On Saturday (May 7) at 5:00 p.m. radio and television stations around Ecuador simultaneously released the consulta popular exit poll data of Santiango Pérez in a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire" fashion. The announcement came replete with special sounds, flashing lights and suspense filled moments of silence.
This spectacle was followed by President Correa´s climactic, and juvenile, speech declaring victory of “sí” over “no.” However, since Saturday evening, the only thing that is certain regarding the consulta is that, actually, no one knows who is the “winner.” Furthermore, the closeness of the voting paints a picture of a split populace and a president that is quickly losing his popularity.
By late Saturday night it had already become clear that the exit poll data were wildly inaccurate. It is unclear how pollster Pérez (the only entity approved to conduct an exit poll) claimed the poll would have a margin of error of plus/minus 2 percentage points when it failed to include the two categories “blanco”(blank) and “nulo”(invalid). Since then, pundits, journalists and politicians have all given their opinion on who has won which of the 10 consulta questions, all of whom seem happy to ignore the fact that only 59 percent of votes had been counted as of this morning. And as of this morning, the “no” vote has a slight lead in just 2 of the 10 questions.
More interesting, and more relevant, is that regardless of the final outcome it has become clear that President Correa no longer has the same level of popularity that he once enjoyed. But the question that remains is why?
The questions of the consulta—especially the first five referendum questions regarding changes to the constitution—were criticized for being overly complicated and technical. In a country where voting is obligatory, how then did people choose, “sí” or “no”?
In discussions with citizens on Saturday in the parroquia of Toacaso (located in the canton of Latacunga in Cotopaxi province), where it appears that “no” has won with a clear margin of victory, I learned that the voters, while concerned with the constitutional changes regarding the judicial system and the proposed laws, were not assessing the questions based solely on these concerns. Instead, the overwhelming trend in conversations was concern over the economy, the price of food and gasoline and a feeling that President Correa´s administration is not following through on its commitment to improve the lives of citizens in the region. Voters also referred to the agricultural reform promised by President Correa and the lack of results or real change.
While it appears that the Correa administration, politicians and journalists will continue to focus on the numbers, bickering over who has won, the reality is that Correa has lost support among much of the populace and that people are concerned with much more than the issues presented in the consulta. As one man said, “The consulta is nothing but a distraction. We need jobs. We need the inflation to stop. We need the president to listen.”
*Lindsay Green-Barber is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and PhD candidate at City University in New York and is in Ecuador doing field research for her doctoral dissertation on information and communication technologies and social movements in developing countries.