Chile votes 2013: Scandal sunk independent’s hopes in race for second place, experts say
Published On : Sat, Nov 16th, 2013
The opportunity for an independent or third party candidate to challenge Bachelet in a run-off election may now have passed, though uncertainty over polls remains.
Doubt remains whether Nueva Mayoría candidate Michelle Bachelet will win the election in the first round this Sunday or face a challenger in a run-off vote in December. But experts contacted by The Santiago Times are unified in their opinion that, should she face a second round contender, it will almost certainly be the Alianza’s Evelyn Matthei.
This comes after weeks of uncertainty over who might succeed in the race for second place, after a series of polls showed independent Franco Parisi nipping at her heels, and Progressive Party (PRO) candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami a not-too-distant fourth.
The polls offered the tantalizing possibility that, for the first time in modern political history, a candidate from outside the right-leaning Alianza and left-leaning Concertación — now rebranded the Nueva Mayoría with a string of new parties joining the pact — would make it to the second round, which pits the top two candidates from the first against the second in a new round of voting.
All that hinges, however, on Bachelet failing to secure more than 50 percent of the vote and sealing the election Sunday.
“The difficulty in predicting [the possibility of a runoff election] does not have anything to do with whether or not Bachelet will win, because she will,” Modesto Gayo, political science professor at Universidad Diego Portales, told The Santiago Times. “Rather, it has to do with the important number of left-wing presidential candidates. If the people decide to vote pragmatically, meaning for a candidate that has a chance to win, Bachelet will be elected in the first round. On the other hand, if the electorate decides to vote for the candidate they consider to be the closest to their political and ideological position, then there will be a runoff election.”
This year’s competition for a run-off spot has proven more diverse and engaging than most, with a historic nine candidates running for the presidency, and though Bachelet’s ascendency has rarely if ever been challenged, Matthei has at times appeared decidedly vulnerable to a challenge from outside the two main coalitions, most notably by the economically conservative, socially progressive Parisi.
Race for second place
In October, a Center for Public Studies (CEP) poll had Parisi only 4 points behind Matthei, while he was a mere 1.7 points behind on that months Universidad Diego Portales (UDP) poll. These polls, however, were released days before the Matthei sparked a controversy which would dog the last weeks of Parisi’s campaign.
In an interview with the political program Patio de los Naranjos on Oct. 21, Matthei accused Parisi and his brother of owing more than US$200,000 to workers under their employ at a private education institute. These accusations, followed by an attempt from Parisi to expose Matthei’s husband for similar misdeeds, sparked a political scandal which would go on to dominate Parisi’s final outings and seemingly undermine his claims at fiscal responsibility and commitment to education and labor reforms.
“This [UDP] poll that shows Parisi very close to Matthei was before this scandal between them,” Andrés Zahler, public policy professor at the Universidad Diego Portales, told The Santiago Times. “I think this fight hurt Parisi, because it showed him fighting for a cause, but doing the opposite in private. The scandal between Parisi and Matthei, since it was after the [UDP] poll, was the big change that made Parisi lose his momentum.”
It was a sentiment shared by Morales, who said the scandal ruined Parisi’s chances of overtaking Matthei for second place.
“Parisi’s candidacy, which at one point was close to Matthei’s, has been decreasing [in popularity] because of the accusations that he did not pay his workers’ social security,” Morales told The Santiago Times. “Now, I cannot imagine a run-off between Bachelet and a candidate other than Matthei.”
Given Parisi’s stuttering campaign, attention turned to Enríquez-Ominami as a possibility of challenging the Alianza candidate. After obtaining 20 percent of the first round vote in in 2009, Enríquez-Ominami appeared a viable contender to build on his strong first showing. Polls this year, however, have generally give him around seven or eight percent of the vote — though in its latest poll published Nov. 7, IPSOS found 12 percent support for an Enríquez-Ominami presidency.
Eugenio Rivera, economic director of the progressive think tank Fundación Chile 21, explained Enríquez-Ominami’s failure to gain traction in 2013.
“In 2009, Enríquez-Ominami represented a wide range of people who were trying to organize politically around discontent with the Concertación,” Rivera said. “He tried to organize the movement, which drove him to reach 20 percent of the vote in 2009 [into a political party]. But this did not work as it became more of a personal project, which I think will translate to much fewer votes this year — between 5 and 7 percent.”
Morales, on the other hand, emphasized more external factors to account for Enríquez-Ominami’s plummeting popularity in the polls between 2009 and 2013.
“The fact that Enríquez-Ominami obtained 20 percent of the vote in 2009 can be explained by the fact that Eduardo Frei [the Concertación candidate] was extraordinarily unpopular and that Enríquez-Ominami systematically attacked him,” Morales said. “He took advantage of the discontent with the old Concertación leaders. His discourse was based on criticism and disqualification. This is what gave him electoral weight. In 2013 there are more candidates who also attack the Concertación’s old leaders. Therefore, they do the same job that Enríquez-Ominami did in 2009, and so his candidacy stopped being a novelty and demonstrated that his electoral support base in 2009 was very unstable.”
Kenneth Bunker, political analyst at the independent Tresquintos polling institute, told The Santiago Times that there is widespread agreement among political experts that Matthei will get second place in Sunday’s vote.
“Historical evidence suggests that the Alianza candidate should be the one classifying to the runoff,” Bunker said. “At Tresquintos, we forecast that Matthei will be at least 10 points over Parisi or Enríquez-Ominami. We believe the votes for Matthei will about match the sum of votes for Parisi and Enríquez-Ominami … I think the more interesting question is who will come in third.”
The polls’ lack of accuracy
Those contacted by The Santiago Times, however, emphasized that the polls, which vary widely from organization to organization, will be less reliable this year, due to the inauguration of the voluntary voting system in a presidential race. Before 2012, voting was compulsory for all registered Chileans — although enrollment was voluntary. This year’s presidential elections will be the second time that Chileans go to the ballot box since the implementation of the voluntary vote.
In the municipal elections that took place in October 2012, Chileans voluntarily voted for the first time. As Kenneth Bunker told The Santiago Times, the municipal elections polls predicted the wrong results due to the new voluntary vote: the polling institutes failed to account for the low turnout on the election day — just 41 percent Chileans voted.
“[The new voluntary vote] makes the election more uncertain,” Bunker said. “We could be in for a huge surprise — there’s really no way of telling. Electoral experts are just making educated guesses based on polls, but polls may be wrong.”
Zahler gave a similar answer.
“The polls are much less trustworthy because of the voluntary vote,” he told The Santiago Times. “Depending on how many people vote, you will get close or very different results from what the polls show.”
Another reason put forward by the experts for the polls’ potential lack of accuracy is the unreliability of the participants.
“In the polls, people often claim they will vote, but often fail to in the end,” Morales said.
Bunker added that in his opinion, Matthei would get more votes than the polls predict because of something called the “spiral of silence.”
“Some right-leaning voters hide their vote in the polls, but will turn out on Sunday,” he said.
By Clémence Douchez-Lortet ([email protected])
Copyright 2013 — The Santiago Times
This piece is part of The Santiago Times’ “Chile votes 2013” special edition:
– Chile’s parliamentary elections: a thorn in Bachelet’s side?
– Scandal sunk independent’s hopes in race for second place, experts say
– Bachelet: Chile is in danger of ‘major energy crisis’
– Lid lifted on anonymous millions spent in campaign donations
– Now voting is voluntary, there’s no excuse to stay at home
– Disenfranchised Chileans cast protest vote around the world
– Video game lightens the mood, pokes fun ahead of elections