Depending on whom you ask, Hugo Chavez was either a brutal dictator or an inspiring revolutionary. But his legacy comes into sharper contrast when you consider how public opinion changed over the course of his 14-year presidency.

Despite the outpouring of grief since Chavez's death, especially among poor Venezuelans, a series of polls in 2009 showed decreased confidence in Chavez both in Venezuela and around the region. One Gallup poll, pictured above, found that Venezuelan approval of the Chavez government dropped from 61 percent in 2006 to 47 percent three years later.

Even at its height, Chavez's domestic approval was not universal. A 2007 Pew poll bore out a common theme of the Chavez story: the poor loved him; the rich and well-educated, not so much.

Chavez also grew increasingly controversial in Latin America as his presidency wore on. A 2009 Gallup poll found his approval in neighboring Colombia at a dismal 14 percemt.

His approval was also low elsewhere in Latin America: A 2007 Pew poll put public confidence under 20 percent in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Peru. His approval was comparable in the U.S. (18 percent) and actually a bit higher in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.

While public opinion suggests how Chavez might be remembered, it doesn't answer the question of what he actually achieved during his 14 years in office. As The Economist notes in its Chavez "reckoning," poverty did go down -- and oil revenues did go up -- during the president's tenure. But those trends have more to do with the dramatic rise in the world price of oil than any of Chavez's policies. And chavismo's economic tenets, the magazine argues, caused Venezuela to suffer greater losses for longer after the 2008 slowdown.

(Via the Economist)

Meanwhile, on the civic front, many have argued that Chavez's hold on state institutions stifled free speech and silenced his opponents. The last time Gallup polled Venezuelans on free speech, only 40 percent said they felt safe and respected making political comments in public. Fifteen percent said they or a relative had been denied an opportunity on political grounds -- the highest rate among the Latin American countries polled.


It will be up to Chavez's successor to heal -- or continue -- those types of divisions. For now, that successor appears to be former Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who has promised only to never be "traitors to the people and to Chavez."