Shocked. For better or for worse, everyone was shocked when, a few minutes after midnight on Monday 26th, the election results started to appear on the electoral office’s website. The polls had predicted a comfortable lead for Frente Para la Victoria’s (FpV) Daniel Scioli —even a first-round victory.
But once again, pollsters got it wrong. Cambiemos’ candidate Mauricio Macri came so close to Scioli that at times the results even showed him ahead. The FpV lost in traditional Peronist strongholds, the possibility of a Macri government felt real for the first time.
That initial shock, however, eventually gave way to all sorts of analysis and speculation. Ahead of the run-off on 22nd November, here’s what we learned from the election results.
Scioli Has a Ceiling, Macri Broke Through His
After capturing 38.4% of the vote in the August primaries, almost every poll in the run up to yesterday’s election had Scioli creeping above the 40% mark as he picked up a share of votes from the candidates eliminated two months ago. In the end, Scioli only received around 300,000 more votes, a negligible increase especially as overall turnout rose by nearly two million.
By contrast, Macri managed to hang on to the roughly 1.2m votes received by his Cambiemos rivals Ernesto Sanz and Elisa Carrió in the primaries and win another 1.6m on top of that. With polls showing Scioli on the brink of a first-round victory, Macri seems to have benefitted from the so-called ‘useful’ or ‘tactical’ vote, with people gravitating towards the candidate they thought had the best chance of forcing a second round. This may also explain why Sergio Massa failed to make significant gains on his August result.
Massa Is Now The (Silent) King Maker
Out of the six parties that participated in the election, the bottom three obtained a combined share of only 7.5% of the vote. The voters that will decide the result in November are the more than 5m who chose Massa in the first round. How those votes will be divided is still something of a mystery —very likely, there will be some Peronist votes that will go towards Scioli and some anti-Kirchnerist votes that will go to Macri.
Both candidates will now attempt to seduce Massa’s voters and even Massa himself. Macri did not waste any time: as early as Monday morning, the Buenos Aires mayor began to highlight the similarities with his Tigre counterpart and called for a “dialogue with all the leaders that participated in the election.” Massa, however, is playing hard to get; his brother-in-law and provincial senator Sebastián Galmarini, made it clear: “We’re not going to take any positions, we want to listen to proposals regarding what we said during the campaign. We’re making the most out of our result: we won 100 mayorships throughout the country, we’re doing our internal balance.”
But how much will Massa’s strategy and political agreements influence his voters? His support will not automatically translate into votes for the chosen candidate, as he does not represent a party with solid allegiances or have a strong leadership. As his ally Alberto Fernández stated: “it is very difficult to re-direct the vote (…) I get the feeling that whether we decide to support Scioli or Macri, people will do whatever they want.”
Being a Peronist May Not Be Enough for Scioli
A big part of Massa’s campaign in the final weeks was based on the idea that only he could realistically beat Scioli in a run-off. Polls suggested that Macri wouldn’t be able to capture enough votes from Massa’s Peronist base to overtake the frontrunner, while in a reverse situation, Massa could count on practically all of Macri’s votes.
This theory now looks flawed for two main reasons. Firstly, as the gap between the second round candidates is far smaller than even the most optimistic Macri voter envisaged, the Cambiemos leader now only needs to convince marginally more Massa supporters to choose him over Scioli. Secondly, the experience in Córdoba province, where Macri clearly captured a significant share of those who voted for governor José Manuel De la Sota in the primaries on his way to 53.2% support, suggests that Scioli can no longer bank on the Peronist identity.
BA Province Is Not The Peronist Safe Haven We All Thought
The biggest shock of the night came in Buenos Aires province, where Cambiemos’ María Eugenia Vidal (39.5%) beat Kirchnerist stalwart Aníbal Fernández (35.2%) to become governor-elect of the most important political region in the country. Vidal had made impressive inroads into the Peronist stronghold during the August primaries, but few expected her to unseat the FpV, and even fewer by such a comfortable margin. Noticeably, Vidal received almost 7% more votes than Macri in the province, meaning she either has a broader appeal than her party leader or (more likely) she gained support from those eager to block the controversial Fernández from being elected to such a powerful position.
What does this mean for Scioli? His lead in the province shrank from 10% in August to just over 4% on Sunday, as again he was unable to increase his vote haul. With Macri already strong in the country’s key urban centres (Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Mendoza), Scioli desperately needs to shore up his base in the heavily-populated Greater Buenos Aires region. As governor of the province for eight years he should have the better resources and framework for mobilising activists, but Vidal’s success gives Macri’s campaign a huge boost that will be difficult to reverse in the space of a few weeks.
Scioli Will Need To Change His Campaign Strategy (But to What?)
