Tag Archives: La Silla Vacia

The Surprise That Shouldn’t Have Been A Surprise: The Electoral Rise of Juan Manuel Santos

3 Jun

by Hayward Charly In La Silla Vacia/ http://haywardcharly.blogspot.com

The first round Colombian Presidential elections turned out NOT to be heated elections. In fact, voter turnout, new media, and the youth ceased to be significant determining factors in predicting electoral results. Why? Because the first round election was NOT at a statistical tie. Most pollsters knew Juan Manuel Santos (Partido the La U) was ahead, but could not publish results. What Happened? Why wasn’t the election close in the end? And what about the “Green Wave” and the impact of Facebook and new media on elections?

A Statistical Debacle? Or The Statistical Tie That Wasn’t?

The correct answer is the statistical tie that wasn’t. On May 21, 2010 three major polls (Datexco, Invamer/Gallup, Consejo Nacional Electoral) published results showing both candidates at a statistical tie—Juan Manuel Santos (for the Partido the La U), with the support of 35% of those polled, and Antanas Mockus (for the Green Party) with 34% (Datexco). During the last week of the elections, Colombian law prohibits the publishing of poll results, so that polls do not influence electoral outcomes. However ridiculous that law (La Ley de Garantias) may seem to most statistics freaks, the law is the law, so the general public did not know candidate standings before voting.

When the actual voting results were reported on Sunday evening, Juan Manuel Santos, President Alvaro Uribe’s former Defense Minister, won the first round of elections with 46% of the vote and runner up Antanas Mockus obtained 21% of the vote. This result was a surprise to most, because every one expected a close electoral race. According to Jorge Londoño from Invamer/Gallup, his company conducted a private survey during the last week of the elections, and the poll showed that Antanas Mockus’s support had slipped by 15 points.  If Gallup’s results are true, then Sunday’s surprise wasn’t a surprise, because the poll results could have explained Santos’s relative rise and Mockus’s electoral fall this past Sunday.

Invamer/Gallup’s results could have also explained German Vargas Lleras’s success at the voting booth. German Vargas Lleras was the candidate for the Causa Radical party. On May 21, 2010 most polls placed him in 5th place with 3% of support, behind Gustavo Petro (Polo Democratico Alternativo) and Noemi Sanin (Partido Conservador). On Sunday’s election he received 10% of the vote, placing him in 3rd place.  Vargas Lleras participated in two debates done within the last week of the elections, and his successful performance most likely increased public support relative to other candidates.

Many in the media, and politicians like Juan Manuel Santos, German Vargas Lleras, and Gustavo Petro have publicly said, that the pollsters were the big losers for publishing misleading results. German Vargas Lleras has publicly said that pollsters should be regulated, because their observations were at a loss.  However, the statistics did not fail; they simply were not published.

By Arantiz Published in Semana

If anything the government’s law forbidding publishing poll results should be repealed. The government’s ban, on publishing survey data on the last week of an election, leads people to create and believe in conspiracy theories. These theories try to explain electoral outcomes that do not match polling results.  Although corruption exists in Colombia, conspiracy theories lead people to think that a country’s institutions are more corrupt than they actually are. One such conspiracy theory going around is called “Operation Titanium 4,” in which a hacker is blamed for implanting a virus within the government’s National Registry. According to the story the virus created a vote for Santos every time Mockus registered a vote. This is how this story explains that Santos doubled Mockus’s Sunday results. Conspiracy theories coupled with, the real reports of electoral irregularities found in previous elections, create a public feeling of paranoia and distrust in democratic institutions. These type of theories are currently rampant on the Internet.

Why Didn’t Voter Turnout Matter?

Voter turnout did not matter because it was not a close election. In a close election voter turnout matters because every vote counts. The winner is determined by whoever has the most votes, and winners in close elections win by a small margin. In recent Colombian events, the close race for the Conservative Party presidential nomination, between Noemi Sanin (1,118,090 votes) and Felipe Arias (1,080,313), required the National Registry to do a recount and determine a winner.  Sanin won only by about 37,000 votes.

Like mentioned in a previous blog post, in close races a party’s enthusiasm is a determinant in getting out the vote (by creating and repeating messages that inspire and help get people to the voting booths). Political parties can communicate with voters through all types of media to “get-out-the-vote.” A party’s organization is also key in doing this, because it logistically prepares its voters to get to the voting booth. Electoral strategies like the practice of clientelism, were a patron gathers his followers and offers them immediate material benefits (such as jobs, money, a lunch, groceries, or a subsidy guarantee) in exchange for a vote, can make it easier to get people to the voting booth, but lead to corruption.

