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According to a survey conducted by the Venezuelan polling firm Datanálisis, 70.5% of Venezuelans support President Hugo Chávez. Published yesterday, the survey found that Chávez’s approval rating had increased by over 10% from when the Venezuelan President won the recall referendum on the 15th of August, 2004 with 59% of the vote. Datanálisis, a polling firm traditionally linked to the opposition, carried out the survey between February 19 and March 2, 2005. It is estimated that the survey has a 2.71% margin of error and is 95% reliable.

A sample of 1,300 people were asked the to respond to the following question: "How would you evaluate the work of President Hugo Chávez for the wellbeing of the country?" with one of the following options: very good, good, regular leaning towards good, regular leaning towards bad, bad, and very bad. The poll depicted a polarized society, with 70.5% of the people approving of their President and 27% selecting "very bad.”

Additionally, the survey measured what it refers to as "confidence level" in Chávez’s leadership. Results showed that 58.2% of Venezuelans have confidence in the president. Additionally, the Venezuelan peoples’ confidence in their institutions has increased. Currently 65% of the population approves of the National Electoral Council (CNE) and 78.8% approves of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ).

The survey also explored opinions about Chávez’s announcement to move towards a "socialism of the 21st century." In a speech given this past Sunday following the May Day march, Chávez once again invited "all of Venezuela to proceed towards the path of socialism of the new century, a new socialism of the 21st century," insisting that Venezuela will not imitate the failed models of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Vietnam or Cuba. According to the survey, 35% of Venezuelans believe that the government should try to establish socialism in Venezuela, while 54.8% of the people do not support the idea and 9.9% are undecided.

Respondents were then asked to put aside their personal preferences with respect to the establishment socialism and comment on whether or not they believe Chávez will accomplish this change. Paradoxically, 74.3% of the opposition is convinced that Chávez will install a socialist system of government, while only 19% of Chavistas believes that the President is capable of implementing such a change.

When asked whether Chávez is attempting to "copy" the Cuban model, it was found that 59.6% of Venezuelans believe he is not, while 35% answered affirmatively. The study makes note of a trend: members of the opposition are the most convinced that Chávez is trying to install a “castro-communism,” while Chavez-supporters typically dismiss this allegation.

Datanálisis points to the wide array of social programs implemented by Chávez as the key factor in explaining the increase in support for his government. In one way or another it is estimated that 73% of Venezuelans have benefited from free medical attention in Barrio Adentro, free educational programs, the housing missions or the government-run supermarkets that sell food staples at up to a 40% discount. "Chávez shows concrete achievements in a country where no one has done that," notes León.

Datanálisis also indicates that the opposition tends to focus their criticisms of the Chávez administration on factors that are not perceived by the majority of Venezuelans to be of great importance. For example the opposition frequently complains about corruption, political violence, and lack of support for private investment. Yet only 4.6% of Venezuelans are concerned about corruption, just 3.3% believe that political violence is a problem and a mere 1.1% assert that the government is not doing enough to encourage private investment. Political intolerance, a topic frequently referred to by the opposition as of great importance, was not mentioned by any of the interviewees as a problem.

In contrast, the Chávez administration has addressed problems of great concern for the people. In the survey 28.3% of Venezuelans listed unemployment as their greatest concern. Between January, 2004 and March, 2005, unemployment decreased by almost 6%, from 19.1% to 13.5%. Many Venezuelans also indicated the high cost of living as their principle worry. Chávez has taken measures to address this by increasing the minimum wage by 26% and lowering the cost of food, housing and education through government programs.

Yet despite the results of this survey, the Director of Datanálisis, Luis Vicente León cautions that one should not confuse Chávez’ approval rating of 70.5% with the peoples’ intention to vote for the Venezuelan candidate in the 2006 Presidential elections because "one can approve of a leader and not be willing to vote for him." He believes that the confidence level, in this case of 58.2%, is the most accurate way to estimate the percentage of people who are going to vote for a candidate.

León also notes that although although 70.5% of Venezuelans approve of the President, only 35% support his "socialism of the 21st century" project and believe that the government should work to establish this goal. León interprets these figures as a lack of support for the Left as well as evidence that independently of their political identification, Venezuelans "do not approve of the loss of freedom."