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ARGENTINA | 14-10-2023 12:24

Milei’s vision seduces young Argentine voters

Libertarian presidential candidate is the bookies’ favourite to win the October 22 election, but just a few months ago, he was seen as the outsider. Riding a wave of anger and frustration, Javier Milei is being pushed to the Presidency by a core of young voters who are demanding change in Argentina.

“I am angry that Argentina is not what it can be.”

Facundo Migoya is 22 years old. Born in Buenos Aires, he is tall, fit and lives in a luxurious apartment in Recoleta. He is calm and deliberate as he speaks, eager to give his opinions about next week’s upcoming presidential election. The vote, he explains, comes at “one of the most important times” in the country’s history. 

Argentina’s economic situation is especially dire. According to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, GDP will contract by 2.5 percent this year. Inflation, running at its highest in three decades, is predicted to surpass 170 percent, a recent Central Bank survey revealed. Private estimates put the poverty rate in the first half of the year at between 42 and 43 percent.

Migoya is far from the bread-line. He is “currently working as a financial operator, basically selling and buying stocks of local companies here,” but the instability even reaches him. He plans to return to college next year at the Universidad Católica Argentina. Most likely to study “something around international relations.”

He is also an ardent supporter of the controversial far-right candidate for president, Javier Milei, and is ready to passionately defend the man and his mission for Argentina. 

 

Memories and memes

Migoya’s first memory relating to politics was the 2015 presidential election of Mauricio Macri, but he says he only truly started getting interested in the last year, while following Milei’s candidacy. 

Beginning last year “Milei started to really take a hold of the social media space and the TV and the ratings went up when they put him in.” Part of the reason was Milei’s penchant for angry rants raging against the “political caste.” He calls for massive cuts to government spending, is a fierce opponent of abortion, wants to loosen restrictions on guns and questions the number of those killed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Part of the libertarian’s success with voters has been the use of social media. There are hundreds of accounts online that support him: “El Peluca Milei” has over 162,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter) and nearly one million YouTube subscribers, where they mostly post videos of Milei in interviews or at campaign rallies, which consistently get views into the hundreds of thousands; “Juego de Milei” posts multiple times a day in Spanish and English – they even include a link to a mobile game in their bio through which users can play as a little version of the “super libertarian” and fight against leftists, the political caste and the Central Bank.

Migoya, like many of Milei’s voters, gets a lot of his news online. “I also use traditional media, like newspapers, but I usually don't read articles.” Instead he will “just read the headlines and then go search for the information on Twitter.” 

He does not follow any Twitter accounts that provide political commentary, in fact he doesn't even follow Milei himself, who has a very active Twitter account. 

“I just let the algorithm work. Try to work its magic without me putting likes and whatever. Obviously it can see like what I pay most attention to,” he explains.

In fact, the only well-known political commentator that Migoya follows is US conservative news pundit, Tucker Carlson, whom he became interested in following his interview with Milei, published on X on September 14. Facundo considers the interview to be the “biggest interview in the history of interviews.” He cites the 422 million views that it has accrued on the social media site as evidence for its global impact. 

This experience with social media is a common one for young Milei supporters. For journalist and data analyst Diego Corbalán, it’s an indication of the way politics is changing in the age of social media. 

Corbalán characterises Milei’s online campaign as utilising a form of “horizontal communication,” in which the candidate is not actually the one in control of the flow of information about his campaign. Rather there are “many social media accounts which are endorsed by him” that disseminate his message across a wide network of interconnected “followers, activists and others.”

The message is conveyed through what he calls “a natural movement of the young people” on social media that are sharing content as opposed to the more traditional “vertical” campaigns of Bullrich and Massa which are based on information coming from the candidates and their official accounts, he explained.
 

