Most Nicaraguans are happy with their government, pleased with direction of the country, satisfied with their democracy, optimistic about the economy… and willing to pull up sticks and emigrate to a foreign land.
According to a recent M&R Consultants poll, more than 75% of Nicaraguans think President Daniel Ortega is leading the country in the right direction, 68% are optimistic that their family’s economic situation will improve within the next year, and 72% are satisfied with the way their democracy is shaking out. Yet despite the government’s favorable polling numbers, more than half the population—54.4% —say they’re still willing to leave the country in search of a better life elsewhere, preferably in the United States, Costa Rica, Spain or Panama.
Curiously, the percentage of Nicaraguans willing to emigrate has changed very little over the past six years of Sandinista leadership. When Ortega took power in 2007, 52.7% said they were willing to move abroad. That number peaked at 69% in August 2008, but in recent years has returned to levels hovering around 50%.
Nicaraguans’ willingness to migrate despite their relative satisfaction with the way things are going at home is one of several brain-itching contradictions in the most recent M&R poll, which earlier this month surveyed 1,600 voting age Nicaraguans in face-to-face interviews across the country. The survey claims a 95% confidence rating and 2.5% margin of error.
Taken as a whole, the M&R survey paints a compelling picture of a complex country. In addition to reaffirming Nicaragua’s political transformation toward a one-party system—59% of Nicaraguans back the ruling Sandinista Front while less than 10% identify with the opposition parties—the M&R poll also suggests a growing level of support for the Hugo Chávez-inspired model of “21st Century Socialism.”
When asked to pick between Nicaragua’s current model of development or “21st Century Socialism,” more than 33% of Nicaraguans think their country should move more toward the latter, without defining what that means. Despite the ambiguity of terms, support for the “Chavista” model of government has nearly doubled in the past seven months; only 17% of Nicaraguans supported 21st Century Socialism last September, when Chávez was still alive.
On the other hand, support for Nicaragua’s current model of free-market development implemented in 1990 has dropped from 71% to 50% over the same seven month period.
Strangely enough, Nicaraguans’ support for 21st Century Socialism seems to be growing at a time when that political project’s future is more uncertain than ever. The death of Chávez and the shaky succession of his political protégé has put 21st Century Socialism on its loosest footing in more than a decade. Now, nearly half of all Venezuelans think it’s time for a change, given the recent performance of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in this month’s elections.
Nicaraguans’ growing support for the Chavista brand of socialism is even more confusing considering the same M&R poll shows that three out of four Nicaraguans think their country is currently heading in the right direction, and 76.5% agree with the statement “the private sector is the motor for the economic development of the country.”
Then again, if most Nicaraguans are so besotted with their government that they’d be willing to emigrate, why not also consider swapping the country’s popular development model for an unfamiliar variety of tropical socialism that has led to inflation, blackouts and political instability in its model country?
Evolving perceptions of democracy & emerging problems
Six years into the Sandinista government’s self-styled “democratization of democracy,” Nicaraguans are apparently modifying their definition of what it means to live in a democracy, the M&R poll suggests.
According to the survey results, nearly 44% of Nicaraguans say the most important characteristic of democracy is “to live in peace, tranquility and liberty”—up from 28% who answered the same seven months ago. “Equality before the law,” which ranked as the second-most important trait of a democracy seven months ago with 20.4%, fell to fourth place with 6.8% in the most recent poll.
It’s not clear whether the fluctuating poll numbers mean people are changing their understanding of what it means to live in a democracy, or just changing their answers to reflect their current system.
What is clear from the latest poll is the trending concern over the rising cost of living. In 2007, only 3.8% of Nicaraguans polled said the cost of living and/or public utilities was the principal problem facing the country, compared to 42% who said unemployment was the main concern and 38% who said poverty. Today, the cost of living has climbed its way to the No. 2 spot on the list of concerns (more than 27%), surpassing people’s concern over “poverty,” which has dipped to 13%.
So while more Nicaraguans are feeling better about their economic standing than they were six years ago, it’s viewed as a precarious gain that could be threatened by the rising cost of living—an increasingly worrying concern that may just explain some people’s growing interest in experimenting with 21st Century Socialism.