Cablegate: Panama: Dichter & Neira Research Poll


DE RUEHZP #0660/01 2202123
R 072123Z AUG 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000660


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/28/2018



1. (C) In April 2008, Dichter & Neira published a public
opinion poll that generated shock waves in Panama's political
scene. Since then, this leading market research firm produced
another poll conducted from June 06 to June 08 that indicated
who could be the front runners for the presidential election.
As the primary elections come to a close, the opposition
parties have chosen their presidential nominees and the
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) will soon select its
candidate. The Dichter & Neira poll provided insight to which
presidential candidates will be left standing in the general

--PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera maintained the
lead over Democratic Change (CD) candidate Ricardo
Martinelli. Herrera continued to widen the gap as the PRD
favorite with a 20 point lead over PRD contender and Mayor of
Panama Juan Carlos Navarro.

--Panama's public believed that a PRD presidential candidate
would win the general elections due to the party's intrinsic
advantage granted by their large membership. With over
600,000 registered members, PRD remained the largest
political party in the country.

--Martinelli remained the favored candidate for the
opposition and maintained 41 percent support compared to Juan
Carlos Varela who drew in 24 percent.

--President Torrijos' numbers continued to decline with less
than a 47 percent approval rating. The Panamanian public was
also dissatisfied with the President's cabinet and the
National Assembly.

Dichter & Neira completed a subsequent poll in early July,
but Post has not yet acquired a copy of it. Press reports
regarding this more recent poll indicated that Herrera had
opened an even wider lead, 31-point lead over Navarro. While
Herrera stayed more or less steady in July polling about 54%,
Navarro slipped to 23%. In the national polls, Herrera,
Varela, and Martinelli were all three essentially tied in the
low 20s between 21 and 24 percent. In addition to Herrera's
growing lead in the PRD primary, the big news from Dichter &
Neira's July poll was that post-primary Varela closed the gap
with Herrera and Martinelli. Post will endeavor to acquire a
copy of the July poll. End summary.

Herrera, Front Runner in General Elections

2. (SBU) Were the presidential elections held in June, 26
percent of respondents say they would have voted for PRD
candidate Balbina Herrera. Herrera continued to lead with a 1
percent increase from April levels. Democratic Change (CD)
candidate Ricardo Martinelli slipped from 20 percent in April
to 19 percent in May but remained steady through June. PRD
challenger Juan Carlos Navarro gained traction with a 2 point
increase to 15 percent from April to June. Panamenista
candidate Juan Carlos Varela remained static at 7 percent.
Polling results showed that all candidates have maintained
steady popularity among their supporters. In contrast, PRD
candidate Laurentino Cortizo received minimal backing with
less than 1 percent. Of the respondents interviewed, 16
percent were undecided.

Candidate April May June
--------- ----- --- -----
Balbina Herrera 25 26 26
Ricardo Martinelli 20 19 19
Juan Carlos Navarro 13 15 15
Juan Carlos Varela 7 6 7

Voter Confidence in the Candidate

3. (SBU) When respondents were asked how certain they were
that they would vote for their present candidate of choice on
election day, Balbina Herrera polled the strongest voter
confidence among her supporters with 88 percent affirming
that they were "very certain" or "certain" to vote for her.
Loyalty among Martinelli supporters increased 6 points to 85
percent from 79 percent. Juan Carlos Navarro remained steady
among his voting base with 84 percent. Juan Carlos Varela
enjoyed an increase in voter confidence by 5 points to 89
percent. However, it is interesting to note that while most
presidential candidates remained steady or experienced a
slight increase among voters that were "very certain" to
support their candidate, Balbina Herrera's numbers dropped 17
percent in this category to 32 percent from 49 percent in

Herrera Remained PRD Favorite

4. (SBU) Balbina Herrera maintained a strong lead over Juan
Carlos Navarro with 57 percent compared to Navarro's 34
percent. Supporters of the governing PRD party continued to
assert that Herrera was their preferred presidential
candidate. Herrera's significant 22 point gap over Navarro
appeared unbreakable between May and June.

