Popularity of Venezuela's Maduro inches down to 24.3 percent

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s popularity fell to 24.3 percent in July, hurt by voracious inflation and shortages of goods ranging from spare parts to shampoo, according to respected local pollster Datanalisis.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in the state of Cojedes, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

The oil-producing country is suffering from a brutal recession stemming in part from strict controls that crimp access to hard currency and imports, and aggravated by the tumble in crude prices.

Maduro, who narrowly won an election to replace late leader Hugo Chavez in 2013, has avoided the structural reforms economists say are crucial to keep conditions from worsening.

About 24.3 percent of those surveyed gave positive evaluations to the former bus driver and union leader’s governance, down from 25.8 percent in May, the latest Datanalisis survey shows.

Negative evaluations climbed to 70.4 percent from 68.8 percent.

Several Latin America presidents, including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Peru’s Ollanta Humala, have even lower approval ratings.

Maduro, who lacks favorable oil prices and Chavez’s charisma, is gearing up for the Dec. 6 parliamentary election in which the political opposition has its best shot in years at winning the National Assembly.

Only 19.2 percent would vote for candidates from the ruling Socialist Party if the election were held this Sunday, versus 42.2 percent for the opposition, according to the poll.

However, 17.5 percent said they did not know or would not answer.

While support for Maduro has tumbled, especially in poor areas hit hard by price increases and scarcity, a fragmented and elite-dominated opposition has yet to capitalize on the discontent.

About 82.2 percent of Venezuelans surveyed described the current economic situation as negative, with 65.5 percent saying inflation was making it impossible for their households to make ends meet.

The central bank has not published 2015 consumer price data, but economists say annual inflation has topped 100 percent.

Costs of certain goods rise on a weekly basis, and daily conversations among Venezuelans often turn to shocking price increases.

Despite the mounting economic woes, 75.6 percent of those surveyed said they were not willing to protest in marches.

Last year’s massive anti-government demonstrations led to more than 40 deaths on both sides, and many moderates in the opposition said they were premature and counterproductive.

Opinion polls in Venezuela are divergent and controversial, but Datanalisis is one of the most closely watched and respected.

Datanalisis interviewed 999 people between July 10-23 and said the survey was 95 percent reliable.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn