A new opinion poll, reported on Wednesday by Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, reveals that while Haitian President Michel Martelly’s personal approval rating remains high, more than 50 percent of respondents thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction.” The Herald reports:
Martelly, who will begin the final year of his five-year term in May, got a 57 percent job approval rating. But it’s an open question whether his popularity will give his choice of presidential candidate the win. Martelly is barred from running again, and Haitians are waiting to see which candidate gets his support.
More than half of Haitians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while nearly 70 percent do not believe things are going well today.
Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University who conducted the poll (PDF), told the Herald that “members of the private sector” funded the poll and had contracted him to do a number of polls over the past few years. Gamarra was also an advisor to the Government of Haiti, contracted by the Ministry of Planning, until August 2014.
Given Gamarra’s previous relationship with the government, and the contradictions in the poll (such as Martelly having high approval, despite a majority believing the country is moving in the wrong direction and that their personal situations are worse than a year ago), questions have arisen about the methodology of the survey. Further, some 60 percent of respondents reported having voted in the last presidential election, though the official turnout was only about 20 percent. Either the sample was not representative, or a significant portion of the respondents were not completely honest.
In a conversation with HRRW however, Gamarra defended the survey and noted that the only reason it had been published was because the most pro-government findings had previously been leaked.
While Gamarra acknowledged that using cell phone numbers to obtain the survey sample could introduce a bias to the results, he noted that largely as a result of Digicel’s presence, market penetration of cell phones has reached unprecedented levels and that the results are consistent with prior face-to-face polling he had done in Haiti.
“A lot of people are surprised by the contradictions,” Gamarra said, but “this is typical in Haiti.” Haitians, he said, are not generally critical of the government, despite that the majority feel their situation is getting worse.
Earlier this week, Haiti’s electoral authority published the final list of 166 political parties that have successfully registered for planned elections later this year. With elections delayed for over three years and such a large number of parties participating, the election is seen as wide open.
While the headline number looks good for Martelly, Gamarra urged caution, pointing to the results in the important west department, home to nearly 30 percent of Haiti’s population and a key base of support for Martelly earlier in his term. “The government faces its greatest opposition in the west….as a result, I believe that the elections are wide-open,” he added. Indeed, the poll shows Martelly faring worse on almost every indicator in the department. Whereas his national approval rating is 57 percent, in the west department, it is just 38 percent, some 15 percentage points lower than in any other department.
Though the survey’s funders remain unknown, the nature of the questions clearly point to the their interest in determining the popularity of former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Poll participants were asked whether removing Lamothe from the prime minister’s office had been a good or bad thing (39.6 percent said “it’s a bad thing”), if things had improved or not since Lamothe’s departure (36 percent say it got worse) and also evaluated his potential support in the upcoming presidential election. Although more than 65 percent said they didn’t know who they would like to see as president, when given a list of choices, Lamothe was first with just over 20 percent saying they would vote for him if the election were held today.
The poll does appear to show the success, at least politically, of the government’s social programs, which are largely funded by Venezuelan’s Petrocaribe program. For example, respondents cited the Lekol Gratis program, the successes of which are loudly displayed on thousands of banners throughout Haiti, as the number Martelly accomplishment. Previous polling conducted in October, which found that 99 percent of respondents had heard of the free schooling program, backs this up, according to Gamarra. But while the program is “where Martelly gets his support,” Gamarra points out that “it’s a very poorly administered program.” It has also been plagued by allegations of corruption; at least 29 principals and school officials have been arrested for fraudulently receiving benefits through the program.
This also leads back to any possible presidential campaign by Lamothe. Since his resignation, the social programs the government had implemented have largely stopped. During a conversation with HRRW in January in Haiti, a political insider noted that by resigning when he did, Lamothe had actually put himself in a stronger position for a future presidential run. “He’s almost in a better position, since he’s not there for the mess he created,” said the source, adding, “after things go bad, Lamothe can come back and say ‘when I was there…’… Honestly, it’s not a bad plan.”
Gamarra, who has previously advised Lamothe, said that “as far as I know and given his own public statements” Lamothe “is unlikely to run”, but added, “He is the clear frontrunner and the only individual who stands out from the pack.”
But regardless of who ends up running, the polls most significant finding may be this: 61.2 percent don’t think there will be elections this year anyway.