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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 12-08-2023 07:23

Public Apathy Stunts Outcome

The potential for surprises remains intact and to find a prime example, we need not go back any further than the PASO primaries for the last general elections in 2019.

For at least two millennia 13 has been considered the ultimate unlucky number (Christ + 12 apostles at the Last Supper = 13). Counter-examples can always be produced to refute that superstition – thus Margaret Thatcher was born on the 13th day of a month (October, 1925) and she did pretty well for herself but it could then be argued that this was not so lucky for others. With tomorrow’s crucial PASO primaries scheduled for the 13th day of the eighth month of this year, it may be said with absolute certainty that they will be unlucky for some (even if eight is the luckiest number for the Chinese) – what cannot be said with any certainty at all is for whom.

A strict legality would in any case make it impossible to forecast fortune’s favourite in the form of the veda electoral curfew in force since yesterday (even if increasingly ignored by the media during these 40 years of democracy) but that is far from being the only barrier. As it happens, the veda already clocked in for opinion polls last weekend, making it impossible for them to factor in the developments of this past week which can be so central for shaping last-minute decisions (and so unpredictable, as demonstrated by the wholly unexpected suspension of campaign rallies last Wednesday in the light of the Lanús murder). But not that more up-to-date surveys have been any better in the past few years (and this extends worldwide with last month’s Spanish elections the most recent example). This fallibility is less the result of any technical ineptitude than the flat refusal of increasing numbers of politically disenchanted voters to respond, thus converting these surveys into a census of intense minorities while leaving aside the silent majorities either to stay silent or to create new majorities (with a similar frequency for both outcomes).

The potential for surprises thus remains intact and to find a prime example, we need not go back any further than the PASO primaries for the last general elections in 2019. The opinion polls back then were forecasting a close finish much like most of the final surveys published in last Saturday’s newspapers – some even placed then-President Mauricio Macri a couple of points ahead (thus prompting a pre-PASO market surge which only made the subsequent crash even harder) while most polls gave the Frente de Todos Fernández-Fernández ticket an advantage never stretching beyond three or four percent. Nobody was expecting Macri to finish all of 16 percent behind (31.8 percent to 47.8 percent) with “game over” the universal conclusion – a volume of backlash which can by no means be ruled out tomorrow.

The previous PASO primaries before general elections in 2015 were not so much surprising as misleading. Peronist presidential candidate Daniel Scioli emerged as a virtual president-elect for the next 11 weeks, coming within a whisker of the 40 percent (plus a double-digit margin) needed to nail the presidency in the first round with 38.67 percent, far in front of Macri with 24.5 percent within a Cambiemos total of 31.3 percent. Scioli stayed in front in the first round but less than three percent ahead of Macri while his vote dipped to 37 percent, leading pundits to give him no chance for the run-off. The only other PASO primaries ahead of general elections in 2011 were perhaps even more a case of “game over” than 2019 – a recently widowed then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner already clinched an absolute majority at 50.24 percent, way ahead of Radical Ricardo Alfonsín trailing in second place at 12.2 percent.

Comparing these previous PASO primaries with tomorrow’s without infringing any legal fatwas or venturing into any risky forecasts, it can be safely said that there are more voters and a lot more candidates – no less than 27 presidential tickets alone even after various disqualifications for collecting campaign financing for ballots which are never printed. The greatest proliferation of candidates (some 40,000) is in the province with by far the largest electorate – Buenos Aires, with 13,110,768 of the nation’s 35,394,425 voters, or 37 percent of the total, in 38,074 of the 104,577 voting-precincts – since it is the only district apart from Santa Cruz which will also be voting at gubernatorial, senatorial, provincial legislative and municipal level as well as for the next presidency and half the deputies like the rest of the country. Readers be warned, this maximal congestion in this gigantic voting bloc will make any significant percentage of results later than ever tomorrow night. Meanwhile this city will have a qualitative rather than quantitative complication in the form of paper ballots at national level and electronic voting at municipal. But none of the extremely exact figures in this paragraph will be as decisive as the turnout, which cannot be predicted with any precision.

What also remains to be seen is whether these PASO primaries will follow the precedent until now of anticipating (or seeming to anticipate, as in the case of 2015) the results of the real elections and thus almost supplanting them. Tomorrow’s PASO will at least serve the original intention of party primaries more than its predecessors where rubber-stamping single candidacies was almost universal with both the main coalitions and the left among others contesting their presidential nominations. This PASO along with the others will also fulfil the often undervalued function of filtering out the most futile candidacies with its 1.5 percent threshold. Out of a possibly exaggerated respect for the veda electoral curfew (which could be carried to the extreme of banning “Dove Men Care” ads on the grounds that they are subliminal propaganda for this city’s mayor), nothing more here but as full an analysis of the actual results as this space permits in next Saturday’s column.  

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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