Explaining the appeal

Asked to describe the appeal of Milei, Migoya says the libertarian captures “the pure rage Argentines feel” right now. Rich with natural resources, Facundo believes that the country is capable of greatness but has consistently been failed by its political class: “We have gas, we have lithium. We have one of the most fertile places in the whole world [ …] And still we can't manage to run a country.”

“That pure, you know, just ‘I'm tired’ and everybody's tired and people say Milei is crazy. But I don't care. Let him be crazy. I'm crazy!”

Political analyst and sociologist Carlos de Angelis attributes Milei’s rise to “two reasons – first, because of his aesthetic forms, his way of expressing himself, and then because of the economic crisis.” 

A liberal economist who has been able to use his social media influence to disseminate far right anti-government ideals to an extremely passionate fanbase. Does this mean that 30 percent of the electorate is now libertarian?

De Angelis is sceptical. For him, the average Milei supporter does not necessarily believe in an anarcho-capitalist vision. They simply “want the hospital to work, they want there to be no picket line blocking the traffic. He wants there to be no insecurity, he wants to be able to go out at night again, as it was 25 years ago.”  

“If you take out the anger and all that from thousands of people and you take all that away from him, Milei becomes just another liberal economist,” argues the expert.

The key, says De Angelis, is in the mix. For him, Milei is pushing as a type of political “syncretism” between elements of populist rhetoric of the left, mixed in with right wing economics that can expand its appeal across ideological lines. 

He tells a story about the time that Milei was invited to a rally in support of the right-wing Vox party and he was unable to use his rhetoric bashing the “political caste” because in Spain, it would be a term associated with the left wing. 

Fighting the establishment rhetoric is essential in appealing to his young fans – even Milei himself recognises it. 

“Young people are the first to have woken up. It has a concrete explanation, they are rebels against the status quo, which is left wing. They are not shackled by political correctness,” Milei said at a recent campaign event in San Juan. 

Facundo even compares his chosen candidate’s campaign to the Occupy Wall Street movement that followed the 2008 recession. To him both are about “bringing power back to the people,” just in the case of Milei it involves taking power from “the politicians that have been ruling us for the last 20 years.” 

 

Class bias 

Migoya admits that he is “fine economically,” unlike so many in Argentina today. He is the son of a successful businessman and a lawyer, lives in a lavish apartment, has a job in finance and will be able to attend a private university. 

“But I am still angry Argentina is not what it can be, right?” 

According to a September analysis of Milei supporters by the CIGP consulting group, Migoya’s situation is in line with the average Milei supporter. They found that 24.6 percent of those that claim they are voting for Milei describe their personal situation as being “good,” while another 45.8 percent evaluate it as “normal.” Only 27.5 percent of them describe their situation as being “poor” or “very poor.” 

The same individuals offer an evaluation of the state of the country as overwhelmingly negative: 94.3 percent describe the situation as “poor” or “very poor.” 

When asked which phrase from Milei’s campaign they identify with 64.6 percent said they agree with “Politicians are a caste.” Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the Milei campaign is his lambasting of career politicians. He claims they have been entrenched in power for many years and have been syphoning off money and resources from the public using their positions in power. 

A similar sentiment was felt in the year of 2001, Argentina’s most recent nightmare of political and economic turmoil. With a mass rejection of the political class that is strikingly similar to that of today, the country cycled through five presidents in the span of just 12 days. The most remembered slogan from the time is “Qué se vayan todos!” (“Begone with them all”) – a sentiment that rings loudly today too.

Milei, however, will not find things so easy if he does win the election. On top of economic turmoil, he will have to try and lead Argentina without a majority in Congress, relying on the support of rivals to pass bills and legislate.

Migoya claims that he is not concerned with the difficulties his candidate will face in trying to get his proposals passed through Congress, if elected. For him, a Milei presidency is only partly about improving the country – it is also about sending a message to politicians that their time is up.

“The political establishment is saying Milei won't be able to govern. I don’t fucking care. You had 70 years to govern … What did you do?”

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Justin Martinez

Justin Martinez

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