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ARGENTINA | 26-07-2023 15:04

Voter turnout set to be defining factor in Argentina’s election

Voter turnout will impact Argentina's presidential race, benefiting passionate candidates Bullrich and Milei, while low expected turnout poses challenges for Larreta.

Voter turnout is likely to be a defining factor in Argentina’s wide-open presidential race, as declining participation rates tend to favour candidates with more ardent followers such as hard-liner Patricia Bullrich and outsider Javier Milei, according to top polling firm Isonomía.

Juan Germano, a director at the Buenos Aires-based pollster, said such a trend can be observed in different types of surveys his firm has carried out. Bullrich and Milei perform better in phone and online interviews that usually attract more motivated Argentines, while centrist Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Economy Minister Sergio Massa are favoured by in-person interviews.

The gap is considerable and raises additional concerns about the accuracy of Argentine polls, which already have a spotty track record. 

As an example, Germano cited different surveys for the August 13 primary election that will determine the candidate for the main opposition coalition — which pollsters say stands good chances of winning the October election. While some online or telephone polls give Bullrich a double-digit lead, in-person surveys put her in a close tie with Rodríguez Larreta. 

“Polls are not marginal; it’s a world of a difference” depending on the methodology, Germano said in a recent interview. “There is a type of voter who is a lot calmer, quieter, more removed, more apathetic, and we have to see if they vote or don’t vote.”

The bad news for Rodríguez Larreta is that, with many Argentines disillusioned with years of economic and currency crises that have destroyed incomes and hurt living standards, pollsters warn that this year’s turnout could be the lowest in Argentina’s history. Rodríguez Larreta, who has built his campaign on pragmatism and coalition-building, has the most to lose in that scenario, Germano said.

 

More in-person interviews

Like other top pollsters, Isonomía only shares numbers with paying clients. His polls show voter intention for Bullrich, who had grown steadily for weeks, plateauing since Massa entered the race in late June, flanked by the Peronist coalition led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. 

Germano said the economy minister’s perceived competitive edge could drive opposition voters away from the hard right and toward the centre, if Rodríguez Larreta can seize the final sprint of the campaign.

“Can Rodríguez Larreta turn around and convince voters that it’s necessary to be more pragmatic, more open to beat Massa?” he said. “That’s what’s on the line.”

Isonomía doubled its field interviews this year, after 2019 polls were very far from actual results. In-person responses now make up 85 percent of their poll data, compared to 40 percent in 2019. 

Germano expects voter participation to drop below 75 percent in the August primaries, despite mandatory elections in the South American nation. In local elections this year, participation dropped to 69 percent from a previous 74 percent, according to newspaper La Nación.

On a TV interview Sunday night, Massa encouraged voters to take the primary vote seriously.

“This is the first half of a game that could have a first half, a second half and overtime,” he said. “We have to go and look for the results in the first half.” 

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by Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg

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