With 11 weeks remaining in the presidential campaign, Danilo Medina is poised for reelection with a double-digit lead over Luis Abinader. If the election were held today, 55 percent of Dominicans would vote for Medina, with 34 percent choosing Abinader; Guillermo Moreno and Amable Aristy Castro get 2 and 1 percent, respectively, with the rest of the candidates under 1 percent. Among those most likely to vote on 15 May, Medina’s lead grows: 59 percent of likely voters support Medina while 36 percent are for Abinader.
Medina has a substantial lead, but 11 weeks is a long time. Though his support is strong, the survey reveals some potential vulnerabilities for the president: most importantly in his handling of corruption. At the same time, Abinader’s image has improved over the past year, the PRM is growing, and he is starting to consolidate support. Under the right set of circumstances, Abinader could make this race more competitive.
The nationwide survey fielded February 12 to 18 and was designed and analyzed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, an international polling firm based in Washington, DC. One thousand and two Dominican adults were interviewed, of which 704 were identified as likely voters (representing 70 percent of the voting-age population). The margin of error on random samples of 1,002 and 704 are plus or minus 3.1 and 3.7 percent, respectively, at confidence intervals of 95 percent. The survey fielded before the arrest of presidential advisor Joao Santana, and before President Medina’srendición de cuentas.
Voters feel better off, credit Medina
Medina approaches the 2016 presidential election well-liked and with a strong record. A 66-28 percent majority of Dominicans say their life has gotten better over past four years. Driving this is improvements in education, electricity, and health: 89 percent say the education is getting better in the Dominican Republic, 62 percent say electricity and blackouts are improving, and 53 percent say health care is getting better. Voters largely credit the president with these improvements. Ninety-two percent say they approve of the job he is doing on education, 62 percent approve of his job on electricity, and 67 percent approve of his work on health.
As result, a 59 percent majority wants to continue with the direction President Medina is taking the country and his overall approval rating is strong at 80 percent. His approval cuts across party lines: while 93 percent of peledistas approve of his job, 56 percent of PRM partisans, and even 63 percent of 2012 Hipólito Mejia voters approve of his job as president.
“The sense of progress Dominican voters feel is remarkable,” said Jessica Reis, a vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner who directed the poll. “Voters are looking for continuity, especially when framed around social issues, like health and education. If Danilo Medina can keep his campaign focused on these issues, he will likely be the first Dominican president to be consecutively elected.”
Medina is strong across many demographic groups, but there is persistent gap between how women and men are voting. Among women, Medina wins by over 30 points: 60 to 28 percent for Abinader. Among men the race is much more competitive: only 9 points separate Medina and Abinader, 50 to 41 percent. This gender gap is consistent with past Diario Libre-GQR polls; our pre-election poll in 2012 found that while women were voting for Medina 57-39 percent over Hipólito Mejia, Mejia was winning men with 53 to 45 percent of their vote.
The president is slightly stronger with younger voters. He wins 58 percent of those under age of 35, and 52 percent of those older. Abinader has relatively more support among lower-educated Dominicans: he wins 36 percent of the vote among those with primary education or less (compared to 30 percent of those with university or higher).
Given the gains over the past 4 years, the President is stronger with those who receive government benefits. Among the 28 percent of Dominicans who report to benefit from abono or social program, Medina has a 73-20 percent advantage. Among those that do not directly benefit, there is only a 10-point spread between Medina and Abinader, 49-39 percent.
PRM and Abinader’s support up since last year, but not yet enough
Though Abinader significantly trails the president, his position has improved over the past year. In March 2015, Abinader had just 16 percent of the vote against Medina, and only 85 percent of voters could identify him. Over the last year, Abinader has more than doubled his vote and increased his identification by 10 points to 95 percent.
Not only is Abinader is better known, but he also has a more favorable image than last year. Thirty-five percent of Dominicans have a positive image of him, up 13 points from last year. Abinader’s ability to consolidate PRM and PRD-defecting support drives his favorability growth. Since last year, Abinader’s favorability is up 18 points among those who voted for Mejía in 2012, and is up 20 points among PRM partisans.
Despite this consolidation, Abinader is not yet fully capturing Hipólito Mejia’s 2012 voters. Only 71 percent of those who voted for Mejia are now supporting Abinader, and almost a quarter of Mejia’s voters in 2012 are now supporting Medina. These defectors are older voters, and are lower on the income scale, an audience with which Abinader lacks Hipólito Mejías’s appeal.
