What actually drives Venezuelan voters in America?

What brings Venezuelans to choose one candidate over another? As we move from the presidential election into choosing governors, political analysts are asking themselves this very question. It has taken on a whole new relevance now that deciphering the Hispanic vote in the United States has become such a hot topic.

The typical Hispanic American voter is someone who probably recently came from Latin America, or whose family came only a few generations ago, with all the cultural baggage that entails. Of Hispanic voters in the United States, only a few are Venezuelan-American: According to the Census Bureau, Americans with Venezuelan ancestry account for 0.4 percent of the Hispanic population. Venezuelans share many traits with other Latin American cultures, which may be useful in exploring the values that Venezuelans hold dear.

Venezuelans are generally of mixed race. As the noted Venezuelan sociologist J.M. Briceño Guerrero writes, the mix of black, native, and Spanish blood coexisting in the same person creates a peculiar social dynamic.

In his book, "The Labyrinth of the Three Minotaurs," Briceño Guerrero discusses the "savage discourse" that comes from the heritage of slavery and the imposition of European culture on an unwilling native population. This view of the world, he says, "is a vehicle for the nostalgia for non-European, non-Western ways of life, a refuge for cultural horizons apparently closed off by the imposition of Europe on Latin America. To this discourse, both the rationalist European and the Hispanic-colonial discourses are foreign and strange, strata of oppression, representatives of an alterity that cannot be assimilated and cannot rid itself of the savage's apparent submission, occasional rebelliousness, permanent mischievousness and dark nostalgia."

Briceño Guerrero is obviously not saying that Latin Americans are "savage," but that one cannot neglect the inheritance of a culture that has been suppressed by the other two ways of thinking ("rationalist European" and "Hispanic-colonial"). "These three great underlying discourses," he writes, "are present in every Latin American, though with intensities that vary according to social class, place, psychic level, age, and the time of day."

So, if Venezuelans have an anti-Euro-rationalist streak in their veins, how does it manifest itself politically?

For one, Venezuelans are distrustful of business. Although they are quite entrepreneurial, they do not believe that a person makes their own success. There is no satisfactory criollo translation for "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps." Venezuelans believe their home to be a rich country -- and their "wealth" comes from the enormous amounts of black goo found underneath our feet. Success in Venezuela is associated with being lucky enough to connect your daily activities to the flow of cash emanating from the sale of oil. Naturally, Venezuelans are distrustful of the wealthy. They are seen as beneficiaries of a system that excludes the masses. Ergo, they vote for a populist snake-charmer like Hugo Chávez time and again.

Venezuelans also have a curious relationship with issues of public policy. They generally favor big government solutions to their problems, even though government seldom solves anything. For an example, most Venezuelans reelected a president that has presided over a dramatic worsening of the one problem they deem far more serious than any other: Rising crime.

In conversations with chavista supporters, it is not uncommon to hear that they do not blame Chávez for the crime wave. They speak as if crime is something that simply happens. The government, they will hint, is not responsible for rising crime. The thugs are.

Venezuelans actually do want big government -- they just want it run better. Venezuela has a state-run health care system, but it is poorly managed. These social programs are so popular that the opposition dare not touch them. And in the end, nobody in Venezuela actually proposes to reduce the size of government. Thus "Get government out of the way" is not a winning motto in Latin America. Even in nominally right-wing governments, such as those in Chile or Mexico, government spending as a percentage of GDP has grown in recent years.

Finally, Venezuelan voters are sentimental, and they tend to vote for the person whom they identify with the most. The "beer test" usually trumps ideology or political philosophy.

This poses unique challenges for conservative parties, albeit not insurmountable ones. For one thing, Venezuelans are distrustful of cultural elites, and tend to be conservative on social issues. It is also worth noting that Venezuelans in the United States probably want a government that works to create jobs regardless of its ideology.

But while Venezuelans are naturally entrepreneurial, many have witnessed in their home country how big government can squash opportunities. They came to the United States looking for a society that allows them to reach their potential. These are all cultural aspects that a conservative party could identify with.

In the end, reaching out to Hispanic voters is going to require a bit more research regarding the cultural values they share, and they may be quite different from what either party is used to seeing.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democracy Lab

This is not a 'fresh take' on Gaza

Gaza resident Asem Alnabeh posted a photo of his little sister Nesma earlier tonight in their home. Her name means breeze. "But she really isn't," her brother writes me. "she's very impish!"

