Argentine Presidential race “too open to call”

Interel Global Partnership members, Identia PA, give us their views on the upcoming Presidential election in Argentina, the candidates and what it means for the country.

The Primary Elections of August 9th left many questions unanswered. The “picture” candidates were expecting to crystallize never did. The incumbent Peronist party obtained 38% of the votes, well behind the 45% needed to win on the first round, according to the National Constitution. The opposition has over 60% of the votes if you count them all together, but these are split between several candidates who do not necessarily have the same profile of voter. Therefore, the election is open. Voting in primaries in Argentina is mandatory for all eligible citizens, the same rule as the general election. This makes primaries work as test for the general elections, and at the same time electors pick which candidates participate.

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Argentina does not only elect a new President this year but also 1/2 of the House and 1/3 of the Senate. According to all estimations, the new Congress will be split in three main factions, meaning that making political agreements will be necessary for any President to rule.The ruling Peronist Party (Frente para la Victoria) presented a single candidate, Gov. Daniel Scioli, who obtained 38% of the votes. Mauricio Macri, Major of the City of Buenos Aires, won the primaries of Cambiemos (center-right coalition). He obtained 24% of the votes, while all the votes the Cambiemos coalition obtained added up to 30%. Congressman Sergio Massa won the nomination for the UNA (Join) Coalition and was the third most voted candidate with 14% of the votes (UNA added up 20%). Hence Mr. Macri and Mr. Massa are the main challengers ahead of the election in October.

Economics

In order to forecast any result it is fundamental to analyze how society understands or perceives were the country stands economically today. Candidates offer three alternatives to the population: continuity (Scioli), partial changes (Massa) and radical change (Macri). As the economy is the main ground for people’s choice, the evolution of this variable is of great importance to understand how people will vote in October. Most economic variables are on yellow alerts, but it still seems like most voters think the economy is getting better. Some economic problems deserve more attention than others: the currency exchange rate (the official rate makes economy uncompetitive and restrictions to public access to US dollars created an illegal market for hard currencies), unemployment and access to goods. Distortion of the currency market and unemployment are traditionally the factors that produce moments of unrest and bigger social preoccupation in Argentina. On the other hand access to goods is revealed to be one of the pillars on which the official party rests, especially for citizens who voted for its candidate Daniel Scioli and will probably vote for him again.

Cristina Fernandez De Kirchner 

The president is still one of the central players in the country because of her way of communicating, because of the importance that she has given to her office and because the results of the primaries do not reveal a clear winner. Her communicational volume builds up her power to take decisions that change the situation of millions of Argentines very quickly (an increase in family allowance, budget items, tax reform etc.), making her play a prominent role at the campaign. At the same time, her presence or absence as a central player for Scioli´s campaign may be one of the determinants of the electoral results.

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Low convictions

The primaries showed certain indifference in some citizens both towards voting and towards actively paying attention to the campaigns. This could be explained by various elements related to the characteristics of the candidate’s leadership skills or the fact that none of the primary fronts looked particularly competitive. In our measurement, done a few days before the elections, the question about how decided the electorate probed to be a striking variable and a behavior that’s out of usual for an electoral process. Three days before the election only 54% claimed they had decided their vote. And even a few days before the election 31% said they were open to voting either Macri or Massa, 23% said they could end up voting either Massa or Scioli and 19% could choose either Macri or Scioli.

Different challenges for Macri and Scioli 

Scioli is the one who must work less numerically to achieve his objective. Whoever, his challenge is not so much the absolute number of votes he must get but what characteristics do the voters have in relation to the “incumbent variable”. Then, even if he can get the support of some voters who are close to the current government, his campaign must focus on convincing both independents and voters who are slightly critical of the current government. This implies Scioli faces the necessity of giving a message that reveals some predisposition to change or self criticism.

Macri on the contrary needs to find a bigger number of Scioli´s voters but they seem to be, in general “more similar” to the ones that are currently voting him. This means his challenge lies not so much in communicating campaign topics but in incorporating political elements that show he has the leadership capabilities necessary for constructing a perception that it is possible to defeat Scioli, consolidating Cambiemos votes and persuading people who chose UNA candidates in the primaries.

The Congress and the honeymoon 

Lastly, there is a fundamental element that must be taken into account when analyzing the coming elections. The distribution of seats in congress in relation to the challenges the next president will face. The economic teams of all mayor candidates apparently agree that is necessary to make certain changes to the current economic policies in the first months of the next administration, either gradually or as a shock. The congress may play a key part in how this challenge plays out, in particular before a citizenship that seems to read the current economic reality in a different way.

Considering the results of the last election (that will not necessarily be repeated in October), the congress will not suffer many modifications in the Senate. Then Frente para la Victoria will probably maintain its place as the main force inside it, and may even get a few more seats. The real challenge resides in the composition of the House of Representatives where the Frente para la Victoria has to repeat its best historical performance (2011) and the opposition comes from an underwhelming midterm election. It looks like the incumbent party will not be able to get its own quorum, at least with congressmen and women belonging to their own party. Hence the performance of its main allies will have to be analyzed. The Frente Cambiemos on the other had looks like a plausible second minority.

Conclusions

The Argentine presidential race is far from being closed. Either Mr. Scioli or Mr. Macri could win. Even Mr. Massa stands his chances. According to the national electoral system, to be proclaimed in the first round, a candidate must obtain 45% of the votes or between 40% and 45% with a difference of 10% between the first and the second. Scioli is 7% behind and is unlikely to obtain the necessary votes to win in October. Therefore the race will probably be decided in the runoff scheduled for late November. There, opposition candidates stand the best chances to win as most of the voters opted for opposition candidates in the primaries. As many analysts put it these day, the one who makes fewer mistakes will win.

To read more about how elections in Argentina are run, and for more facts on Argentina, download the full report.

Author

Lauren Roden

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