Javier Milei has made many headline-grabbing claims this campaign season. The Pope is an agent of evil, Patricia Bullrich was a kindergarten bomber, etc. But one lowkey, seemingly off-the-cuff remark made this week during an interview with Jaime Bayly was particularly interesting.
“Sergio Massa himself,” asserted Milei, “circulated surveys that show us ahead.” The rationale? So that Milei voters view victory as secure and don’t go to vote. The alleged strategy (bumping Milei in the polls) would, in Milei’s estimation, go hand-in-hand with Massa’s fear campaign aimed at fomenting opposition to the libertarian.
It was a curious take on the slew of polls that came out this week that showed the polling gap between the libertarian and Massa narrowing.
Following the first round vote, during which Massa put up a surprisingly strong showing, the economy-minister-turned-candidate became many pollsters’ favorite. That seems to have shifted somewhat over the last week.
In most polls, the gap between the two candidates is nearly within the polling margin of error. In some, Milei has once again regained the lead.
One of those pollsters, Proyeccion Cc, was one of the few to predict that Massa would win in the October 22 general election. Since, they’ve shown Massa maintaining a commanding lead over Milei. Their most recent poll, however, gave Milei 44.6% to Massa’s 42.9%.
Could Massa benefit from being the underdog? Some might say “yes,” that perceptions of a strong Milei could help mobilize anti-Milei voters to turn out in favor of Massa.
Proyeccion Cc’s director, Santiago Giorgetta, isn’t convinced by that logic. “I don’t see an electorate, for fear of having lost an election in the polls, turning out for Sergio Massa.”
“An important sector of society will make its decision in the last week before the election,” he added, highlighting the situation’s fluidity and the weight of undecided voters.
Polls are not fact, but this shift, whoever it benefits, is notable in that it suggests sizable growth in Milei’s post-general-election support and moderate growth in Massa’s. The cause?
According to Giorgetta, it’s the Macri factor. The Proyección Cc director noted the importance of Macri’s endorsement for convincing Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) candidate Patricia Bullrich’s supporters to back the libertarian.
“Mauricio Macri’s role, and his public approval, was fundamental” in gaining Milei the backing of nearly 6 in ten Bullrich voters. That’s compared to three weeks ago, in the immediate wake of the general election, when only 24% of Bullrich’s supporters intended to vote for Milei in the runoff.
As voting intentions begin to settle, what’s clear is that the undecided voters, those who won’t vote, or those who intend to cast a blank ballot will determine this election. According to Giorgetta, they’ll likely make up their minds next week, after Sunday’s final presidential debate.
Polling estimates that group to constitute roughly 5-12% of voters. Many of them likely backed Córdoba province Governor Juan Schiaretti or Buenos Aires City mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta during the Propuesta Repúblicana party’s primary.
Those voters don’t like either candidate, but they share points in common with each. With Massa, said Giorgetta, it’s likely “support for public education, public health access.”
With Milei? “Anti-Kirchnerism,” proffered Giorgetta, adding that that factor likely drew many of Bullrich’s voters to Milei.
For that exact reason, the historically vocal, hardline wing of Peronism aligned with Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has kept relatively quiet during this campaign. At the national level, their brand is relatively toxic. As Massa courts moderate voters, Kirchner and her allies’ most effective show of support has been silence.
Concerningly for Massa, some tremors emanated this week from Peronism’s Kirchnerist wing.
Launched in January by the deputies of the ruling Unión por la Patria coalition, but widely associated with the Kirchner-aligned wing of the coalition, a congressional committee sought to remove Argentina’s four sitting Supreme Court justices on charges of misconduct. The motion was controversial, though it was supported by other parties, including Coalición Cívica, a JxC member.
While ruling coalition officials cited what they asserted to be impeachable misconduct on the part of the justices, many within the opposition labeled the move a politically motivated stunt that imperiled the judiciary’s independence.
Regardless, the issue had been shelved for months and was rapidly fading into political history.
That is, however, until the justices were served their charges last month, just before the first-round presidential vote, and given until last Thursday to respond.
The impeachment issue has raised tensions within the ruling coalition. It gives ammunition to Milei, who might use it to attack Massa’s “defense of democracy” campaign as hypocritical.
It also has the potential to deter those critical undecided or null-vote voters. Schiaretti, who doubled his primary showing to win 1.7 million votes during the general election, explicitly linked Massa to what he described as the “Kirchnerist impeachment of the Supreme Court.”
More on the impeachment motion and its implications for Massa here.
Further adding fuel to the fire is a breaking scandal involving some Kirchner-aligned officials, who have been implicated in an illegal espionage case. With less than two weeks before the vote, Massa cannot afford to be tied to more scandals involving his allies.
But arguably the most important development this week will be Sunday’s presidential debate. It will be the final opportunity for Massa and Milei to make their cases to Argentine voters, particularly those who have yet to decide, before Argentina takes to the polls the following week.