Usually voter turnout in close elections is high. However, Sunday’s election revealed that the turnout rate was low, and 51% of registered voters did not vote. This absentee rate is not any different from other recent presidential election years.

On 1998 the last time Colombia had a run-off election, the absentee rate was about 50% for the first round. Then the rate lowered for the run-off election to around 43% of the vote, precisely because the race was a close race. Andres Pastrana (Great Alliance for Change) obtained 34.37% in the first round and 50.34% in the second round.  Horacio Serpa (Liberal Party) obtained 34.78% in the first round and 46.58% in the second round.  In this case Andres Pastrana won the run-off election by only three percentage points.

On 2002 the absentee rate was 54%, and on 2006 55% of registered Colombians abstained from voting during a presidential race.  In both of these presidential races Alvaro Uribe Velez (Partido Conservador/Colombia First) won by wide margins in the first round of elections. In 2002 he obtained 5.8 million votes and 53% of the vote, and in 2006 Uribe obtained 7.4 million votes and 62% of the vote.

Given that the absentee rate during presidential election in Colombia is in the 50% rate; this past election was a normal election.

What about New Media, The Incredible Facebook “Fan” Base for Antanas Mockus, and The Youth Vote?

The last post on this blog asked a question about the 2010 Colombian Presidential Elections, “Which will prevail? New Media or Clientelism?” It discussed how voter turnout and the youth vote could be a tiebreaker, if an electoral race is close.

It is difficult to know just how many Facebook “fans” became voters. These results are still inconclusive, because Facebook has not published any results on the amount of people that said they voted at the presidential elections in Colombia, through their network. Also, the Colombian government’s election website at the Registraduria Nacional does not break down the votes according to age. This lack of information makes it hard to know how many people ages 18-25 voted for Antanas Mockus. It is also difficult to correlate whether Facebook as a medium had an effect particularly on the youth vote in these elections.  Although Randi Zuckerberg, Marketing Director of Facebook, said that Facebook was instrumental in getting out the vote at the Iowa Caucus in 2008, it is hard to know whether these results were replicated in Colombia. The youth vote is generally apathetic to elections, and given Sunday’s absenteeism, the youth probably did not come out to play.

What is known is that the run-off election is on June 20th, and the Antanas Mockus’s page has broken through the 700,000-Facebook fan base. He still ranks 7th place worldwide in being one of the most liked politicians.  The other Colombian politician whose fan base has increased this week is that of German Vargas Lleras, whose fans increased by 51% after the first round of elections. So, Vargas Lleras is definitely building on his political future. What does this mean for Antanas Mockus and German Vargas Lleras? That they have a following with the public, but a “fan” base will not “get-out-the vote.”

Enthusiatic Followers & Weak Party Organization

Some reports believe that Antanas Mockus’s Green Party was not able to mobilize his followers to the booths.  Juanita León, a journalist from La Silla Vacia an Internet newsmagazine, reported that transportation to election booths was disorganized, and by the time the campaign decided to provide transportation to its base, public buses and taxis were already reserved by opposing political parties.

Another story from La Silla Vacia, reporting from a rural area in the Department of Choco reports that Betty Moreno, a Green Partisan, had the support from a great number of new voters, but that the Party did not send them logistical support or enough money to cover transportation costs. Voters stayed home, because they would have had to transport themselves through canoes or trucks, and travel for two hours to vote.  In these instances a political party needs to organize a “get-out-the-vote” campaign to get people to the booths. Calling potential voters, knocking on people’s doors, organizing volunteers, and getting transportation ready is very important during the last weeks. Since the Green Party is a new party with only 5 months of existence, it lacks logistical support especially in rural areas, which are dominated by traditional politicians that use clientelism to get votes. In the logistical aspect of a campaign, whether an election is close or not, a political party’s organization is a determining factor in translating public opinion into votes. It is an important factor for facilitating the vote and reducing the transaction costs of voting. If the Green Party wants to improve its electoral outcomes it has to resolve these logistical problems, or it is going to be a one-election party.

The Persistence of the Traditional Party Machinery

The short answer to the last blog post is that the party machinery won, as a strategy to get votes. Not so much because of the use of clientelism to buy votes, but because machineries organize “get-out-the-vote” campaigns especially among those in the electorate who have difficulty getting to the booth, be they living in far away places, disabled, older adults, and/or poor.

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