President Mauricio Macri’s chances of winning Argentina’s election this year are improving as public sentiment climbs and the economy begins to find its footing after a currency crisis, according to Alejandro Catterberg, director of Poliarquia, one of the nation’s top pollsters.
“If the social climate keeps improving for four more months, the government’s chances of winning are very high,” Catterberg said in an interview, referring to the Oct. 27 vote. “My gut feeling is that Macri wins, but if I just look at the economic indicators, I say Macri loses.”
Poliarquia does not have a contract with Macri’s government and isn’t working with any presidential campaign but Catterberg shares his polling data with top government officials. Buenos Aires city Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, one of Macri’s top allies, pays Poliarquia for polling data.
He wouldn’t disclose key data, such as voter intention, because he’s contractually obligated to only give those figures to clients.
Macri is benefiting from the economy’s newfound stability although the country remains in recession with unemployment in the double-digits. His approval rating jumped to 34% in June from 28% in May, according to Poliarquia numbers Catterberg was willing to share. That’s still far from the 62% approval rating he enjoyed in November 2017 right after mid-term elections.
Macri’s top opponent is Alberto Fernandez, whose VP candidate is Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the former populist president from 2007 to 2015. Catterberg says the election has become more polarized in recent months, and that there’s a 30% chance it may be decided in October, most likely with an outright victory by Fernandez in the first round. Only two months ago, Catterberg said, chances of such an outcome were zero.
A first-round victory requires the leading candidate to win over 45% of the votes, or 40% with a lead greater than 10 percentage points over the second-placed candidate. If that’s not the case, the two leading candidates will face each other in a run-off vote on November 24.
From investors’ perspective, Catterberg says the best-case scenario of the Aug. 11 primary vote is that Fernandez and VP Cristina receive less than 40% of votes and Macri trails by less than 5 percentage points.
“I think if that happens the markets -- or people -- are going to believe that it’s a distance that can be overcome in the remainder of the election cycle,” said Catterberg, adding that’s half the distance Macri had to leap in his surprising 2015 victory.
Lower voter participation in the August primaries, as it is usually the case, would likely favor Macri in October, because he is better positioned to capture the support of those less politicized Argentines who only show up on the actual election day.
“The lower the level of participation [in August], the less worse it should be for Macri,” Catterberg said. “I think there’s an understanding in all political parties that if this goes onto a runoff, Macri’s chances are better than those of Kirchner’s party.”
With a stable economy, Macri can focus the election narrative on his accomplishments: Infrastructure projects, international credibility, a European Union-Mercosur trade deal and a crackdown on drug trafficking.
Furthermore despite the moderate speech of Fernandez, the prospects of a good showing by his ticket with VP Cristina Fernandez could easily trigger another financial extreme situation with Argentines dumping the Peso and looking to take refuge in the all mighty US dollar.