Poll Shows Declining Expectations on a Nicaragua Canal

A survey by Cid Gallup reveals that 34% of Nicaraguans regard the canal as “pure propaganda,” while 25% believes that technical studies are still required to move forward.

by Danae Vílchez  (confidencial.com.ni)

Nicaraguans top concern today is unemployment.
Nicaraguans are losing faith in the canal project.  Foto: Mario López/EFE

HAVANA TIMES — According to the results of the most recent survey conducted by Cid Gallup, the Nicaraguan interoceanic canal project, a concession given to the Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing, is no longer perceived by locals as the panacea that will alleviate the country’s problems and pull them out of poverty.

“The population has gradually lost interest in the canal project as their hopes of ever seeing any benefits from it have faded,” concludes the survey, conducted with 1,029 people around the country.

The results of the poll reveal that 34% of Nicaraguans believe the canal is “pure propaganda,” 25% believe that technical studies are still required and 13% maintain that there’s not enough money to guarantee the completion of the mega project.

Sociologist Manuel Ortega Hegg was surprised at these results and, during the TV program Esta Noche (“Tonight”), stated that public opinion reveals much skepticism with respect to President Daniel Ortega’s flagship plan.

“It’s interesting, because surveys conducted a year ago suggested a different situation, people had huge hopes and expectations about the canal. What these results suggest is that people are now mostly fed up with the propaganda and canal spokespeople, who have said different things at different points in time and haven’t come through,” the researcher said.

Ortega’s Worst Approval Ratings

The opinion poll conducted during the first weeks of January also reveal a marked decline in President Daniel Ortega’s approval ratings. According to data from the survey, President Ortega has a 57% approval rating, 20% less than what he had in 2014, when 77 % of the population had a positive image of him. In the case of the first lady and de facto chief of cabinet Rosario Murillo, approval ratings went from 71% in 2014 to 62% this year.

“The president and first lady continue to enjoy positive ratings among those polled, but these are in decline. A number of government actions may be having this impact on people’s perceptions. The way the Las Jaguitas massacre was treated, the fact the victim’s statements weren’t taken into account, has political costs. There’s also the way rallies [against the canal] organized by peasants were treated. There are a number of elements that could explain this drop in ratings,” Otega Hegg declared.

On the eve of the 2016 electoral process, and despite Ortega’s declining popularity, 55% of the population favors his reelection, against a third of the population which has the opposite view. This 55% coincides with that percentage of the population which claimed to sympathize with the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), 57 % of the populace, according to the survey.

Population Split on Murillo’s Candidacy

The survey also asked those polled about Murillo’s candidacy for FSLN vice-president. Even though the first lady continues to enjoy much popularity, the poll results reveal that the population is split on her candidacy.

As total of 49% of those polled said it is a good idea for Murillo to run for vice-president, while 42% say the opposite. Among those who sympathize with the FSLN, 66% approves of her candidacy.

“We would have to see what weight these positive assessments ultimately have, as running as candidate is a different thing altogether. There are differences within the Sandinista Front. It is curious that not everyone within the party supports her,” said Ortega Hegg.

Declining Government Approval

With respect to the government’s performance, the survey reveals that the population is split. Approval for the government went from 66% in September of 2015 to 50% at the beginning of this year. This figure continues to be very high in comparison to the population’s perception of earlier administrations. Former President Enrique Bolaños obtained only a 4% approval rating, Arnoldo Aleman 26% and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro 23%.

“What’s new is that the majority that had a positive perception of the government has decreased in size. This can be explained by the electorate’s increasingly critical stance. There are no answers for the two main issues the survey addresses, the issue of employment and the economy, and this, even though it isn’t always linked to the government’s performance, in one way or another always has to do with how the economy is doing,” Ortega Hegg stated.

According to the survey, unemployment continues to be people’s top concern (37%), followed by drug use (26%) and the cost of living (15%). The main wish expressed by the majority of those polled was finding a job.

“Until a few years ago, we saw the problem of drugs as a border problem, something that took place in Peñas Blancas or the Caribbean. Today, it is regarded as a nationwide problem and we’re seeing an alert in this connection,” the chair of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences added.

The Opposition’s Challenge

The survey shows that the population is divided into two major groups: those who have an interest in local politics (42%) and those who do not (58%). For the sociologist, this lack of interest in political issues is explained by the fact politics has been relegated to the background behind basic survival and food needs.

“Historically, Nicaraguans have been well informed about political issues. Many people follow political developments, but these are not their main concern. There are more important and pressing issues. Interest in politics tends to swell and to polarize the country as electoral campaigns pick up their pace. The only party that has been campaigning constantly is the Sandinista Front, but there’s practically no opposition. That also makes people less interested because there’s no competition in politics,” the expert affirmed.

In terms of party preferences, the FSLN continues to enjoy the support of a majority (57%) of those surveyed. The PLC comes well below, with 4% support, and the PLI reports 2% support. The opinion poll also reveals that 35% of the population is undecided.

“The popularity of the opposition has decreased over recent years. However, that 57% is not exactly solid ground for the Sandinista Front. I continue to think that the FSLN maintains a firm 36% of support and the rest is what it has secured through the redistribution of benefits. To retain the sympathy of 57% of the population isn’t very common in the party system around the world, it’s quite exceptional,” Ortega Hegg said.