Ortega remains in the catbird seat

New poll shows that Sandinistas are the clear majority, but most Nicaraguans are not interested in politics

News Analysis.

When people complain that there is no political opposition in Nicaragua, they aren’t overstating the problem.

According to a poll published this week by M&R Consultants, 56% of Nicaraguans identify as members of the ruling Sandinista Front and only 4.3% identify as a member of the country’s leading opposition party, the Independent Liberal Party (PLI). In fact, if the poll had a slightly wider margin of error, all of Nicaragua’s balkanized opposition parties would be considered “statistically nonexistent.”  

One could already make the argument that they are politically nonexistent. The ALN, the Conservative Party and the MRS could share a motorcycle to work. Together, those three minority parties equal less than 1% of the population. Rounding out the feeble opposition is the once-majority PLC, which now represents 3.3% of the population. APRE, the pulseless political party that was recently propped up by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to make a farcical “Weekend-at-Bernie’s” campaign run in last November’s municipal elections, didn’t even make the list of nonstarters.

Not only is Nicaragua’s opposition at an all time low in terms of party affiliation, but the trend shows no sign of changing. A record high 82% of the population say they have a negative opinion of the opposition, and less than 15% think the opposition is doing a good job.

Uninhibited by the opposition (or, more accurately, benefited by the pathetic lack thereof), President Daniel Ortega continues to climb in the polls. The president now enjoys a record-high 67.8% favorability rating among Nicaraguans, while less than 12% disapprove of the comandante’s performance. Twenty percent of the population is still unsure what they think.

Start the revolution without me…seriously

Despite the appearance of a growing, active and purring state-party machine, most Nicaraguans—even Sandinistas—say they are not much interested in politics, according to the M&R Consultants poll, which polled 1,600 voting age Nicaraguans across the country between Dec. 17-28.

A stunning 81% of the population say they have little or no interest in politics, according to the poll, which claims a 95% level of confidence. Even 75% of Sandinista supporters, behind the pastel veneer of their colorful t-shirt uniforms pledging love and loyalty to Daniel, are feeling pretty apolitical, the poll shows. The poll shows 30% of Sandinistas openly identify as “apolitical,” while 45.8% say they have little to no interest in politics (just the t-shirt, thank you). Less than 8% of Sandinistas say they have a high level of interest in politics.

Indeed, when it comes to Nicaragua’s process of political transformation, most of the country seems to be along for the ride. Half of all Nicaraguans say they “never” talk about politics with friends or family, and 79% said they “never” participate directly in any type of political activism. Half the population says they even avoid reading about politics or watching it on the nightly news.

Overall, more than 75% of the country claims to be satisfied with how democracy is going in Nicaragua and wouldn’t change a thing.

But then again, Nicaraguans don’t expect too much from their democracy, either. The working definition of democracy in Nicaragua, according to the poll results, seems to be something along the lines of “don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.”

When asked by M&R Consultants what characteristic defines a democracy, 45% of Nicaraguans answered “living in peace, tranquility, harmony.” By comparison, only 13% said democracy means freedom of expression, 12% answered civil liberties and 10% answered “equality.” Less than 4% of Nicaraguans (8% of the opposition and 2% of Sandinistas) said that democracy is respect for rule of law and the constitution.

Only 1.9% of the population (and only 2.4% of Sandinistas!) said democracy is “power to the people,” suggesting that Ortega’s supporters aren’t reading their t-shirts closely enough. Further down the list, 1.4% said democracy is living in community with others.

Still, for what most Nicaraguans have come to expect from their government and democracy, the Sandinistas continue to deliver and President Ortega remains comfortably perched in the catbird seat.

  • Ken

    My sense is that this is basically correct, although guess that “disgust” with politics underlies the “disinterest.” I can’t imagine that Nicas are truly apolitical. I think they’re more exasperated and this registers as lack of interest. I mean, you can hear the disgust in the tone of voice they use when that claim disinterest, can’t you?

  • http://no Damian

    Many Nicaraguans go and vote during presidential elections. If I remember correctly it was around 70% in the past 2 elections in Nicaragua. Compare this to first world countries (average of 45% of their populations go and vote) and one could factually state that, statistically, Nicaraguans are more politically motivated than the the fist world.

    • Brian

      I could also use statistics to “prove” that you, Damian, don’t even exist … And, what’s with your faith in the numbers published by the Nicaraguan government anyway????

      • http://no Damian

        Brian, I am 100% certain you can not prove it. Nicaragua has it problems but anybody with a pair of eyes and living in Nicaragua could see how many people walked to the voting stations. Lot’s of people with one tinted finger!!