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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The end of the porteño dream

Results from an exclusive poll carried out for the Herald.
Results from an exclusive poll carried out for the Herald.
Results from an exclusive poll carried out for the Herald.
By Julio Burdman
Observatorio Electoral

The myth of a happy electorate in the capital collapses


Sunday’s results in the City of Buenos Aires mayoral race were not good for Mauricio Macri’s presidential ambitions.

But why not, you may ask? PRO won the City elections once again, and for the third time in a row. To win by one vote or 100,000 votes may look important on election day, but it does not change the fact that PRO will govern the capital for four more years. To this end, Marci’s PRO is pretty much in the same position as before, not worse off. What’s more, this time out PRO faced a tougher opponent than the party did in 2007 or in 2011. Almost all of the City’s non-macrista voters (with the exception of some clueless citizens who cast blank votes) rallied behind Martín Lousteau, and PRO defeated them anyway, which is remarkable in itself. On this matter, we could say that PRO performed even better than before. But this election marks the end of the “porteño dream” theory. A myth has collapsed. And Macri will have to resculpt, redesign and finesse the message of his presidential project.

One Metrobus for Argentina?

The “porteño dream” theory was last evident during the triumphant speech Macri gave on the night of July 5, when Horacio Rodríguez Larreta had taken 45.5 percent of the vote. There, after dancing, surrounded by balloons and “the team,” the mayor of the City shared the story of a meeting he had with María Marta in Florencio Varela, an impoverished district of Greater Buenos Aires. María Marta was distressed, concerned about crime and insecurity and the lack of public services in her neighbourhood. She dreamed of living as people did in the nation’s capital. But she knew that was not possible and was resigned to this fate, she told Mauricio. That night, Mauricio promised her that what had been achieved in the capital, that first world lifestyle, was also possible in Florencio Varela. The porteño dream could be a reality for us all. And the yellow audience applauded with gusto.

That idea — the “porteño dream” for the provinces — was a key element of Macri’s presidential campaign. PRO’s yellow aesthetic and Mauricio’s face flooded the cities around the country. It was apparently so true that the macristas were thinking of exporting the porteño dream nationwide. The main PRO candidates in the province of Buenos Aires were going to be two top government officials from the capital — María Eugenia Vidal and Christian Ritondo. In the end, the fear of a break with the Radicals led Macri to tap Radical Daniel Salvador to be his candidate for deputy governor in the province of Buenos Aires.

But Sunday’s result has disarmed the idea. The runoff showed that many porteños are dissatisfied with the PRO government in the City. This is something we used to be able to say with the help of surveys or other indicators, but never before with the strength of electoral outcomes.

The thesis of the porteño dream required a crushing triumph for Macri in the runoff, but PRO lost in nine of the City’s 15 communes, including those from the central and western strips where the famous porteño middle class lives. Shocking.

It does not seem accidental that quickly after the result became clear, Macri decided to change the focus of his metropolitan discourse, and he began started talking about national issues. Many things from the Macri campaign may now be under review.

Was it such a good strategy anyway?

This is unclear. The base of Macri’s strategy was a survey conducted some time ago, which reported that the Macri administration was well-known and appreciated throughout the country. Macri and his campaign team envisaged reaching a runoff against Daniel Scioli, and looked forward to a great televised presidential debate between the two candidates. They imagined a battle of subnational administrations emerging nationwide. The colourful City and the problematic province, both at the podium. The Capital vs Florencio Varela. Once again, Maria Marta.

However, a survey conducted by Observatorio Electoral in the first week of July, exclusively for the Buenos Aires Herald, based on 530 telephone interviews with people in urban centres throughout the country (excluding the City and province of Buenos Aires) shows that the inhabitants of the rest of Argentina (the so-called “interior”) don’t distinguish between the administrations of Macri in the City and Scioli in the province. They were asked about their perceptions, in terms of what they knew, about both governments. Macri’s administration scored slightly higher: 43.3 percent gave it a positive rating, 13.4 percent said it was “neutral” and 26.9 percent had a negative perception of the PRO City government (16.4 percent said they did not know). Perceptions of Scioli’s administration were pretty similar: 39.3 percent had a positive image, 13.6 percent said neutral and 30.3 percent had a negative perception, while 16.7 percent had no clear opinion.

It is true that, in this comparison, BA City and the government there is Mauricio Macri’s strongest point. Scioli surpasses him in voting intentions, he also has the country’s largest party coalition and the support of a national government that is ending his term with considerable popularity.

Macri, meanwhile, has La Perla del Plata, the “Messi” of Argentina’s local governments. But perhaps its electoral impact has been overestimated. A finer, more detailed analysis of the survey shows that those who were consulted offered their perceptions based on a range of reasons, and that does not necessarily predict a “war” of subnational management models. Macri is right to start talking about national issues — Messi, after all, does not always score for Argentina.

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