Argentine Political Outlook (Ago-08-19)
Ago-08-19, by Rosendo Fraga

1. For the open primaries held on August 11, the relevance will reside on whoever manages to interpret the outcome. Although a last-minute turnaround that allows Juntos por el Cambio to obtain more votes is not ruled out by the Administration, the likely scenario is that the Frente de Todos gets a lead of few points ahead. In this case, the ruling party will point to the fact that this difference in the primaries does not anticipate the first round. In the primaries of 2015, Cambiemos was second by eight points, which it managed to cut to two in the first round and ended up winning by 1.5 in the runoff. There will be a loss by a few points, as a good preview of the result of the first round. Emphasis will be placed on the increase in votes with respect to the 2015 open primaries. For its part, the main opposition party will present one more vote, as a victory and anticipation of what will happen in the first round, which takes place on October 27. The number of districts in which this Front has won will be presented and the presumed difference in favor it would obtain in Buenos Aires. If they win in cities governed by the national government, this will be highlighted. But both parties are aware that the campaign for the first round begins on the night of August 11. It will be the moment when voters will give greater attention to the electoral political process until the first round. The media will play an important role in imposing the interpretation of the outcome and this will be favorable to the ruling party. From that moment, both majority forces will begin to seek the vote of the third alternatives (Lavagna, Espert and Gómez Centurión and the left). 

2. But beyond the outcome it will be relevant how close or far the two main parties are from 45%. In the Argentine electoral system, the first round victory is reached as long as any of the tickets reaches that percentage, regardless of the difference over the second. In the first presidential election with open primaries in 2011, the sum of the first two (Cristina and Binner) obtained 62%. In the second one held in 2015, those who came first and second (Scioli and Macri) reached 68% together. The surveys prior to the 2019 election show that Macri and Fernández could reach 80% combined. This is a "hyperpolarized" primary election. This makes it likely that one of the two - or even both if further polarized - might exceed 40%. If one of the two alternatives seizes 43 or 44%, it will have almost reached the percentage to win in the first round. While it may be that a ticket obtains more votes in the primaries than in the first round, it is likely to happen the other way round. The absence of a third relevant party, such as Massa in the primaries and the first round in 2015, explains why "hyperpolarization" has taken place. 

3. In territorial politics, the key to the election outcome will be defined by the Buenos Aires suburbs on the one hand and the whole province of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe on the other. Greater Buenos Aires accounts for 25% of the country's votes. The difference in favor of Frente de Todos would be relevant, though Vidal is reducing it. Depending on how Kicillof manages to reduce the difference with the presidential ticket -Cristina is more popular than him in the Buenos Aires suburbs- he will obtain the votes for Governor. In La Matanza -where as many people as in the 6 smallest provinces cast ballots- the difference in favor of the Fernández-Fernández ticket is the most important. For her part, Vidal tries to ‘distance' from Macri, who has a worse image than she has in this area. Therefore, in recent weeks, the President has not accompanied her in the campaign events in the suburbs. To offset for this difference, Juntos por el Cambio seeks to obtain an important difference in Córdoba, the district in which it won in 2015 and is likely to win again. But in Santa Fe, it's harder. This time Peronism is united behind a candidate for Governor with good image (Pedrotti). In addition, the second provincial party is Socialism, whose voters are between Lavagna and Fernández. In the interior of the province of Buenos Aires, the difference is in favor of Juntos por el Cambio and in cities like Mar del Plata and Bahía Blanca, Macri did accompany Vidal. The sum of voters in the interior of the province of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe, reaches 29%, surpassing the BA suburbs by 4 points. 

4. The outcome of the primaries will also have a role in anticipating what may happen with the Congress makeup. The estimation for the Senate will be relatively easy, as only 8 of the 24 districts elect senators and in each of them whoever gets one more vote earns 2 seats and the second gets the remaining one. It will be difficult for Juntos por el Cambio to reach considerable progress, and can only add one or two seats. For the Lower House, things are more complex. The first round outcome defines the number of seats that each party will obtain, which are distributed proportionally. If in the open primaries, the national government obtains 7 or 8 points more than the 30% obtained in 2015 in the primaries or 34% of the first round, this will mean some gains in the Lower House. To win more seats, the main opposition force has to obtain more than the 38% it reached in the open primaries of the last presidential election or 36% of the first round. Finally, the ruling party is convinced that the greater the number of votes, the more votes it will get, because the least committed voter is more likely to vote for Juntos por el Cambio. In 2015, 75% voted in the primaries and 81% in the first round. 

5. To conclude: 

a) In the political effect of the open primaries, whoever manages to impose the interpretation of the election outcome will be key, and this will play a role in the media, presumably in favor of the ruling coalition. 

b) Not only the difference in points between the first and the second will be relevant but also how close will the first one be from the 45% required to win in the first round. 

c) In territorial politics, the ruling coalition seeks to offset to its favor in Cordoba, Santa Fe and the rest of the BA province, compared to the suburbs which might be in favor of the main opposition party. 

d) The primaries outcome may anticipate the makeup of Congress, but this will effectively be defined by the first-round outcome, when national legislators will be elected.