and verified over recent years that the politicians they voted for, and in whom they placed their trust and hopes, have not demonstrated the social sensitivity that Nicaragua's crisis merits. Instead, from the moment of taking office, these politicians seem only to have busied themselves fattening their own fortunes or at least improving their own standards of living. People feel tricked and manipulated, and have become skeptical and mistrustful of the parties and their proposals.
Our poll also uncovered another revealing statistic: 59.1% of the capital's urban population does not sympathize with any political party right now. Who among those polled are the most skeptical and distrusting of party politics? The majority who reject the politicians and their pacts are women between 16 and 30 years of age who have not finished high school or in some cases even elementary school, and are either unemployed or have a monthly income of under 1,500 córdobas (about $140).
The gap between the proposals being hammered out at—or under—the negotiating table of the FSLN and government leaders and the opinions of the majority of urban Managua residents about most of them is, in some cases, a veritable chasm. Of the total of 16 questions, overall opposition to what is being pacted topped 90% in one case, was over 80% in another, between 70% and 80% in five, between 60% and 70% in another five and between 50% and 60% in one. In only two specific questions—firing the Supreme Court justices and firing the Supreme Electoral Council magistrates—was opposition not the absolute majority response, but even in those it pulled the relative majority, as did the opinion question about whom the constitutional reforms would benefit most.
That general opposition may not come as much of a shock to those following recent political events, particularly since diverse segments of public opinion have repeatedly denounced such a pact. The poll's surprise discovery is how little support the components of the pact enjoy specifically among the grassroots each party claims to represent. A collateral eye-opener is what few differences showed up in the thinking of the supporters of these two supposedly polar-opposite parties. At least on these specific issues, the differences are far less significant between the FSLN and PLC grassroots than between the leadership and base within each party.
Neither Alemán nor Ortega—the two movers and shakers of the pact—appears to be aware that they are mutually bereft of much grassroots support. Or, if they are, they don't seem particularly concerned about it.