December 13, 2013
From left to right: Carrió as years go by
People voting for the Civic Coalition leader changed in number and profile
Since last August 11, congressional candidate Elisa Carrió has become, once again, an electoral sensation. After defeating Mauricio Macri’s PRO in its own ruling territory and becoming established in the collective awareness as the opposite leading figure to Kirchnerism in Buenos Aires City, Carrió has managed somehow to come back from her own political ashes.
It was not the first time.
Between 2003 and 2013, Carrió took part in six elections, three presidential and three legislative ones where she has experienced victory and defeat. Along the way many rivals have become allies and the other way around while accusing her of a shift to the right. “We haven’t changed. We remain loyal to our ideas and proposals from the very start,” Civic Coalition legislator Fernando Sánchez told the Herald.
But a comparative look through Carrió performance in a ten-year period shows that voters who preferred Carrió as their political option have indeed changed since 2003, not only in number but in their profile. And Buenos Aires City once electoral strongholds have become now weaknesses and viceversa.
In the last days of the Alliance government in 2001, Carrió grabbed the spotlight by launching her own electoral force called “Argentines for a Republic of Equals” and later “Movement for an Egalitarian Republic” (Afirmación por una República de Iguales), with the fight against corruption as her leitmotiv. It hasn’t been an easy path since then.
“If you consider Carrió’s electorate over recent years, you can notice a shift from Buenos Aires City Centre and West residents in 2003-2005 elections to the northern and eastern part of the city since 2007 when she ended in second place in presidential polls as the main counterbalance to Kirchnerism,” political scientist Andy Tow told the Herald.
Tow has created the most complete data base on the Web about Argentine electoral results, based on electoral courts information (andytow.com).
The maps he draws up showing vote-distribution in the Buenos Aires City districts are a key asset to understand how social sectors vote.
The other important aspect is learning to read the Buenos Aires City social geography.
“Buenos Aires City is divided into two main zones: North and South,” explained sociologist Cecilia Za- pata to this newspaper. Zapata specializes in Urban Studies research in the University of Buenos Aires’ Gino Germani Institute.
“The first one includes Recoleta, Palermo, Núñez, Belgrano and Colegiales neighbourhoods and concentrates the higher incomes while the southern part of the City are the poorer areas,” Zapata said.
And she set an example: if Buenos Aires City average income is 4,842 pesos according to INDEC statistics bureau’s 2012 National Household Survey, then in District 4, in the south, its population earns an average of 3,292 pesos (below Buenos Aires City mid point) while in Núñez or Belgrano residents declare an average income of 7,084 pesos a month.
In the 2003 presidential elections, after the 2001-2002 collapse in Argentina, Carrió emerged as the new alternative against a Radical Party on the defensive and the long-standing Justicialist (Peronist) Party.
Alongside other presidential candidates like centre-right economist Ricardo López Murphy, or even former president Carlos Menem, she embraced the centre-left as a non-Peronist option.
Although Carrió was fifth in 2003, ARI’s performance in Buenos Aires City was outstanding. Carrió represented the choice of 19.8 percent of the city’s voting population.
But, what’s more important, her votes were equally distributed along a major metropolitan area: Comunes 12,15,6,5,11,10,9 and 7, all middle-income domains. The majority of the northern part of the city voted the conservative ballot of López Murphy in 2003.
Two years later, in 2005, the midterm poll results were similar. Facing for the first time Mauricio Macri’s PRO as a congressional candidate, Carrió finished second but was able to extend ARI’s influence to two thirds of the city.
However, northern districts stayed loyal to liberal right-wing Macri and PRO while the southern sections voted mostly for the Kirchnerite Victory Front.
Comparing Carrió’s electoral strongholds in 2003 and 2005 with the presidential 2007 campaign results, Tow suggested that year as the key moment that explains the “shift to the right” in her discourse.
ARI’s structure was absorbed by a larger Civic Coalition alliance after associating with former Labour Minister and lawmaker Patricia Bullrich’s Union for Everyone. Bullrich, a former Peronist, served in the Radical-Frepaso Alliance government headed by De la Rúa.
“Her incoporation together with (liberal) economist Alfonso Prat Gay later in 2009 is a natural result of that shift process that was consolidated from that time on,” said Tow.
On the election maps, the “right shift” is illustrated with the migration of votes from her historical strongholds to the politically-conservative northern area, disputing territorial influence with Macri’s PRO.
In fact, 2007 marked the zenith in Carrió’s electoral performance in Buenos Aires City when she won the district with the 37.7 percent of votes and even doubled other candidates’ shares in northern Palermo, Recoleta, Núñez, Colegiales and Belgrano.
Two years later, Carrió defeated Kirchnerism nationwide by extending her Civic Coalition to the Social and Civic Accord with Radical Party. Nevertheless, her honeymoon with middle-class residents in the centre and western sectors of Buenos Aires City began to crack.
Only the high-income neighbourhoods remained loyal to Carrió while other central districts like Saavedra, Villa Urquiza or even Versalles, preferred South Project as an alternative, headed by the leftist Peronist Fernando “Pino” Solanas, who is a critic of the Kirchnerite administration.
Carrió’s ticket finished third in the Buenos Aires City recount and lost half of the 2007 votes (down from 707,132 to 348,261 in two years).
Fall and rise
Still, the national victory in 2009 masked Buenos Aires City’s defeat and not everybody could comprehend why the presidential election of 2011 turned the opposition champion into a failure.
“I am responsible for this defeat as I was once the reason of many victories. I always knew this moment would come”, declared a beaten Carrió at a press conference after realizing that her alliance had been crushed both at a national level and in her historical stronghold of Buenos Aires City.
Middle-income neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires City’s centre and West districts went to socialist Hermers Binner’s FAP and even the vote in the north side was divided between her ballot paper and Duhalde’s ticket, a right-wing Peronist figure who ruled Argentina as caretaker head of state after the collapse of 2001. Duhalde handpicked Néstor Kirchner to run as presidential candidate for his faction of the Peronist party in 2003.
Bullrich and her political force left the Civic Coalition and joined forces with PRO. Many speculated that retirement was for Carrió, but surprisingly she managed to come back once again. This time, with a new partner and a new political front: UNEN.
“What surprised us most during last August primaries was that, unlike other polls where we saw a segmented vote, this time Carrió and Solanas’s ticket was homogeneously supported by a larger part of the City districts”, said Sánchez.
“It’s a pluralistic electorate that includes not only women as it used to be but also men and youth sectors from 16 to 25 years. This shows us there are certain concerns that are now central issues and weren’t a priority for some sectors not long ago, like fighting against corruption,” he added.
After the vote count in August, UNEN prevailed in 13 out of 15 districts, taking back districts that were once lost in the Centre and West zones.
But Tow’s data shows how Carrió stonghholds, even though improving her performance in centre and western districts, are still concentrated in conservative neighbourhoods like Núñez, Colegiales, Belgrano and Palermo where she obtained 41 to 45 percent of the votes.
Meanwhile, Solanas’ votes were located mostly in the middle-income districts where he won in 2009. But, unlike Carrió, he couldn’t manage to conquer the conservative north. The political engineering carefully designed to balance left and right votes may not work equally for both sides of UNEN. But, at least, it fulfills its purpose to counterbalance Carrió’s weaknesses ahead of October.