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Cablegate: Panama: Martinelli Continues to Lead Polls


DE RUEHZP #1856/01 3452008
R 112008Z DEC 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001856



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/11/2017

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


1. (C) Democratic Change (CD) Party President and
presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli continues to lead
the polls in all respects, according to a November 2007 poll
conducted by Panama's leading pollster, Dichter and Neira.
Overall, the GOP gets a neutral to somewhat negative approval
rating. Martinelli leads the polls at 26.7 percent in the
open question, asking respondents for whom they would vote
for president. In a closed question with six options,
Martinelli outpaces governing Revolutionary Democratic Party
(PRD) member and Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera by
nearly 20 points (36.6 to 16.8 percent). Interestingly
though, in a series of hypothetical races, PRD member and
Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro presents the most
significant challenge to Martinelli closing to within about
1.5 percent of Martinelli's lead and slashing Martinelli's
rating in the polls from nearly 40 percent to about 20
percent. While the common wisdom on the street, a wisdom
accepted by Martinelli, is that Herrera will be the PRD
presidential candidate, Martinelli could be surprised to find
himself in a horse race against Navarro if Herrera follows
through and keeps her word that she will not run for
president, but rather mayor of Panama City (SEPTEL). End

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Technical Data

2. (SBU) This poll was conducted nationally in all of
Panama's provinces, but not in Panama's indigenous people's
reservations (comarcas). The sample included 1,214
face-to-face interviews. Normally, Dichter and Neira
re-interviews a small portion of the original sample, but, as
of when this poll was acquired, post does not know what the
margin of error of this poll is assessed to be. Dichter and
Neira's polls usual have a margin of error of 3 to 4 percent
and are widely considered to be the most reliable polls in
Panama. For the purposes of this cable, the statistics cited
below refer to totals for individual questions, not subtotals
broken down by region, age, income or party affiliation.

3. (C) This poll was obtained by POLCOUNS from Martinelli on
December 6. While post does not know the actual dates on
which this poll was conducted, CD VP Roberto Henriquez and
close Martinelli advisor Jimmy Papademetriu indicated
separately to POLCOUNS that this poll was conducted over the
course of 7 days in the second half of November. This poll
has been shared with State's WHA/CEN and INR/IAA. Post has
high confidence that Martinelli has not tampered with these
results as they track 100 percent with portions of this same
poll that post has seen elsewhere.

Evaluating the GOP's Performance

4. (SBU) Overall, the GOP gets a neutral to somewhat negative
approval rating. Asked how they would rate the Torrijos
Administration, nearly as many rated the Torrijos
Administration as "good" (38.7 percent) as "bad" (39.2
percent) and 13.6 percent rated it as "very bad." Asked to
rate the direction of in which the country was headed on a
scale of 1 to 5 where 1 indicates "totally mistaken" and 5
indicates "totally correct," 39.0 percent rated the
direction as 3, or neutral, and 16.6 percent rated it as a 2
and 22.4 as a 1. In a closed question asking interviewees to
select from a list of "entities or organizations,"
interviewees cited that the following were principally
responsible for unemployment: the government (81 percent),
the politicians (56 percent), the businessmen (55 percent),
the political parties (37 percent), and President Martin
Torrijos (29 percent). The top three causes of insecurity
cited by interviewees were: unemployment (33.6 percent),
drugs (13.7 percent), and poverty (10.7 percent).

The Presidential Race

5. (SBU) The Open Question: Martinelli leads the polls at
26.7 percent in the open question, "If the 2009 elections
were held today, for whom would you vote for President of the
Republic?" More than 15 points behind him, his closest
competition in this open questions is current Minister of
Housing Balbina Herrera (11.7 percent) followed by Panama
City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro (9.7 percent), and Moral
Vanguard of the Nation (VMP) Party President and former
President Guillermo Endara (7.4 percent). After Endara, the
numbers drop off steeply with Panamenista presidential
contender Alberto Vallarino (3.5 percent), Panamanista Party
President Juan Carlos Varela (2.4 percent), governing
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) member and former
President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares (2.2 percent),
PRD member and First VP and FM Samuel Lewis (1.0 percent).

6. (SBU) The Closed Question: Presented only six options
from whom to choose, interviewees gave Martinelli a
substantial lead of nearly twenty points over Herrera. This
list of what are widely perceived to be the most viable
presidential contenders shook out as follows:

Martinelli: 36.6 percent
Herrera: 16.8 percent
Navarro: 8.6 percent
Endara: 6.8 percent
Vallarino: 5.3 percent
Varela: 1.8 percent.

