Ecuadoran Presidential Approval Rate Drops by 19 Points in 2015 - Will Correa Survive?

The approval rating for Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa fell from 60 percent in January 2015 to 41 percent by December, as mentioned in La Hora on 29 December 2015. The “Hechos y Personajes 2015” poll by Cedatos also showed Correa is the personality most Ecuadorans would burn in effigy as part of the traditional year-end ritual. The ire against Correa also shows the pessimism of the three out of five respondents who feel the country is heading in the wrong direction. The poll concluded anti-government protests organized by opposition forces were the most important political news story of 2015. Aside from political strife, Correa faced a weakening economy resulting partly due to the strengthening U.S. dollar and plummeting earnings from oil sales. Yet, El Comercio reported on 31 December 2015 that Central Bank Director Diego Martinez said the Ecuadoran economy has not fallen into recession in 2015.

Throughout Latin America, presidential approval ratings are falling, causing political instability in some countries. While some presidents including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro have approval ratings far lower than Ecuador’s Correa, Ecuador’s recent history of coups and presidentials resignations make any drop in approval a particular concern. However, for now, it is unlikely Correa will face similar challenges to his power given the following reasons:
First, while Ecuador’s economy slowed to 0.4 percent growth for 2015 and economic predictions for 2016 indicate a continued stall, the economic situation in Ecuador is not dire. The country is not facing a contraction or full blown crisis, like Brazil and Venezuela.

Second, Correa’s PAIS Alliance controls 100 out of 137 seats in Congress. In several instances during the turbulent decade leading up to Correa’s election in 2007, the Ecuadoran presidents were unpopular with and removed by Congress. Even though Correa’s approval ratings are dropping and the economy is not booming, Congress is still on his side, making it unlikely they will push him out. 

Third, even though his approval rating fell 21 points from January 2015 to December 2015, a significant portion of the public still generally supports Correa. He is not experiencing the extremely low rates like other presidents in the region: Brazil’s Rousseff with 8 percent, Chile’s Bachelet with 24 percent, Venezuela’s Maduro with 22 percent. Polls show disapproval does not suggest a majority or even a significant plurality want Correa removed. He maintains a high enough approval rating to ward off any attempts to remove him. He also retains a base of supporters who can provide some supportive counter-protests to maintain a positive image on the streets.

Fourth, shortly after his election in 2007, Correa called for a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution. This constitution, which was approved and now in force, consolidated power in the executive, making it more difficult to dislodge a president prior to the completion of his term.

Fifth, Correa has demonstrated political savvy throughout his tenure. Recently, when protests erupted around the country, reaching 400,000 people regarding legislation on inheritance tax and redistribution of wealth, Correa was quick to withdraw the bills to open up a discussion on the topic and ease tensions. Correa is calculating, finding the best way to alleviate pressure from the protests, pass his legislation, and protect himself from a potentially destabilizing situation. 

Sixth, the widely criticized clamp on free speech also works in Correa’s favor. His intimidation tactics through defamation lawsuits and use of state owned media make it difficult for an independent press to operate and spread any critiques of his administration that could potentially galvanize support to oppose him.

All of the above reasons suggest the chances of Correa being removed in the near future are low. In most countries, large protest would be an indication of destabilization, but in this instance, the current protests have little immediate impact on the stability of the regime. Throughout the second half of 2015, hundreds of thousands throughout Ecuador protested various bills and policies presented by Correa, including inheritance tax increase, changes to redistribution of wealth, and even the amendment to the Constitution on term limits. Despite the size and frequency of the protests, they did not “rock” Correa. In fact, some protesters said they liked Correa, just not his policies, making it seem unlikely they would push for his removal. More importantly, there is no alternative to Correa. While political opposition groups work to organize protests, there is no clear opposition leader or candidate that would threaten his position. The only indicator of destabilization would be loss of support for Correa in Congress. However, this is extremely unlikely given his party controls it, as previously mentioned. Recently, Correa admitted the opposition may try the “Venezuela Strategy,” whereby the opposition focuses on taking over the legislature to gain power. Even if this is the method the opposition chooses to gain power, congressional elections are not until 2017, and by then Correa will have completed his term.