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ECONOMY | 27-06-2019 13:34

Argentina election more uncertain as pollsters go dark

The dearth of reliable, public poll data leaves investors, who fear that the Fernández-Fernández ticket would reverse Mauricio Macri’s pro-market policies, unsure about the future of the Argentine economy.

Uncertainty is shrouding Argentina’s presidential election this year, but the country’s top pollsters, who usually shed light on the political landscape, are keeping their polls private for now.

A dearth of reliable, public poll data is adding another layer of doubt to what’s expected to be a hard-fought and closely contested race that holds major implications for Argentina and its economy. Some of the country’s most respected polling firms haven’t published polls lately as they prioritise private clients over sharing the research with the public as in other election cycles.

“The most respected ones aren’t talking and the rest of us who do talk aren’t in agreement – one says this, the other says that,” said Nicolas Solari, director of Real Time Data, which opened earlier this year to track the election.

For Latin America’s third-biggest economy, the stakes loom large as President Mauricio Macri faces off against a ticket headed by Alberto Fernandez but featuring Macri’s populist predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Investors’ concern is that Fernandez and Kirchner could reverse Macri’s pro-business economic policies if they win, just as Macri tore up Kirchner’s policies when he arrived in 2015. So far, it appears that the race is a dead heat.

New polling firms like Solari’s have sprouted up to fill the void left by larger, more established firms like Poliarquia, Isonomia and Management & Fit, but are challenged by a sparse track record. The common use of robocalls or online surveys raises concerns about the reliability of polling results. The fallible wave of data comes as pollsters’ credibility is in question globally after missing Brexit and the 2016 U.S. election.

Even compared to regional peers like Mexico and Brazil, Argentina has a notable lack of official polling standards. There’s little electoral regulation, no required methodology or calendar of publication dates. There are also few sources of funding, according to Ernesto Calvo, an Argentine political professor at the University of Maryland.

“They’re used for political purposes,” said Calvo. “Some of the constraints are that high quality surveys would be very expensive, then the only ones that can afford to pay for those surveys are parties with deep pockets.”

A single poll can have real, immediate consequences for Argentines. In late April, a private Isonomia survey got leaked and showed Macri losing to Kirchner before she had aligned with Fernandez. Investors panicked, the peso fell nine percent in a week and government bond yields soared.

That volatility comes after the peso lost 50 percent of its value against the dollar last year, dragging Argentines into a recession with 57 percent inflation. Macri’s approval ratings plunged with the economy.

The country’s polling firms cite a variety of reasons for not publicising their findings. Isonomia director Juan Germano argues that nobody would pay for his polls if they were always in newspapers. Solari notes that the government is a major client for some pollsters: Publishing data that makes Macri look bad doesn’t bode well for business.

Pollsters also say they are cautious not to publish data that could be improperly interpreted or compared in the media to another poll without similar methodology, creating public confusion.

“Publishing a poll for a runoff vote in November without knowing the candidates or tickets didn’t seem responsible to us,” said Mariel Fornoni, director of Management & Fit.

Fornoni added she will publish her polls in the press when the election is closer. However, she spoke about the profile of the electorate at a small event Wednesday in Buenos Aires, and said 38 percent of voters will or could vote for Macri while 35 percent would or could cast their ballot for Fernandez.

Some investors argue there’s a case to hold back on publishing polls as campaigns for the primaries don’t officially begin until July 7 and polls show high levels of undecided voters.

“It’s problematic predicting electoral results this far out from the election and with a high number of undecided voters,” Daniel Chodos, head of Latin America sovereign credit strategy at Credit Suisse. “All these problems make it so that the polls add uncertainty to the market.”

- BLOOMBERG

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