Does the strong Mendoza win boost Macri’s October odds?

3rd October 2019

By Amadeo Gandolfo

Does the strong Mendoza win boost Macri’s October odds?

The ruling Cambiemos coalition’s strong gubernatorial win last Sunday in Mendoza province — the country’s fifth-most populated district, and one of many in which Alberto Fernández defeated President Mauricio Macri in the presidential primaries — has bolstered spirits amid government sympathizers, with less than a month to go before the October 27 presidential election.

Slogans like “the election did not happen” and “we can turn it around” were heard this week across the country as Macri launched his “Yes We Can” tour through 30 cities. In a radio appearance promoting the tour, the president compared his situation after the wide defeat in August’s presidential primaries to that of his football team Boca Juniors, which lost the first leg of the coveted continental cup semi-final against arch-rivals River Plate.

But are these hopes realistic or is the message mostly aimed at lifting the morale of its core supporters in a mostly unfavorable scenario?

</p> <p>According to political scientist Andy Tow, a specialist in election data, the Mendoza result should not be over-stated. “The electorate has shown that it can differentiate between national and provincial governance, rewarding good performances and punishing the bad ones. I don’t see this as a momentum shift for Macri, who was excluded from the campaign in Mendoza,” Tow told <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <h2><strong>The new strategy</strong></h2> <p>The <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/08/29/pro-macri-rally-brings-short-term-relief-for-cambiemos">demonstration organized by government supporters</a> on August 24 acted like a wake-up call for a government that was still gripped in the claws of the crushing defeat of August 11. Organized through social media without much formal input from acting authorities, the rally gathered a sizable amount of people in front of the Casa Rosada and ended up with the President himself streaming the event from his Instagram account at the balcony to salute his supporters.</p> <p>That rally set the tone for the presidential campaign, launched with the 30-city tour, which recycled some old Cambiemos slogans like “Sí se puede” (“Yes, we can”) and added some new ones, like “La damos vuelta” (We’ll turn it around) and “La elección no sucedió” (The election didn’t happen).</p> <p>Behind the slogans lie two core ideas: that a higher turnout in the general election would directly benefit Macri, and that part of the difference in August was the consequence of a failure on the part of Cambiemos’ party activists to properly audit the voting booths. Both ideas show a recourse to neglected old-school political tactics, firing up the base, taking matters to the streets and promoting activism, moves that were generally frowned upon by its strategists on previous campaigns.</p> <h2><strong>An internal divide</strong></h2> <p>Some commentators have pointed out the contradiction in stating that the election “did not happen” while drumming up the idea that results “can be turned around”, suggesting that a certain degree of denial is taking place within the governing coalition.</p> <p>Behind the scenes, the issue is a divisive one. Chief of staff Marcos Peña, still in charge of the campaign, is the most adamant about the chances of <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/sueno-balotaje-realismo-defender-ultimo-bastion_0_ClCLZot.html">forcing a runoff</a> by closing down on the 16-point win secured by Fernández in August.</p> <p>But the “political wing” of the party, led by Buenos Aires city mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, Buenos Aires province governor María Eugenia Vidal and Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio, seems to be more focused on <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/09/12/buenos-aires-city-larreta-lammens-alberto-fernandez-macri-ba-upset">retaining winnable districts</a>, securing an orderly transition and looking into the possibility of <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2019/09/08/horacio-rodriguez-larreta-busca-retener-la-ciudad-de-buenos-aires-y-ya-piensa-en-la-reorganizacion-del-pro-junto-a-maria-eugenia-vidal/">rebuilding the party in opposition</a>.</p> <h2><strong>The provincial conundrum</strong></h2> <p>Provincial elections have been taking place since the start of the year, a dilated electoral calendar caused by the desire of most governors to separate their re-election possibilities from the ups and downs of the presidential race.