Much of Scioli’s campaign has been to do very little. By reciting the achievements of the Kirchnerist years, avoiding awkward confrontations, and warning about those who sought a “return to the past”, Scioli’s plan seemed to bank on a combination of the FpV’s superior nationwide structure and a lack of convincing ideas from his main challengers. This is why he did not join the presidential debate, a move that may have ended up being more costly than anyone thought at the time.
This passive campaign strategy has to change if he is going to wrestle back the surge in momentum that Sunday’s results handed Macri. A shift is already apparent as Scioli said on Monday that he will debate with Macri before the run-off. But with the more hands-on approach comes a new dilemma: should Scioli do more to appeal to moderates and distance himself from the more hardcore elements of the FpV or should he set out a more explicit ‘Kirchnerist’ agenda with the hope of winning back some of the 54% of voters who elected Cristina Fernández in 2011? In the wake of last night’s results, the former might seem to be the obvious choice. But in 2008-2009, when the economic crisis hit, the government was hurt by the campo crisis, and the FpV suffered its worst defeat in the mid-term elections, it regained the initiative by raising the stakes and doubling down on its ‘model’ (eg. Asignacion Universal por Hijo, nationalisation of Aerolineas and pension funds, Futbol Para Todos).
The FpV Will Need to Sort Out Its Internal Conflicts
It is no secret that hardcore Kirchnerists have always been suspicious of Scioli’s ideological leanings and of his loyalty to the ’cause’. But when President Fernández decided to do away with the primaries between Scioli and Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo —giving her support to the former— the FpV was, in true Peronist fashion, expected to close ranks behind the chosen one. This is mostly what happened, but it was not an easy pill to swallow for many, who were quite open about their discontent.
Last week, right before the election, it all started to come out to the surface. Axel Kicillof, candidate for Congress in the city of Buenos Aires, held an end-of-campaign event at Luna Park a day before Scioli held his at the same venue, and youth group La Cámpora decided to attend the former and not the latter. Likewise, on election day the FpV had two bunkers: Aníbal Fernández received the news about his loss in the province of Buenos Aires at the traditional Kirchnerist venue of the Intercontinental Hotel while Scioli went back to Luna Park to await the results. Once again, La Cámpora decided to accompany Fernández and miss out on Scioli’s event.
Kirchnerist intellectuals were widely quoted by opposition media at the end of last week, when National Library Director Horacio González confessed his vote for Scioli was a “heartbroken” one and journalist Horacio Verbitsky said there would be “long faces” casting their vote for the FpV candidate. Yesterday, Aníbal Fernández blamed his defeat in the province of Buenos Aires to “traitors” within the party: “there were people within my party who did all they could for me to do badly.”
The scare of the election result and the possibility of a Macri victory may be enough to bring the unruly elements back into the fold, something the FpV will need to do if they want to project a more solid image ahead of the second round.
The New President Will Face a Fractured Congress
The results in the simultaneous legislative elections yesterday were also unfavourable to the FpV, though to a lesser degree.
The ruling party had the most to lose in the lower house (a legacy of its landslide victory in the 2011 ballot) and gave up 26 of the 81 seats it had in play. This leaves the FpV with 117 seats (out of 259), short of a majority but still comfortably the biggest party, ahead of the UCR (up eight seats to 50) and PRO (which doubled its contingent to 41). On the other hand, the FpV consolidated its dominant position in the Senate, gaining two new seats to 42 (out of 72).
What does this mean? Well, the new president, whoever it is, will have to secure support from the opposition in one of the two houses of Congress to implement his legislative agenda. In other words, from 10th December, there is going to be a shift in political, with a greater need for cross-party agreements and consensus.
Perhaps worryingly, the last time the FpV lost its majority in the lower house (in 2009), it led to a legislative paralysis as opposition parties blocked most government proposals but mostly failed to develop and agree on alternatives.
There Will Be (Even More) Bargaining With Provincial Leaders
Aside from the main upset of the night in Buenos Aires province, there was also a surprise in Jujuy, where UCR candidate Gerardo Morales won a landslide victory to become the first non-Peronist governor since the return to democracy in 1983. The FpV also suffered a setback in Chubut, where Martín Buzzi was narrowly beaten by dissident Peronist Mario Das Neves, but was able to see off opposition challenges in Entre Ríos, San Juan, Catamarca, Santa Cruz, Misiones, and Formosa.
This means the new leader will have to negotiate with opposition governors. If Scioli wins, he will contend with PRO leaders in the city (Horacio Rodríguez Larreta) and province (María Eugenia Vidal) of Buenos Aires, which together account for over 45% of the electorate, and further opposition in Córdoba and Mendoza. A Macri administration, meanwhile, would have to deal with Kirchnerist governors in 13 provinces around the country, on top of his party’s minority in both houses of Congress.