Narrowing Gap in Venezuelan Election

Venezuelans have been barraged with widely varying poll results ahead of the October 7 presidential election. The one thing that is clear is that, after nearly 14 years in office, President Hugo Chavez will face a strong rival for the first time.

The closest gap between President Chavez and opposition politician Henrique Capriles so far was provided Tuesday by local pollster Varianzas. It indicated a virtual tie, with a 49.7 percent saying they plan to vote for Chavez and 47.7 percent siding with Capriles. The margin of error of the poll is 2 percent.

Varianzas consulted 2,000 people between Sept. 7 and 20. Rafael Delgado, the company's director, said the survey was financed by a private group, which he declined to reveal.

Some political surveys, including those conducted by the pollster GIS XXI, run by Chavez's former justice minister Jesse Chacon, have repeatedly shown the president with a lead of more than 20 percent, and have been touted on state television.

The latest poll by Datanalisis, one of Venezuela's most respected polling firms, was also released Tuesday and found that about 49 percent said they intend to vote for Chavez and about 39 percent said they plan to vote for Capriles. About 11 percent didn't reveal a preference, said Luis Vicente Leon, who heads the polling firm.

These new Datanalisis results -- the final poll the company will publicly release before the elections-- show Capriles narrowing the 46-31 percent lead that Chavez held in June.

Leon said it's possible the candidates' percentages may already have shifted somewhat since the survey was carried out weeks ago.

The Datanalisis  poll questioned 1,600 people between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5, and had a margin of error of about 2 percentage points. It was paid for a group of about 100 clients, including businesses as well as government entities.

Leon said Capriles' active campaigning in about 260 towns across the country has had an impact.

Chavez, in contrast, has concentrated on a smaller number of campaign rallies, and has been less active after more than a year of cancer treatments including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.

Even though Chavez has said he's now cancer-free, Leon said the president's campaign clearly has been affected by his health problems.

The wide differences in results have led many Venezuelans to doubt the accuracy of polls.

"The variation between the polls is so big that there are some that say Chavez is winning by 30 points and others that say he's losing by almost 10 points," said Angel Alvarez, a political science professor at Central University of Venezuela. "Most people don't believe in any of the polls anymore because they see so much variability that they say somebody is lying or everybody is lying."

Adding to the uncertainty ahead of the vote is the large segment of voters, in some polls more than 10 percent, who describe themselves as undecided or who don't reveal which candidate they plan to support.

In Venezuela nowadays, people seem to view it as normal for there to be a "war of the polls" and don't appear to be swayed one way or the other by the surveys, said Ignacio Avalos, director of the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, a vote monitoring group.

"Part of the election campaign is about making people think you're the one who's going to win and generating a positive effect," Avalos said. Despite the conflicting surveys, he said, "I have the impression that the results are going to be close, that it's going to be an election decided by a narrow margin."

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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