By Liam Higgins
Despite a severe economic recession and the added burden of recovering from a major earthquake, President Rafael Correa maintains one of the highest approval ratings in Latin America. In Ecuador, his numbers are the highest of the last seven presidents near the end of their administrations.
According to the Profiles polling organization, Correa has a 51% approval rating among 932 Ecuadorians living in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil. Another poll, conducted three weeks ago by the University of San Francisco, gave Correa a 42% positive rating.
The Cedatos – Gallup poll, which has the best record for accuracy in predicting election results, gives the president his lowest rating at 39%. This is a rebound from June numbers, which put him at 32%.
Although the poll average is well below 50%, it is enough to rank him among the top four most popular chief executives in Latin America. In Ecuador, the average popularity of presidents near the end of their tenures was 14% since 2000. With the exception of two interims, all five of the elected presidents immediately preceding Correa, were forced out of office before the end of their four-year terms.
Correa’s standing among the public poses a major challenge for his opponents in the February 2017 national elections. Although it is unsure if he will seek another term in office — a Correa candidacy would have to overcome at least two legal prohibitions — his Alianza País party appears in reasonably good shape to withstand challenges from both the right and the left. Polls show Correa, as well as former Vice President Lenin Moreno and current Vice President Jorge Glass, leading possible challengers by double digits. This too is a change from early June, where one poll showed Correa narrowly losing to challenger Guillermo Lasso.
Given the ideological splits in the country, Quito political analyst and polling consultant Paúl Martinez, says Alianza País is in good position too hang on to power. “They will probably lose their super majority in the National Assembly but, at this point, I don’t see a serious challenge to the presidency,” he said.
He adds: “The challenge from right, particularly from Lasso and (Cynthia) Viteri, has not really come together and, as of today, I don’t see that changing.”
Martinez says that recent polling does, however, indicate problems for Correa and País. “A majority of voters say they are troubled by the economy. They also have serious reservations about Correa’s governing style, and the increase in taxes, import restrictions, and government control of civil society,” he says. “The base of his support is not as strong as it has been for most of his presidency and there dissatisfaction about the direction that the country is headed.”
Correa has defended his handling of the economy against charges that he “squandered” resources during the period when Ecuador’s oil revenues were at record highs. He claims his investment in infrastructure and human resources positions Ecuador for a bright future. “I make no apologies,” he said last week. “I consider improving the lives of our people the best savings plan.”
Martinez says that there is evidence to back up Correa’s claim. “In the past, when the economy went bad, there was nothing to show for the good time,” he says. “Today, people can see the highways, hospitals, public transportation systems, and schools the administration has built. They can take advantage of improved public medical services and they feel safer because of improved law enforcement. Yes, he probably should have saved more for a rainy day, but the things he invested in are visible and tangible.”