Sat, Nov 25, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Poll shows Chavez holds big lead

AP , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a wide margin over his main challenger as he seeks a third term in Dec. 3 elections, according to an AP-Ipsos poll that also revealed many government opponents are worried they could face reprisals for how they vote.

About 59 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Chavez for a third term, while 27 percent said they would support opposition candidate Manuel Rosales. Thirteen percent of those surveyed by the polling firm Ipsos said they were undecided or wouldn't answer.

Since he was first elected in 1998, Chavez has presided over a society sharply divided by politics and along class lines. After the opposition tried unsuccessfully to oust Chavez in a 2004 recall referendum, lists of petition-signers for the recall circulated on the Internet and CDs sold on the streets. Some Chavez opponents complained they faced discrimination or were fired from government jobs.

The poll showed 57 percent of respondents were at least somewhat concerned that people could face reprisals for how they vote -- 79 percent of Rosales supporters and 46 percent of Chavez supporters. Such a fear factor is a potential source of survey error, meaning for instance that some respondents might feel afraid to tell an interviewer they support Rosales.

The survey was carried out Nov. 10-18 among 2,500 registered voters interviewed face-to-face at their homes.

The survey found sharp differences in voting preference depending on income. The wealthiest likely voters solidly supported Rosales, while the middle class appeared split and the poorest overwhelmingly backed Chavez over Rosales -- 70 percent to 16 percent.

The poll showed Venezuelans are generally content with the country's direction, with 61 percent of all respondents saying Venezuela is moving in the right direction and 31 percent saying it's on the wrong track.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of Chavez's administration, although 66 percent said they see Chavez as authoritarian. Chavez is a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but an overwhelming 84 percent said they oppose adopting a political system like Cuba's -- and that view cut across class lines.

Despite Chavez's often bombastic style, 59 percent said they approve of his handling of international relations.

A majority, 63 percent, said they have a negative view of US President George W. Bush, while 55 percent expressed an unfavorable view of the US in general.

A huge majority, 79 percent, said they consider the political system in Venezuela at least somewhat democratic, although 46 percent said there seems to be less freedom in Venezuela today than in the past.

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