Beyond his base, Abinader has made some inroads – albeit from a very low starting point – with women. Among all women, his favorability rating is up 12 points since last year (to 30 percent favorable), and among young women in particular, his favorable rating has grown by 18 points (to 33 percent favorable).
Medina potentially vulnerable on corruption
Though Medina is strong across many issue areas, corruption is a potential liability for the president’s reelection bid. Thirty-seven percent of Dominicans says corruption is one of their top concerns, roughly steady from last year, but up 16 points since 2012. Further, an overwhelming 81 percent majority say corruption is getting worse in the country (up 9 points from last year).
The poll suggests Dominicans have some doubt about the president’s ability to confront this growing concern. A 55 percent majority disapproves of the job Medina is doing on fighting corruption. And the share that has confidence he would do the best job handling corruption is at 47 percent, 8 points under his vote.
Currently, 20 percent of voters think the president is corrupt himself. While not overwhelming, this is higher than the 12 percent share that believe Abinader is corrupt. Further, this poll fielded before the arrest of Medina advisor Joao Santana, which may have an impact on perceptions.
Dominicans have seen the impact of corruption charges on once-revered leaders. When he left office, Leonel Fernandez had a robust approval rating and 45 percent of Dominicans’ had a favorable view of him. Now, only 23 percent of Dominicans feel favorable toward him. The Diario Libre-Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll last year showed that a majority believe the former president used drug money in his campaigns, and a majority named him the most corrupt national leader.
“It is hard to speculate the impact of the Santana case,” said Reis. “But if there is something that can undermine Medina’s support and shake up this race – this could be it. In our next poll, we will see how much voters have heard about the case, the impact it has, and if voters – especially Medina’s supporters – believe it implicates their president.”
Push for debates helps Abinader
The call for debates is a way Luis Abinader can highlight transparency and potentially put Medina on the defensive. A 74 percent majority approve of Abinader’s recent request for president debates. It is not a partisan issue: 70 percent of current Medina voters, 79 percent of perredistas, and 82 percent of Abinader’s supporters support having a debate.
This could be a potential opening for the PRM candidate. A 60 percent majority of Dominicans say Abinader’s call for debates makes them feel more favorable toward him. Voters across key groups say it improve their view of Abinader. A plurality of undecided voters, a majority of soft Medina supporters, and a majority of women say they feel more favorable toward Abinader based on his public call for debates.
While Abinader’s request makes most feel more favorable, voters are split on the PLD’s rejection of the debate process. A 47 percent plurality say the PLD’s response – that "quien esta ganado, no discute” and subsequent refusal – makes them feel less favorable toward the president. Fifty-three percent of undecided voters feel less favorable toward Medina based on this response, and majorities of university educated voters, and voters in the Distrito Nacional also feel less favorable.
Crime and insecurity worse from last year; some economic skepticism
Worries about crime have started to rebound after a sharp decrease since the last election. In 2012, 55 percent of Dominicans listed crime as a top concern; now, 28 percent do – 3 points higher than last year’s historic low.
An overwhelming 85 percent majority of Dominicans say crime is getting worse, up 19 points from last year. And most disapprove of the job Medina is doing. Further, only 43 percent say he would do a better job than Abinader handling crime.
“While it is true that crime is a much less dominate issue than it was in 2012, Medina will need to give voters a reassurance that he understand the problem and will have an approach to improve security in his next term,” Reis said. “His rendición de cuentas is likely to heavily promote achievements in education and other social issues, but he needs to give voters a sense that he is working on security issues too.”
Dominicans split on Haitian immigration policy
Dominicans are split on the 2013 Tribunal Supremo ruling stripping citizenship from those who were born to a non-citizen: 47 percent support the ruling and 45 percent oppose. There is no clear partisan or ideological divide in support: the same share of Medina voters and Abinader voters support the ruling.
What is clearer is that Haitian immigration is a lower tier concern for Dominicans: just 10 percent list it as one of their top two concerns. There is some support, however, for the deportations under this ruling. Sixty-eight percent support the recent deportations of people of Haitian descent.
Medina is able to capitalize on some of this anti-Haitian sentiment. A 56 percent majority say the deportation policy makes them feel more favorable toward the president, including 62 percent of his own voters, and even 49 percent of Abinader’s voters. Partly as result, a 60 percent majority say they approve of the job Medina is doing on dealing with immigration in to the Dominican Republic.
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