“Don Berna” to testify “New” paramilitaries, all over the map
Jul 172007

It only surveys Colombians with land-line telephones in four cities. It’s impossible to tell if its findings represent a trend or just a blip. But the results of the latest Invamer-Gallup poll in Colombia are still very striking.

This is Gallup’s first poll since April. (Full results of the April poll are here, as a big powerpoint file.) We haven’t seen the entire results of this new poll, but summaries in Semana, El Tiempo, the AP wire and elsewhere tell us:

President Uribe’s approval rating fell nine points since April, to a still very high 66 percent.

The portion of Colombians ranking security as the country’s number-one problem nearly doubled since April, from 29 to 55 percent. Security knocked the economy out of first place for the first time since the August 2005 poll.

The number of Colombians approving of the government’s management of the guerrillas dropped 12 points, to 53 percent. Last month’s unilateral freeing of guerrilla prisoners, followed by the murder of 11 guerrilla hostages, did not cause Colombians to rally behind the Uribe government’s strategy.

The “para-politics” scandal is finally taking a toll. Approval of the Uribe government’s handling of “the paramilitary problem” fell from 60 percent in April to 48 percent in July.

The three highest-regarded institutions in the country are the media, the armed forces, and – remarkably, given how harshly they are criticized – the country’s human rights NGOs.

Besides Colombia’s three main armed groups, the three lowest-regarded institutions are the Congress, the United States, and labor unions. The United States’ approval rating fell eight points from April, from 49 to 41 percent.

(From the April 2007 poll:)

Difficulties with the U.S. Congress probably explain why perceptions of the government’s foreign policy also fell sharply.

Disappointing coca-cultivation figures probably explain the steep drop in approval of the government’s anti-drug policy.

Ratings of the government’s anti-corruption efforts fell to their lowest point since Álvaro Uribe took office.

Despite a white-hot 8 percent GDP growth rate, ratings of the government’s management of the economy also fell. Persistently high unemployment and underemployment rates may be to blame.

The poll numbers apparently do not indicate a greater willingness to explore negotiations with the FARC, even for a humanitarian exchange. But the aftermath of the 11 FARC hostages’ murder did not bring a ringing endorsement of President Uribe’s hard line; it instead left Colombians feeling pessimistic about security.

The Colombian newsweekly Semana offered a concise interpretation of these sudden shifts in public opinion.

The decline in Uribe’s image owes to four main reasons. The greatest is discontent with corruption. Not because of perceptions of high officials’ responsibility, but because people are critical of “para-politics” and the lack of clarity in the paramilitary process.

The second critical front is foreign policy. The approval of the FTA has cost Uribe. While there are more Colombians in favor than opposed, support hardly exceeds 50 percent, and Uribe, with his continual visits to Washington to seek its approval, has tied his own image to that of the FTA. Management of international relations has also been affected by news about problems with the U.S. Congress and criticisms of his government made in foreign countries.

The third cause of the erosion in presidential popularity is the economy. Paradoxically, because statistics are reaching historic levels of growth and low inflation. But in this area perceptions have always been, during the uribista era, lower than the real results because GDP growth has not considerably reduced unemployment. And in the last few months, the strengthening of the peso has generated doubts about whether the economy’s good direction is sustainable.

Finally, the guerrillas, who until now had been the main source of presidential popularity, have also become a factor running against it. The massacre of the Valle del Cauca departmental legislators placed citizens further in opposition to the FARC, but also generated doubts about the effectiveness of the government’s policy toward them. People have become very demanding about the Democratic Security policy, and they are very divided with regard to a humanitarian exchange accord.

One Response to “Poll numbers show big shifts in Colombian popular opinion”

  1. A.M. Mora y Leon Says:

    You’re the first to point out that guerrilla-freedom blunder Uribe made. All the news stories point to scandals and paramilitaries. While those don’t help, I can only see a president’s poll numbers really taking a hit for the blunder of freeing guerrillas. Sarko didn’t know what he was doing when he asked Uribe to free them. He was treating the guerrilla situation like the horsetrading of French politics and gave extremely lousy advice to Uribe. He also wanted to one-up Chirac by showing that he, unlike the incompetent Chirac could get Ingrid freed. Bad mistake on his part to ask Uribe to free them, and even worse mistake on Uribe’s part to listen to him. I am hearing that both men have learned from this blunder, but I remain disgusted by the whole thing and look forward to more common sense out of both of them.

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