Poll Herrera Navarro
---- ------- -------
May 2008 58% 36%
June 2008 57% 34%

Martinelli Leads Opposition

5. (SBU) Martinelli held as the number one candidate for
president among opposition voters. The candidate experienced
a slight 3 point decrease from 44 percent in May to 41
percent in June. Strong support for Martinelli existed
outside of Panama City with 53 percent of residents in
Chiriqui and Bocas supporting the candidate compared to 39
percent in Panama City and Colon. Martinelli also received
solid backing from the youth demographic (ages 18 to 29) with
53 percent of youth voters supporting Martinelli compared to
44 percent of Panamanians aged 30 to 49. Opposition
challenger Juan Carlos Varela polled a steady 24 percent in
both May and June. The percentage of undecided voters within
the opposition party decreased 4 points to 9 percent.
(Comment: The evaporating percentage of undecided voters
could suggest that Martinelli would remain the opposition's
candidate of choice.)

The Governing Party vs. The Opposition

6. (SBU) When asked which political party was most likely to
win the election, 44 percent of respondents believed that the
PRD's candidate would secure the presidency. Confidence in an
opposition victory increased 4 points from 33 percent in May
to 37 percent in June. However, confidence in a PRD victory
remained static at 44 percent in May and June. Noteworthy is
that 20 percent of respondents interviewed remained
uncertain, a number large enough to have a definite impact on
the 7 point gap between the PRD and the opposition.

7. (SBU) Of the respondents that stated a PRD presidential
candidate would win the general election, 32 percent
considered that the party's advantage as the country's
biggest political organization would be the determining
factor to win the election. In contrast, the primary factor
that secured support for the opposition was the party's
"vision for the future". Among opposition sympathizers, this
dynamic increased 7 points from 19 percent in May to 26
percent in June. In comparison, 14 percent of PRD supporters
believed their political party had a "vision for the future".

8. (SBU) Another important factor noted by respondents is the
level of organization within the parties. 19 percent of PRD
supporters felt that the party was tightly organized compared
to 16 percent within the opposition. Overall belief in the
PRD's organization decreased 5 points from 23 percent to 19
percent, while the opposition decreased from 19 to 16

Continuing Waning Government Approval

9. (SBU) Torrijos' approval ratings continued to decline,
falling from 51 percent in May to 47 percent in June. Along
with the President's depleting popularity, his
administration's approval rating dropped by 6 points from 46
percent in May to 40 percent in June.

10. (SBU) The GOP's legislative branch, the National
Assembly, also received poor performance reviews. When asked
to rate the quality of the National Assembly as excellent,
good, bad, or very bad, 52 percent of respondents believed
the quality of the National Assembly was bad and 10 percent
viewed the legislative branch performance as very bad.

Technical Information

11. (SBU) Dichter & Neira conducted this poll from June 6 to
June 8. All interviews were conducted face-to-face. Only
adults over the age of 18 were interviewed in their homes.
Homes were selected randomly, and the number of homes
selected in a particular area was in proportion to general
population distribution according to socio-economic standing.
Interviews were distributed evenly between men and women.
No interviews were conducted by telephone, at places of 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
1,200 people were interviewed across the country, excluding
the Darien province and the Camarcas. The company asserted a
95 percent level of confidence with a margin of error of 2.9


12. (C) Polling in Panama indicates a high degree of voter
apathy and general disinterest in politics. Of the 1,200
respondents interviewed 56 percent were not affiliated with
any political party. When respondents were asked which
presidential candidate they would vote for in the general
election, 16 percent were undecided and 10 percent stated
they would not support any of the candidates. In addition, 20
percent of those interviewed were uncertain whether they
supported the governing PRD party or the opposition. This
dynamic could indicate that independents would decide the
2009 general elections. Absent an enormous surged in the
final six weeks of the PRD primary campaign, Herrera appears
to have sewed up the PRD's presidential nomination. Press
reports of Dichter & Neira's July poll, a copy of which Post
is endeavoring to obtain, indicate that Herrera has opened up
an even wider lead over Navarro. While in this poll,
Martinelli also secured a 16 point advantage over Varela,
Dichter & Neira's June poll was conducted about one month
before Varela trounced Alberto Vallarino in the Panamenista
Party's July 6 primary. Press reports of Dichter & Neira's
July poll, conducted a couple of days after the Panamenista
Primary, indicated that Varela leapt forward in the national
polls closing the gap with Martinelli and drawing more or
less even with Martinelli and Herrera. At this stage in the
race, it appears that a three-way race for president is
forming: Martinelli, whose CD has formed an alliance with
Patriotic Union (UP), Varela, whose Panamenista Party is
expected to align with the Movement of Liberal Republican
Nationals (MOLIRENA), and Herrera.

© Scoop Media

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