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Cablegate: Panama: Suppressed Poll Surfaces

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0330/01 1161833
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 251833Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1981
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000330

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/25/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: SUPPRESSED POLL SURFACES


Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reasons: 1.4 (b), (c), and
(d)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Newly elected governing Revolutionary Democratic Party
(PRD) National Executive Committee (CEN) Fifth Sub-Secretary
Rodrigo "Rod" Diaz provided POLCOUNS with a bootleg copy of
the PSM-SIGMA DOS April poll. In the wake of the Dichter and
Neira April poll, portions of which have been published
during the week of April 20, the results of this poll seem
unremarkable and pedestrian. Prepared for Panama City
television broadcaster Telemetro, this PSM-SIGMA DOS poll
was, however, suppressed and never released publicly when it
raised the hackles of a number of political leaders. This
poll was the first poll to show that:

-- Democratic Change (CD) presidential candidate Ricardo
Martinelli no longer held the lead;
-- PRD presidential nomination candidate Balbina Herrera took
over the lead;
-- PRD presidential nomination candidate and Mayor of Panama
City Juan Carlos Navarro's approval ratings had declined; and
-- Panamenista presidential nomination candidates Alberto
Vallarino and Juan Carlos Navarro were tied essentially, but
Martinelli was seen as the candidate more capable of unifying
the opposition.

Dichter and Neira's April poll set off shock waves amongst
Panama's political establishment, but the PSM-SIGMA DOS poll
was the first tremor. (Note: PSM-SIGMA DOS's poll was
conducted March 28-31, but published in April. For
simplicity's sake, the poll will be referred to as the April
poll.) End Summary.

------------------------------------
Approval for Torrijos Administration
------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Approval for the President Torrijos has remained
essentially steady from September 2007 to April 2008,
according to PSM-SIGMA DOS's September, January and April
polls:

Poll Approval Disapproval No Answer
---- -------- ----------- ---------
Sept 2007 48% 45% 7%
Jan 2008 50% 47% 3%
Apr 2008 50% 47% 3%

--------------------------
Assessing Navarro as Mayor
--------------------------

3. (SBU) Looking at the job approval rating for PRD
presidential nomination candidate and Mayor of Panama City
Juan Carlos Navarro's approval ratings, PSM-SIGMA DOS
detected a decrease in the percentage of respondents who
believed that Navarro had performed well or very well. In
April, 60 percent of respondents characterized his performace
as good (54 percent) or very good (16 percent) down ten
points from January when 9 percent reported his performance
to be very good and 61 percent reported it to be good. Over
the same period, respondents characterizing his performance
as bad or very bad grew 2 percent points, and those who did
not know or respond remained steady at 1 percent.

----------------------------------
Balbina Most Popular PRD Candidate
----------------------------------

4. (SBU) In the April poll, asked in an open question "who
should be the PRD presidential candidate," 45 percent of
respondents said Balbina Herrera, 31 percent Navarro, 5
percent Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares, 2 percent 1st VP
and FM Samuel Lewis, 2 percent other, 2 percent Laurentino
Cortizo, and 14 percent did not know or respond. Herrera's
numbers essentially remained steady across PSM-SIGMA DOS's
three polls (45% in April 2008; 46 % in January 2008; and 43
% in September 2007). Navarro's numbers grew during the same
period (31 % in April, 29% in January; 25% in September). El
Toro's support eroded significantly over the same period (5%
in April; 10% in January; 15% in September). Lewis tied
"other" and also-ran Cortizo and was beat resoundingly by "do
not know/did not respond."
------------------------------------
Martinelli Best Opposition Candidate
------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Martinelli continued to be the top choice of
respondents when asked which opposition candidate would be
the opposition's best presidential candidate, though support
for him eroded somewhat falling 6 points (35% in April; 41%
in January; 31 percent in September) Vallarino and Varela
were essentially tied in April on this question with
Vallarino polling 20 percent and Varela polling 21 percent.
Varela's support on this question grew the most though
jumping from 13 percent in September and 14 percent in
January, while Vallarino's support recovered from 16 percent
in January returning to the 20 percent level polled in
September. Support for Moral Vanguard of the National (VMP)
presidential candidate Guillermo Endara eroded significantly
(18% in September; 12% in January; 9 percent in April).

