December 18, 2013
Primaries reveal ‘centrist’ voters exist
By Marcelo Falak
What does Sergio Massa’s victory mean for Argentina’s political landscape?
Is it possible for a government to lose a key election, which could entail the end of an entire era, and, at the same time, show evidence of having produced a huge change in people’s way of thinking? In the aftermath of last Sunday’s primary election results, the answer is yes.
The headline-grabbing issue was the emergence of Sergio Massa as a possible national leader, with good chances of becoming a competitive presidential candidate in 2015.
When something like this happens, it is easy to get carried away with exaggerations, but that is not the aim of this article — Massa has yet to prove that the role fits him, which is not completely certain due to the short time elapsed since Sunday’s election and because of some inconsistencies during the current campaign.
The point is to underline that Sunday’s results, which could show some even sharper trends on October 27, unveiled the existence of a “centrist” constituency, not defined according to the rules imposed by Argentine politics in recent years. An electorate that is neither strongly Kirchnerite nor anti-Kirchnerite, a group of voters who could add up to a national majority, has appeared on the scene.
Buenos Aires province represents almost 40 percent of the Argentine electorate. There, after a short campaign of 45 days, Massa won 35 percent of the votes, 13.54 percent in national terms. The actual midterm election could even allow him to go well beyond 40 percent in the district and, more importantly, to seduce Peronist and non-Peronist mayors and governors anxious to find a new political leader. That is a very well-known story.
It is a biased mistake to compare the 29.65 percent obtained by Cristina Kirchner’s candidate Martín Insaurralde in Buenos Aires on Sunday to the 57 percent won by the President in 2011 — they are elections of a completely different nature. Although it is quite possible to say that 27 percent of the province’s people once voted for her and this time did not for her candidate. Swing voters, far from being intense minorities, belong to a majority convinced of a new common sense.
Massa has presented himself as the candidate who wants to recognize and take advantage of the “good things” done during the Kirchnerite era, to correct the mistakes and to complete what has yet to be done. A set of goals very different from slogans like “her or you,” which proved a disaster last Sunday.
But what are those “good things” that Kirchnerism has brought to Argentina? According to Massa, a greater role for the government in the economy, social policies, a state retirement system and open soccer TV transmission, among many others. That means, at least at a rhetorical level, a partial acknowledgment of a new common sense opposed to the one of the 90s, the free market era. Time will show, eventually, how he expects to solve some problems attributed to “the model,” with inflation and an overvalued peso in the first place.
Roberto Bacman’s CEOP (Centro de Estudios de Opinión Pública) carried out an interesting exit poll for Página/12, which, among other aspects, portrayed the profile of the people who voted for Massa. They were, as a majority, women, under 34 years old and men over 50, which means a wide range. But it is more important to evaluate their motives.
According to the survey, 65 percent of the Massa voters made up their minds because of his image as Tigre mayor. Secondly, 18.7 percent opted for him due to his personal attributes and 7.4 percent because of his abilities. His “opposition role” was underlined by only 6.3 percent of his supporters.
This means that Massa’s toughest criticism of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Kirchner allowed him to compensate for Insaurralde’s rise with votes taken from Francisco de Narváez in the last sprint of the primary campaign, but that was not at all the main feature appreciated by his voters. In effect, according to the numbers given by the widely respected think tank Poliarquía, by July 5, Massa had a vote intention rate of 33.7 percent, a couple of points less than his final result. If Insaurralde grew from 22.8 percent on that date to almost 30 percent last Sunday, the key of what really happened lies in “undecided” voters and De Narváez’ losses.
Let us allow ourselves an hypothesis. If six percent of Massa voters are really anti-Kirchnerites who opted for him on the logic of “tactical voting,” almost 30 points could be considered swing electors. That, added to Insaurralde’s numbers, is an approximate figure of what Cristina Fernández de Kirchner obtained two years ago.
Once again, beyond Massa himself, this shows a new common sense which could add up to a national majority in 2015. As a matter of fact, although the Tigre Mayor “has discovered” that possibility, he is not the only one who could take advantage of it. Peronist governors, who, like him, have been (and still are) Kirchnerite allies with a clear personal touch, could aspire to the same electorate. Among other politicians, Governors Daniel Scioli (Buenos Aires) and Juan Manuel Urtubey (Salta) deserve to be considered. Even someone like Sergio Urribarri of Entre Ríos, perhaps the Peronist governor held in the highest presidential regard as a possible heir, would assume a singular profile in a possible presidential campaign. For him, as for any other Kirchnerite, it would be simply impossible not to talk about the unsolved problems of the Kirchner era: inflation, dollar, public transparency.
To sum things up, it is highly possible that, contrary to the media’s assumptions in recent years, which included ghostly speculations about a third CFK term, the next president will neither be a pure Kirchnerite nor a pure anti-Kirchnerite. We may be approaching a new post-Kirchnerite era, marked by a “third position.”
If this finally occurs, only time — and the solutions proposed to the old problems — will determine how “Kirchnerite” and how “post” the next administration will be. Maybe, this is exactly what is at stake in the new campaign which will end on October 27.