Nesma's house has lost electric power. There are fighter jets roaring over the house, and there are explosions never too far away -- not sufficiently far for the worried parents to attempt to calm their kids by lying to them that "oh, that was nothing."

And yet there she sat, by the light of a neon lamp, scribbling in a notebook.

She's doing her homework. And she's smiling.

Gaza poses a serious difficulty to journalists. With wars waged against it in a near-metronomic rhythm in the weeks prior to Israeli elections, journalists run out of fresh angles to present.

What could I write for this article?

I could, of course, recap a timeline of events that brought us to today, attempting to debunk the ludicrous notion that the Israeli onslaught is but retaliation after long-held self-control. I could tell you about the victims, show you pictures. Don't worry, not the graphic kind, not the broken bodies of children that their parents will have to pick up and bury. This is the mainstream media, after all.

Perhaps I could write about how the IDF is making a game out of the war, giving points and virtual badges (30 different kinds!) the way social media websites do, to encourage people to read and spread its version of reality. I could write about how the army spokesperson and the prime minister are waging a Twitter war, mostly against facts and reason and occasionally against the Hamas social media avatars. ("Hamas social media avatars," incidentally, is not a sentence I expected I would ever write).

Or how the religious undertones of this war, named after a divine act of terror, point to the entrenched intractability of the conflict as the parties become increasingly religiously stubborn and divinely driven to kill.

I could write about how the propaganda war and distorted metrics. It is the nature of headlines to rely on a sordid body count. (50 to 3! Hey, one more dead here! Oh, but is she a civilian, does she count?) CBC news reports the victims in different font sizes, depending on citizenship. Reuters headlines give precedence to the number of rockets launched over Palestinians killed.

Then there's the misinterpretation of numbers, the comparison of oranges and apples, if you will. The media endlessly parrot the Israeli-supplied numbers of rockets launched by Hamas -- a little over 800 so far, we are told -- letting the big number go by undisputed without pointing out that the vast majority of rockets miss their targets, given that Hamas' kitchen rockets are by-and-large so ridiculous it's almost doubtful they will launch to begin with. More importantly, the media fails to report the converse figure of Israeli rockets launched on Gaza. I could not find any tally of missiles launched. By the IDF's own figures, though, it has fired at almost a thousand targets already, meaning that the rockets expended were several multiples of that. So it's been thousands altogether. Fired from the ground, the air, and the sea with all the accuracy the American taxpayer's annual gift of $3 billion can buy.

Many journalists are also reporting -- and rightly so, I might add -- about Israeli citizens terrified by the alert sirens and running into shelters. It is a horrible situation, and a horror no one should have to endure. Palestinian parents are as afraid for their children's lives as Israelis are, but I see far fewer reports that point out that Palestinians have no alert sirens, no shelters, and no way to escape Gaza if they so desired, since Israel enforces a tight ground and naval blockade on the occupied territory (with the active complicity of Egypt, I might add). I could write about that too, I suppose.

Or, invoking earlier wars in 2006 and 2008, I could embark on a lengthy commentary attempting to explore Israel's motives for launching this new war. I could make the argument that, as in the previous wars it launched with equally unclear goals, Israel's strategy will have to be to keep bombing Gazans until it reaches what the military leadership and the public opinion deem an acceptable outcome, namely a sufficiently high body count to assist prime minister Netanyahu's reelection.

I could write any of those articles, but I will not. I will deliberately be uncreative. Because at the end of the day, this war is about this lovely little girl, who's probably gotten acquainted to the sound of explosions -- a horrible thing for a child to be acquainted with, but consider that most of Gaza's children already suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder -- and who is just doing her homework, and probably just wants this noise to stop and the streets to be safe so she can play with her friends outside.

The war is about little Nesma doing her homework, and about the country with its advanced army and its fighter jets, willing to kill her for electoral polls results.

This is not a conflict of equals. There is no "both sides must." There is a side fighting for its life under fire, and another set on sowing death. This is a one-sided massacre.

And as you read this, there's probably a U.S.-donated fighter jet bombing a house, just like hers, killing a little girl just like Nesma. Think about this for a moment.

Photo by Asem Alnabeh