Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic in Nicaragua, the regime of Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo, and the ruling Frente Sandinista party has plummeted to its lowest approval rating ever, according to the latest survey conducted from July 1-9 by the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue organization.
Political support for Ortega and the FSLN have collapsed due to its negligence and mismanagement of the health and economic crises, said political scientist Manuel Orozco, a researcher with the Inter-American Dialogue, in an interview with journalist Carlos F. Chamorro on the “Esta Semana” TV program.
From March 18th to mid-July, Nicaragua registered more than 8,500 suspected cases of COVID-19, and 2,347 deaths, according to an independent report by the Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory (Observatorio Ciudadano COVID-19), although the government only admits to fewer than 3,000 cases and 99 deaths.
The Inter-American Dialogue survey was conducted using a sample of 1,016 Nicaraguan cell phone owners, with a 3% margin of error and a 95% confidence level.
The survey’s main finding, says Orozco, is the sharp drop in popularity of Ortega and the FSLN, whose approval rating has plummeted to below 20%. In addition, he notes that Nicaraguans remain steadfast in their preference to achieving democratic change, with 70% in favor of elections. They also expect that the FSLN’s opposition in the next election will include the National Coalition, which was formally constituted on June 25.
Orozco’s analysis of the survey results includes insights into the public’s expectations regarding the economic situation, and its perception of the political opposition.
“Normalcy” vs. Reality
While the Nicaraguan government has tried to create a façade of “normalcy” by downplaying the pandemic in a country that has become a de facto police state, 51.6% of the Nicaraguans surveyed consider COVID-19 to be the country’s most urgent problem. Others (14.6%) identify the economic crisis as the number one issue, while 12.6% point to unemployment. Other issues that concern Nicaraguans are bad government (7.5%), the political crisis (4.1%), politicians (2.4%), and corruption (2.2%).
What is the most urgent problem facing Nicaragua today?
The survey also reveals that 80% of Nicaraguans believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction, the highest percentage seen in the last 18 months, according to Orozco. Only 11.2% think that it is going in the right direction, and 10.2% said that they don’t know or chose not to respond.
Furthermore, 79.7% of Nicaraguans give the government a rating between 1 and 5 at preventing and managing the pandemic (1 = Poor , 10 = Excellent).
On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate the Nicaraguan government’s prevention and management of this pandemic? (1 = Poor , 10 = Excellent)
“Almost 60% of Nicaraguans rated the government’s response to the pandemic as poor. That is, they overwhelmingly gave the government a failing grade”, said Orozco. This poor rating was not only given by the current regime’s opposition, but also by FSLN supporters, such as public employees who are still required to go to their offices and participate in other activities mandated by the regime.
Lacking any kind of government response, the public has adopted its own safety measures. Forty percent of survey respondents said they were staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, 10% said that they had lost their jobs or can no longer earn any income due to the pandemic. In addition, 8% reported that they or someone in their household had contracted the virus.
“In a country of 1.6 million households, we’re talking about almost 90,000 people who say they’ve been infected”, said Orozco, comparing it to the 75,000 coronavirus cases (estimated for July and the current phase of virus spread) projected for Nicaragua, where there have been no systematic prevention measures.
In the Midst of a Crisis With No Resources
Orozco contends that the drop in popularity and support for Ortega and the FSLN (which is below 20% and even below 15%, in some cases), is due to the government’s handling of the pandemic. Added to this is the economic impact in a country that is experiencing its third consecutive year of economic recession, with a projected 8% drop in GDP.
Sixty percent of the Nicaraguans surveyed said their current economic situation is worse than it was a year ago; only 5% said that they are better off today. “There is a general malaise in Nicaragua, a feeling that things are going from bad to worse”, warns Orozco.
Orozco sums up the situation, saying “There has been a sharp drop in Daniel Ortega’s popularity. We’ve been measuring this since March 2019, and the government and party’s popularity has now dropped below 20%”.
Furthermore, the government lacks the resources to fund the populist measures that ensured a certain level of support in the past.
The Electoral Solution and the Political Party Crisis
Most Nicaraguans are counting on elections as a way out of this crisis. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they would definitely vote if elections were held today, although 50% believe there would be electoral fraud.
This is not an inconsistency for Orozco, who says “the fact is, Nicaraguans have a sense of belonging that is expressed in their right to vote”, even though there is a high level of mistrust regarding the electoral system, as well as the perception of electoral fraud. He notes that, for the same reason, 80% of Nicaraguans support electoral reforms, which include a complete overhaul of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) system. In addition, there was broad support for domestic and international election observers.
Although the Ortega regime and the FSLN are facing their lowest approval ratings ever leading up to next year’s elections, the other political parties have not been able to garner much support either. This is evidence of a deepening crisis of credibility in traditional political parties, and highlights a major challenge for the emerging opposition to the current regime.
What political party do you currently support?
Seventy percent of the Nicaraguans surveyed said that they don’t support any political party right now, followed by 14.8% who said they support the governing party. Other parties such as the Partido Restauración Democrática (PRD), the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC), Ciudadanos por la Libertad (CxL), and the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS) all garnered support from less than 4% of the survey respondents.
Coalitions−With and Without Political Parties
Orozco notes that Nicaraguans’ opinion of opposition parties is consistently low (below 5%). However, the picture changes regarding the National Coalition.
More than 30% of those surveyed said that the formal registration of the National Coalition on June 25 was very important; another 30% said it was important, but that this may not be the right time for it. Only 15% said that it was just “another right wing maneuver”.
The survey questions about voter support for political parties and unification efforts such as the National Coalition yielded different results when the Coalition included or excluded political parties.
Given the following options, which one would you vote for?
“There is a loss of support for the National Coalition when political parties are included in the coalition”, said Orozco. When the National Coalition only includes non-party organizations like the Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia, the Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco and the Movimiento Campesino, it obtained 49.5% of the (intended) vote; this drops to 31.5% when political parties are included.
With less than a year and a half to go before the general elections, no candidate has risen above the rest yet. When asked an open question about who they would vote for if the presidential election were held today, 50% said no one, 35% said they didn’t know or didn’t answer, and only 5.07% said they would vote for Daniel Ortega.
Who would you vote for if Nicaragua’s presidential election were held today?
Asked the same question about a specific list of candidates, 41.5% of the Nicaraguans surveyed responded that they would vote for any candidate other than Ortega. The candidates that received the most votes were peasant leader Medardo Mairena (30.6%), economist Juan Sebastián Chamorro (22.8%), and political scientist Félix Maradiaga (17.1%). Daniel Ortega is further down the list with only 13.3% of the vote.
Orozco concludes, “this is what we wanted to find out when we were asking about Ortega’s low popularity.”