Part of Samuel George’s ongoing series “Argentina at a Crossroads” in the run up to general elections in 2015.
After a trip to Buenos Aires earlier this year, I was not suprised to hear private-sector economists argue that non-peronist PRO candidate Maurcio Macri should win the presidential election scheduled for October 25, 2015.
After all, Macri, currently Chief of Government of the city of Buenos Aires, shares their belief that Argentina ought to adopt more market-oriented policy.
I was suprised, however, that they thought Macri could win.
The conventional wisdom on Argentina is that the opposition to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is weak and that, anyway, it is very difficult to win an election as a non-peronist (let alone govern in a country where powerful trade unions can typically only been corralled by peronist leaders).
The theoretical party-prerequisite for a presidential candidate was one reason Sergio Massa was able to establish a degree of momentum in 2014.
As a peronist who split from President Kirchner, he seemed like a candidate that might rally the base without falling victim to Kirchner fatigue.
However, as the October election nears, Massa’s attempt to split the difference could ultimately be his undoing: Core-peronists will likely plump for Daniel Scioli of the Kirchners’ Partido Justicialista (PJ) wing of the peronist movement, and the folks seeking change will vote Macri.
So if Massa’s star is fading, the election will likely come down to tight competition between the government aligned Daniel Scioli, currently Governore of Buenos Aires Province, and the reformist Macri.
But when I ran this perception past administration insiders, their reaction was surprisingly sanguine, and, overall, relatively confident that Scioli will emerge victorious.
They do not exactly guarantee victory, but one top-level official offered his opinion that Scioli has a 40 percent chance to win, Macri 30 percent, Massa 25 percent, and 5 percent chance for a dark horse. (Here its important to note that President Kirchner has not officially endorsed Scioli.)
Now, a new poll seems to support this confidence.
New Poll Point to Scioli
Most polls have generally shown an advantage for Scioli over Macri of a couple of percentage points–within the margin of error–so essentially a dead heat with a slight advantage for Scioli.
But an Ipsos poll released in May offers more comprehensive evidence that, if held today, the election would tilt in favor of Scioli.
(See the full Ipsos polling results here)
Essentially, a vote for Scioli would be, within reason, a vote for continuity of the current PJ policy marked by an active hand in the economy. A vote for Macri would be a vote for change, presumably in a more classically liberal direction.
So beyond simply taking a straw count, this new Iposos poll attempts to gauge Argentinians’ appetite for change.
So let’s start from the top. For one, the poll does show PJ candidate Daniel Scioli in the lead over Mauricio Macri:
Over time, we see that Macri momentum is real, but that quietly, Scioli has established his own momentum, perhaps benefiting from a fading Massa campaign.
But it was some of the other polling results that really caught my eye.
Ipsos’ poll suggests that Argentines generally support price controls, which have been a common thread in the Kirchner governments.
This would suggest an electorate that is not itching to unwind the current approach to subsidies and price freezes:
In fact, this support for government intervention has been consistent, even as inflation has increased over recent months.
Even Argentines that believe inflation is the principal problem with the economy do not appear to be correlating this inflation with price controls, suggesting they may not be prepared to vote against price controls:
In another question, Argentine poll respondents expressed a clear preference for a heavy state presence in the economy.
This would not bode well for the Macri campaign that proposes a liberalized private sector:
The tolerance, if not outright preference, for state-owned enterprises has been entrenched since the 2001 crisis.
Even 47 percent (a plurality) of Macri supporters prefer a majority state-owned economy.
Now lets go back to those elections polls:
Not only do they have Scioli ahead, but they also demonstrate that he is most likely to gain if some of the outside candidates were to funnel their votes towards perceived allies.
Specifically, if Scioli he can withstand the other PJ candidate Florencio Randazzo, he should pick up a solid percentage of Randazzo’s supporters in a second round runoff:
So is it over?
Not so fast.
For one, the poll does show significant unease with the current direction of the Argentine economy:
Moreover, according to Argentine election rules, if no candidate receives 45 percent of valid first round ballots, or 40 percent plus a 10 percent victory margin, the election will go to a run-off vote scheduled for November 24.
The head-to-head chart suggests Macri could hang with with Scioli in such a scenario:
And, of course, a lot can change between now and October, so stay tuned!