(Venezuela law prohibits publishing opinion polls in the week preceding elections)
By Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s popularity has jumped in the run-up to Sunday’s crucial legislative election, but probably not enough to prevent an opposition victory, a new survey by a leading pollster said.
Thanks to public ire with a brutal economic crisis caused by dysfunctional controls and the oil price plunge, the opposition has its best shot in 16 years at winning the National Assembly from the ruling Socialists.
But in a boost to the hopes of government candidates, Maduro’s popularity jumped more than 11 points to 32.3 percent in late November, according to the survey by Datanalisis seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The firm’s head, Luis-Vicente Leon, said this week the ruling “Chavista” movement, named for Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, had reaped reward for going on the attack against foes, distributing resources in key districts, and reviving the memory of the popular former president during the campaign.
However, the Democratic Unity coalition, which groups all main opposition parties, remains in pole position, with 55.6 percent planning to back the opposition, and 36.8 percent the government, the survey said.
“The main uncertainty is not whether ‘Chavismo’ or the opposition will win, but what type of majority the opposition will obtain,” Leon added in an opinion article this week, saying Maduro’s popularity bounce would not swing the election.
The opposition is benefiting from Venezuelans’ anger at the world’s highest inflation, widespread product shortages and long lines to shop for basics.
A whopping 89.5 percent are unhappy with the OPEC nation’s situation, Datanalisis said in its survey of 999 people with a margin of error of 3.04 percent.
But “Chavismo” retains formidable election mobilization machinery, and some aspects of the voting system - such as a bigger weighting of seats in rural areas where government support is stronger - favor them too.
The government campaign has focused heavily on accusations that the opposition will dismantle popular Chavez-era welfare policies, while the opposition has been lambasting the government for economic incompetence and corruption.
With Venezuela suffering shortages of everything from shampoo to rice, 18.5 percent of those surveyed said they had waited more than 10 hours in lines during the previous week.
The survey was conducted from Nov. 13-23, soon after Maduro announced a 15 percent minimum wage rise. Still, 81.3 percent said the hike was not sufficient to cover often vertiginous price rises.
Polls in Venezuela are notoriously divergent and controversial, but Datanalisis has become the most closely watched by both sides.
Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Sandra Maler