According to Gallup opinion polls conducted in Chile, at least 65 per cent of the population supports the current government, a four-man military junta led by President Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The polls, commissioned by the junta every six months since early 1975, also show Chileans as considering their economic problems much more serious causes for concern than human-rights violations or the lack of freedom of expression.
The polls are conducted by Gallup Chile, one of a number of worldwide franchises sold by U.S. pollster George Gallup. While the Chilean polling group has no corporate connection to the U.S. operation, all franchise purchasers must agree to use the same Gallup sampling methods.
The poll results seem to run counter to international concern over human rights in Chile, and to criticism of the junta, which seized power in a 1973 coup, as a repressive and unrepresentative government. Most of the criticism from abroad, however, has been directed at the regime's treatment of those it sees as opponents, not of the general population.
Still, pollsters admit that one problem of conducting surveys here is that "people are afraid to answer" because of possible government reprisals.
"People in Chile lie," said one Santiago sociologist, "because you never know if [government security police] will get hold of the answers.
"When a stranger comes into the house here and starts asking political questions," he said, most Chileans will say what they think the government wants to hear. Names of those interviewed are not taken, but addresses are.
But the head of the local Gallup firm, Guillermo Chadwick, said he believes the number of false reponses to be minimal. Each survey, he said, contains several "check" questions to weed out lairs.
In addition, Chadwick said, "It's very difficult to lie consistently" for the entire 45-minute series of questions.
He also suggested that when respondents' primary concern is economic survival, they give less consideration to other aspects of life.
The junta stopped publishing its poll results last year, and the documents are now stamped "confidential." While no explanation has been offered for the halt, international critics had consistently challenged the poll results as inaccurate by dd definition in a country where free expression is minimal.
In all polls taken since 1975, human rights has rated little concern among Chileans, while economic problems have been described as increasingly grave.
In December, 59 per cent of those polled considered unemployment, currently running around 14 per cent according to official estimates, a "very serious" problem. A similar concern was recorded over inflation, expected to total around 70 per cent this year, and over wage rates.
While 71 per cent of Chileans said that they believe that the junta's economic policy - emphasizing a free marketa, climination of subsidies and a high level of imports at the expense of noncompetitive local industries - is favorable for the country, only 40 per cent said the policy has favored them personally.
Persons in all socio-economic groups questioned said they believe the economic situation of the poorer classes to be worse today than it was five years ago, under the Marxist coalition government of Salvador Allende.But in at least one indication that they have confidence in the future of the current economic policy, all groups said they expect their personal status to improve greatly within the next year.
While human rights has consistently rated at the bottom of the list of overall concerns, those in higher socio-economic groups generally indicate it as a greater problem than low-income, low-education groups do. At the same time., while economic problems have consistently rated at the top of everyone's list, poorer people rated them as more serious than upper-income Chileans did.
Another poll question asked Chileans to choose their preference among several types of governments. In December, 46 per cent said they sould continue with the current military government. While a substantial percentage said they would like more civilian participation in the government, only 12 per cent said they favored immediateelections.