The Hypothetical Races

7. (SBU) The poll asked interviewees to indicate their
choice in a series of hypothetical races. These hypothetical
scenarios suggest that Martinelli's most significant
challenger would be Navarro. Whereas Martinelli sustained
support around or above 40 percent in the other three
scenarios in which he was included as an option, when Navarro
was included as an option that level of support was cut in
half to 20 percent with Navarro only about a point and a half
behind (18.6 percent). While Martinelli clobbered Endara 3
to 1 (46.7 percent to 15.1 percent) in a head-to-head race,
Endara outpaced Navarro nearly 2 to 1 (27.2 percent to 14.6
percent). The results of these hypothetical races are shared

Navarro: 20.0 percent
Endara: 10.8 percent
Varela: 3.8 percent
Martinelli: 40.0 percent
Don't Know/No Response: 25.5 percent

Martinelli: 39.4 percent
Herrera: 22.2 percent
Endara: 10.5 percent
Varela: 4.2 percent
Don't know/No Response: 23.7 percent

Vallarino: 5.7 percent
Navarro: 18.6 percent
Martinelli: 20.0 percent
Endara: 11.2 percent
Don't know/No Response: 24.5 percent

Martinelli: 46.7 percent
Endara: 15.1 percent
Don't know/No Response: 38.2 percent

Navarro: 14.6 percent
Endara: 27.2 percent
Don't know/No Response: 58.2 percent

Martinelli Seen as Opposition Leader

8. (SBU) Far and away, Martinelli was identified as the
current leader of the opposition with 37.3 citing him as such
in an open question. Endara trailed over 20 points behind
Martinelli at 14.3 percent. Pulling up the rear were:
Varela (4.1 percent), former President Mireya Moscoso (3.2
percent), and Vallarino (2.4 percent))

Reactions to the Candidates

9. (SBU) Interviewees were also asked to comment regarding
the image of various likely presidential candidates and
political parties. Just looking at the top three responses
(Note: There were often over a dozen responses.), these
prospective candidates break out into two groups -- those
with only positive reactions and those with mixed reactions:

Overall positive reactions:
-- Martinelli: good person (13.0 percent); worries about and
wants to help people (11.6 percent); successful businessman
(7.3 percent)
-- Herrera: good person (23.1 percent); hardworking and
responsible (15.8 percent); worries about and wants to help
people (10.1 percent)

Mixed reactions:
-- Navarro: good, excellent at his work (21.9 percent);
hardworking and responsible (6.5 percent); bad, does not
fulfill expectations (4.7 percent)
-- Endara: already too old, past his time (18.6 percent);
was a good president, did a lot (7.9 percent); bad, does not
fulfill expectations (7.0 percent)
-- Varela: bad, does not fulfill expectations (7.7 percent);
good, could be a good candidate (7.3 percent); businessman
(5.5 percent)
-- Vallarino: could be a good candidate (9.6 percent);
businessman, banker (8.4 percent); bad, does work, does not
fulfill expectations (5.8 percent)

The most recurring negative reaction was "does not fulfill

Reactions to the Parties

10. (SBU) Asked to provide their reactions to three parties,
Martinelli's CD party gets generally positive reactions,
thought the numbers barely break 10 percent. In contrast,
the PRD and Panamenista parties enjoy a core of support for
being good parties, but receive strong negative reactions as

Overall positive reactions:
-- CD: good, good party (10.1 percent); can help do
something for the country, people (4.6 percent); helps the
people, the poor (3.8 percent)

Overall negative reactions:
-- PRD: corrupt, dishonest (16.1 percent); excellent, good
party (11.0 percent); bad, bad party, worst (9.7 percent)
-- Panamenista: corrupt, dishonest (9.4 percent); bad, bad
party, worst (7.2 percent); fight too much, not unified (6.2

Perceptions of Martinelli

11. (SBU) The poll concluded by delving into perceptions of
Martinelli. Majorities said that Martinelli was honest and
not corrupt. Nearly two-thirds of respondents identified
strongly with Martinelli's 2004 campaign slogan "Walking in
the shoes of the people." Two-thirds also said that
Martinelli was a leader. Slightly over two-thirds believed
that Martinelli would fight for the interests of the people
and that he was not a traditional politician.


12. (C) Martinelli, a compulsive poll maven, has significant
reason to be content with this latest poll, but there is also
a cautionary lesson to be learned from this poll. He is
clearly identified in this poll as the opposition leader,
generally perceived to be the preferred presidential option
at this stage, and dominates the other opposition candidates.
While the common wisdom on the street is that eventually
Herrera will be the PRD presidential candidate -- a view
Martinelli has told POLCOUNS that he shares -- were Navarro
to be the PRD option instead, Martinelli would have a real
horse race on his hands. If Herrera's assertions that she
does not wish to run for president are since (SEPTEL) and
Navarro becomes the PRD presidential candidate instead,
Martinelli could be surprised and forced onto his heels until
he adapts and strives to overcome. Finally, while Martinelli
polls well, it remains to be seen whether Martinelli has
indeed built the nationwide political machine necessary to
mobilize his support. Martinelli has invested heavily in
building such a machine, but it has yet to be tested.

© Scoop Media

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