</p> <p>Most of these local races saw Cambiemos defeats and local chiefs retaining their positions. But the meaning of these results was obscured in the run-up to the general election: for the national government, results meant that people were happy overall, voting for the re-election of local administrations no matter their political affiliation, and thus also <a href="https://www.lapoliticaonline.com/nota/119621-elecciones-la-casa-rosada-se-consuela-con-la-idea-de-que-ganaron-los-oficialismos/">likely to back them on a national level</a>. The opposition read them the other way round: the majority of wins for Peronists or Peronist allies in the provinces signaled the first hopes of defeating Macri.</p> <p>Mendoza, one of the few provinces that Cambiemos currently governs via its allies in the UCR party, was the last election before October 27 presidentials. UCR’s Rodolfo Suárez was pitted Anabel Fernández Sagasti, the founder of the Kirchnerite youth group La Cámpora in the province.</p> <h2><strong>Improved results</strong></h2> <p>In the <a href="https://resultados.mendoza.gov.ar/elec20190609publico/w+hstconsgenpro-3_3_7_0_0.html">provincial primaries of June</a>, Fernández Sagasti surprised by beating non-Kirchnerite Peronist Alejandro Bermejo, a Maipú mayor with a stronger territorial network of support. Fernández Sagasti took 192,187 votes (18.33%) and Bermejo 181,434 votes (17.31%). <strong>Together, the Peronist candidates added up to 373,621 (35,64%)</strong>. Meanwhile, Rodolfo Suarez took 308,812 votes, 29.46% of the electoral register, while his two internal competitors reached 140,871 combined (about 13.4%), for a <strong>ruling coalition total of 449,683 or 42.89%</strong>.</p> <p><strong>Last Sunday</strong>, the numbers showed a <a href="https://resultados.mendoza.gov.ar/elec20190929publico/w+hstconsgenpro-3_3_7_0_0.html">significant improvement for the Cambiemos coalition</a>, whilst the numbers for the Frente de Todos remained stationary: <strong>Cambiemos got a headcount of 554,361 (49.88%), an increase of over 100,000</strong>. Meanwhile, <strong>the opposition got 388,609 votes (34.96%), just over 15,000 more when compared against the primaries</strong>. Voter turnout, one of the sources of Macri’s hopes of improvement for the national election, also rose when compared to June, when it stood at 74.56%, compared to 79.04% last Sunday.</p> <p>Turnout was comparable to that of the <a href="https://www.resultados2019.gob.ar/">presidential primaries</a> in Mendoza, where Alberto Fernández got 440783 votes (40.48%) versus 406517 of Macri (37.33%).</p> <p>Yet according to Tow, even if one were to project the improved trend seen in Mendoza for Cambiemos into the October 27 general election, Macri would need to multiply the improvement he saw by a factor of four.</p> <p>“The most realistic reading of the Mendoza results is that it was a triumph for the local administration, which had already taken the lead in the June primaries and confirmed it with a higher turnout and a stagnant Peronist vote. The result follows the trend seen in other provincial elections, by re-electing local authorities just like it happened in 90 percent of cases, including Jujuy and Corrientes provinces, where Macri’s national allies in the UCR party also won locally,” Tow said, pouring cold water over Cambiemos’ hopes of recovery.</p> <p>The fact that Mendoza’s UCR party denounced the distribution of leaflets with their candidate’s picture next to that of their national ally Macri as part of a dirty opposition campaign to damage their chances is a good illustration of that thesis: nation and provinces do not necessarily move hand in hand.</p> <h2><strong>Who’s the target?</strong></h2> <p>All of this begs the question of who is the new Cambiemos national campaign strategy truly aimed at. A 16-point difference is after all a truly big margin to overcome, especially when the economy has only continued to worsen since the first vote.</p> <p>Do Peña and Macri truly believe in the possibility of a turnaround, or is the campaign mostly being aimed at the most hardcore anti-Peronist base to protect that vote from moving elsewhere and, at best, also rally a few more who stayed at home?.</p> <p>In any case, the strategy is also risking the strengthening of an increasingly common perception among Argentines: that of a government that is divorced from reality, worsening its appeal for the independent voter. As is always the case, we’ll only know for sure on October 27.</p> <p>

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Amadeo Gandolfo

Amadeo Gandolfo is an historian, journalist and researcher. He has worked at the CONICET (National Council For Scientific and Technical Research), writes at the Revista Crisis magazine and teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.