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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 09-09-2021 23:27

PASO: Turnout and undecided voters prove to be obstacles for pollsters

Pollsters agree that the result in Buenos Aires Province will be closer than expected, but none pick the same winner. Most of the undefined are Frente de Todos voters in 2019.

In the final days before tomorrow’s PASO primaries, there was no uniform trend among the pollsters forecasting the outcome at the ballot-boxes. Two aspects especially trigger concern and doubts – how the undecided vote will play out, above all those who voted for Frente de Todos in 2019, and turnout.

There is a general agreement that in Buenos Aires Province, always the main focus of attention, the election is closer than forecast some months ago. After the 14-point margin won by Axel Kicillof over María Eugenia Vidal in 2019, that advantage seems to have at least halved. Some opinion polls even talk of a technical draw or a slight edge for the sum total of the two Juntos lists.

The government has now changed its tack, claiming that they will win “with more or less margin” – the difference does not matter, just winning. The opposition, on the other hand, prefers caution, assuring that they are losing by five to eight points. Better to have the result topping expectations than the other way round. In fact, Juntos por el Cambio would consider a narrow defeat in the PASO a good result, betting on polarisation in the actual midterms. 

“As a general concept, Frente de Todos (FdT) will have the most difficulties retaining 2019 votes,” analyses Juan Mayol, of Opinaia, adding: “It must be borne in mind that there’s a lot of annoyance with the government out there.”

 

THE UNDECIDED

Different pollsters consulted by Perfil estimate the undecided share of the vote at between 10 and 20 percent. Of this core level over half voted for the current government in 2019 – thus a Synopsis placed 55 percent of the undecided in BA Province in that segment. Nationwide that figure tops 60 percent.

Shila Vilker of the Trespuntozero consultancy firm has 70 to 80 percent of the undecided as Alberto Fernández voters. When the point is pressed, some of these points end up going to Victoria Tolosa Paz but others go for opposition options, including Diego Santilli. The voters sometimes make leaps which defy political logic, the grieta chasm or ideology.

Facundo Nejamkis of Opina Argentina poses the question. “The big unknown is where that mass of Peronist voters now distancing themselves from the original proposal of FdT in 2019 goes,” he assures. “Juntos por el Cambio is more or less at the same levels of the last election but the government seems far below the 52 percent of Kicillof and that complicates measurement.”

Could some of those angry voters end up backing the government despite being secretly ashamed of their choice? That doubt is present among all the consultants and also even in the opposition bunkers. 

Lucas Romero of Synopsis sets a limit: “I ask a prospective question (for whom are you going to vote?) and another retrospective (and for whom did you vote?) and from there I can see that they are compatible and I systematically see that 20 percent of those who voted for FdT will not be repeating their vote and that sets a cap.” With that logic he maintains that FdT will, at best, be well below 45 percent.

What complicates the pollsters is not only analysing where the FdT vote peaks but also where it bottoms out.

“I don’t find the votes,” summarises Carlos Fara. When asking for FdT, he arrives at one figure but then Tolosa Paz figures six or seven points below.

“The brand name has its work cut out to recover its votes and Tolosa Paz has hers cut out to approximate the brand name,” he points out. And where will those who say they will vote FdT go?

“There are those who say they will vote for the brand name but then vote for other candidates – for [Florencia] Randazzo, for [Facundo] Manes or [Guillermo] Moreno and even some for [Diego] Santilli or [Nicolás] Del Caño.”

 

TURNOUT

“What happens if that undecided person decides not to vote?” wonders Fara. He confesses that he has been debating that point with his colleagues. 

In recent elections, Juntos por el Cambio has enjoyed the biggest difference between its midterm and PASO votes. That could change this time. In Corrientes, low turnout affected Peronism. 

Romero has his doubts: “Government supporters have the highest levels of voting enthusiasm.”

“The grieta has mobilised voters until now,” adds Nejamkis to the analysis.

The problem for pollsters is that lower turnout is harder to detect. Those who do not want to vote may be supposed to be less inclined to respond to opinion polls.

All these questions plus past mistakes lead the pollsters to look at their numbers with more doubts than certainties. One consultant had the sum of the two Juntos lists nine points up in their initial measurement but between their own  projection, more face-to-face surveying and other techniques, they end up  estimating a virtual draw.

“We’re seeing some pretty crazy stuff, a lot of volatility,” sums up Vilker, giving as an example: “There are people who go both ways in the middle of focus groups.”

“I trust nothing, there are many variables which get away from you. This is no ordinary election,” says another pollster who prefers to remain nameless while a colleague also taking refuge in anonymity confesses: “I’m not afraid to say that I cannot forecast what is going to happen.”

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Gabriel Ziblat

Gabriel Ziblat

Editor de Política - Diario Perfil.

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