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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 04-11-2023 05:08

A new beginning

A detailed analysis of the migration of votes between the August 13 primaries and the October 22 first round outlines some of the main challenges facing Sergio Massa and Javier Milei in the run-off.

Rarely in Argentine history has an electoral process generated such a consequence as the implosion of one of the majority political forces.

Although somewhat cumbersome, it’s necessary to look at the movement of votes between the PASO primaries and the general elections. On October 22, ruling coalition candidate Sergio Massa won just over 9.6 million votes – 3.2 million more than he won in the primaries with Unión por la Patria in competition with Juan Grabois. If one looks at the votes he obtained alone, he almost doubled his electoral appeal.

Libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei also extended his electoral reach, obtaining almost 7.9 million votes; but he only increased his total by less than 800,000. Opposition candidate Patricia Bullrich, on the other hand, obtained some 6.7 million votes in the primaries, but lost more than 400,000 in the general election.

The fourth contender, Juan Schiaretti of Hacemos por Nuestra País, surprisingly won some 1.8 million votes in the general elections, almost twice as many as in the primaries. The left-wing Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores-Unidad (FIT-U), with Myriam Bregman as its candidate, also managed to attract 260,000 more people in the general elections than in the PASO.

In short, all partiers increased their voting tally – except Juntos por el Cambio.

 

Vote by vote

The number of voters who turned out on October 22 was 3,752,175 (counting only affirmative votes) higher than on August 13, which means that Massa took almost seven out of every 10 new ones and a good part of the orphans, those who backed candidates who did not exceed the 1.5 percent threshold in the primaries. 

One of the biggest unknowns is how the Juntos por el Cambio vote migrated from one stage to the next; it is possible that both La Libertad Avanza and Hacemos por Nuestro País benefited from this exodus. In Buenos Aires Province, the process of capturing the Peronist vote is deepening, taking 50 percent more votes in the general elections than in the previous stage, while JxC fell by more than 400,000 votes nationwide.

The new electoral scenario is anchored in three factors: the freezing of the growth of La Libertad Avanza, led by Javier Milei, the growth of the new form of Peronism, led by Sergio Massa, and the reduction – which has since become the mutation – of Juntos por el Cambio. 

There are no historical parameters against which to evaluate La Libertad Avanza – the libertarian party only made its national electoral debut on August 13t. All that can be said is that in Milei's main district, Buenos Aires City, in the midterm elections of 2021, he got 17.04 percent – on October 22, he obtained 19.84 percent, a meagre increase. Here Patricia Bullrich won 41.22 percent of the vote. Admittedly, Milei starts in a district hegemonised by another political force, which is a difficulty that the PRO overcame in 2003 when Mauricio Macri won the mayoralty. It is difficult to sustain oneself in the national race without a mother district. The case of Córdoba is curious, where in the election’s first round Milei won 33.54 percent (leaving Schiaretti in second place with 29 percent), but quadrupled his national percentage.

 

Changes and ruptures 

The drift of Milei's general proposal generates many questions among those who might have voted for him without belonging to the hardcore, non-Peronist urban middle classes. The libertarian became well-known over the last five years for being an economist who combined the specialised language of his subject with a popular twist, as well as his explosive vehemence. Ending the campaign by calling Pope Francis the "evil one" and with Alberto Benegas Lynch Jr (in Milei’s closing campaign rally)  calling for the suspension of relations with the Vatican, these were issues light years away from social demands. 

Bullrich's collapse is harder to explain. On the one hand, the internal battle against Buenos Aires City Mayor Rodríguez Larreta was hard and wearing, and when she won the primaries, she did not find the expected support behind her. Then again, her campaign was erratic. The journalists' questioning of her economic programme made her oscillate, as a result of the different positions within her own team. The result was that a core of Radical voters became undecided and many changed their vote.

Massa’s rise can be explained by a confluence of factors. On the one hand, the mobilisation of the Peronist structure, governors, mayors and even the candidates for deputies and senators themselves in the primaries relied on the Tigre leader’s drive. Then there was a ‘panic effect,’ both over the possibility that Milei would emerge as the winner in the first round, as well as fears over runaway inflation. Hyperinflation is a spectre that media economists have been predicting for a long time. Despite all the problems, even voters angry with the government that emerged in 2019 preferred to elect someone who is already in charge of the ship. 

 

The table is laid

Faced with the run-off, the prognosis is paradoxical. Milei, arithmetically speaking, could win the race for the Casa Rosada. Based on the voters and how they behaved in the general election, he needs an additional 5.2 million votes, or 75 percent of the combined votes of Juan Schiaretti and Patricia Bullrich. Sergio Massa needs a little more than half of that.

In his post-election speech, Milei could have deepened his anti-politics narrative to become opposition leader having won 35 deputies and eight senators. Instead, he preferred to salute Jorge Macri and Rogelio Frigerio (the net winners of the day) and shift his discourse to a distinctly anti-Kirchnerite tone. Bullrich's speech could be heard in the libertarian's voice – one could sense that the talks with Mauricio Macri were already ripe when he perceived the chances of winning in the first round had vanished.

The Unión Cívica Radical made a virtue out of necessity. Emboldened by the numerous governors and mayors elected (the same ones mentioned in Bullrich's TV spots) they believe that they have a chance of now leading the opposition. Effervescence is confused with improvisation and the declared “freedom of action” for PRO party members can lead to micro-disruptions, not a few will join a possible government of Sergio Massa. The press conferences and counter-conferences of the various opposition sectors in the post-election week will go down in the history of political scandal.

As a result of the Milei-Bullrich pact, the maximalist programme of La Libertad Avanza has been put on hold, except for dollarisation and the elimination of the Central Bank. It is likely that the LLA's hardcore vote will not be affected by the new directions as they are prone to abide by its leader's decisions. The unknown is its impact on the new voters it must win over.

 

Rare new Argentina

As a result of all the fuss – the calls for challenges, abstention or directly taking the weekend off – it is likely that on November 19, the number of so-called ‘blank’ or ‘spoiled’ votes will increase dramatically.

The election which registered the most ‘protest votes’ (in this context, blank or spoiled votes) in recent history was that of 2001 with 23 percent of those valid, surpassing the 19.4 percent of 1963 when Juan Perón called for a blank vote.

In this context, Sergio Massa has two challenges for this short period of time: to sustain or increase the number of voters who turn out to vote and to try to ensure that Argentina’s economic situation does not get out of hand in the meantime. 

On the first issue, he must sustain the territorial intensity, preventing the political and electoral structure from relaxing. On the second – and endogenously – he must avoid exchange rate jumps and show the electorate that he has a way to lower inflation in a sustained manner: Argentina's great demand in 2023.

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Carlos De Angelis

Carlos De Angelis

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