--------------------------------------------
If Generals Today (April), Herrera Would Win
--------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Were the elections to have been held in April, 28
percent of respondents said they would vote for Herrera
holding steady from her January level and rising one point
from her September level. According to PSM-SIGMA DOS's April
poll, Herrera had succeeded in toppling Martinelli from the
lead that he had maintain consistently for over two years at
the head of the polls. Martinelli polled 18 percent in
April, 19 percent in January, and 16 percent in September on
this question. Navarro continued to trail Herrera badly
polling 14 percent in April, 11 percent in January, and 9
percent in September. Varela edged out Vallarino, but only
by one point, polling 10 percent in April, 7 percent in
January, and 4 percent in September. Vallarino polled 9
percent in April, 10 percent in January, and 11 percent in
January. Both Endara and Perez Balladares saw their support
continue to erode. Endara polled 4 percent in April, 7
percent in January, and 10 percent in September. Perez
Balladares polled 2 percent in April, 4 percent in January,
and 9 percent in September. Navarro, Patriotic Union (UP)
President Guillermo "Billy" Ford, Panamenista presidential
nomination candidate Marco Ameglio were all also-rans polling
at or below 3 percent.

-----------------------------
Who Can Unify the Opposition?
-----------------------------

7. (SBU) Martinelli was the choice of 28 percent of
respondents when asked which candidate could unify the
opposition, falling from 34 percent in January and having
polled 24 percent in September. Among Panamenista candidates
though, Varela pulled even with Vallarino. On this question,
Vallarino polled 20 percent in April, 16 percent in January,
and 21 percent in September. Varela polled 19 percent in
April, 12 percent in January, and 10 percent in September.
Endara, Ford, and Ameglio saw their low levels of support on
this question continue to erode.

-------------------------------------
Varela Leads Inside Panamenista Party
-------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Though neck-in-neck on opposition-wide polling
questions and the who-can-unify-the-opposition question,
Varela polled ten points ahead of Vallarino taking 45 percent
to Vallarino's 35 percent. Thirteen percent of respondents
did not know or did not respond, and Ameglio polled 7
percent. (Note: It is not clear whether this question was
asked only of Panamenista party members. It appears to have
been asked of all respondents, something that would skew the
responses to this question.)

---------------------
Technical Information
---------------------

9. (SBU) PSM-SIGMA DOS PANAMA conducted this poll from March
28 to March 31. All interviews were conducted face-to-face.
Only adults over the age of 18 were interviewed in their
homes. Only one person per home was interviewed. Homes were
selected randomly, and the number of homes in a particular
area were in proportion for general population distribution.
Interviews were distributed evenly between men and women. No
interviews were conducted by telephone, at places or work,
public places or on the street. Interviews were distributed
by age group, socio-economic status, and education in
proportion with general population distribution. A total of
1,225 people were interviewed across the country, except in
areas where the interviewers safety could not reasonably be
assured. The company asserts a 95 percent level of
confidence and that the margin of error is 2.8 percent.

-------
Comment
-------

10. (C) Had this poll been released, it would have set off
the political shock waves that the piecemeal publication by
La Prensa of the April Dichter and Neira poll did a few weeks
later. Martinelli has been toppled from his two-year plus
reign at the top of the polls by Herrera. He nonetheless
remains the preferred option, at least according to this
poll, for unifying the opposition, something that rankles
Panamenista leaders who perceive it to be their God given
right to hold the top of the ticket on any opposition
coalition ticket. Vallarino, who has persistently been
making the argument that he is the best Panamenista candidate
to unify the opposition, must now be looking over his
shoulder at Varela who has pulled even on this question. The
poll does not clarify the state of the race for the
Panamenista nomination as most measures have Varela and
Vallarino essentially even and the one question giving Varela
a notable lead is of questionable value as non-Panamenista
Party members may have responded to the closed question on
the Panamenista race. Radio talk show host and political
commentator Edwin Cabrera told POLCOUNS April 25 that he had
seen an internal Panamenista Party poll that showed Varela
and Vallarino in a dead heat. According to Cabrera, 40
percent of Panamenista Party members were undecided. In an
e-mail to POL, Varela asserted that he was beating Varela 2
to 1 and that he would soon share his polling data with the
Embassy, a pledge he has often made but never fulfilled.
EATON

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