A man casts his ballot at a polling station during the primary elections in Venado Tuerto, Argentina.Ricardo Ceppi (Getty Images)
In the last three months, Argentines have gone to vote almost every weekend. Since April 16, when the citizens of the provinces of Neuquén and Río Negro inaugurated the 2023 electoral calendar, 14 provinces have elected governor – another three voted in primaries and one had legislative elections. In a country where voting is compulsory, it is striking that the number of voters who went to the polls has fallen by close to 5% in most territories compared to 2019 – the last comparable elections – while the number of blank and null votes has grown.
An analysis by the Research Center for Democratic Quality shows that participation fell in most provinces. There were only two exceptions, in the north of the country: Tucumán, where it grew by 0.44%, and Formosa, where the percentage did not change. In addition, there were almost 1.5% more blank and null votes. A striking case was that of Tierra del Fuego, where the ruling party won with 54% and second place went to the blank vote. In the Patagonian province, 20.97% of the electorate chose not to put any candidate’s ballot in their envelope.
The political scientist Facundo Cruz refines the calculation and proposes to analyze the turnout of 2023 by comparing the positive participation of the electorate, that is, the number of people who went to vote and chose a list of those available in the electoral offer – that is, without counting the absenteeism, the white vote and the invalid vote. If that is taken into account, in provinces such as Tierra del Fuego, participation fell by 17% in these elections. The percentage decreases in almost all territories, although to a different extent. While in Río Negro the drop was almost 12%, in La Pampa it was 0.10%. The only exception was Formosa, where the positive share rose 3.51%.
The experts consulted by EL PAÍS agree that the drop, however, is not abrupt. Cruz, who is a researcher at the Research Center for Democratic Quality, warns that the drop in general participation in the provinces is “slight and progressive.” “I wouldn’t say it’s marginal, but it went down slightly,” says the political scientist, who adds: “It’s not an issue that worries about two issues. First, because electoral participation must be understood as rising or falling waves, and now we are in a falling wave. Added to this is the fact that the Argentine electorate, election after election, is growing. What is falling is the proportion of that electorate that is going to vote.”
Since the data on participation in the provincial elections began to indicate this drop in turnout, analysts have related the figures to different reasons ranging from weariness, disinterest or distrust in politics. Cruz considers that there are “17 different electoral scenarios” and, therefore, “17 different explanations” that account for the drop: “For example, in Chubut, participation fell. But why? The night before there was a storm of winds of 140 kilometers in Comodoro Rivadavia, the main district, and less than 60% of the population voted.
“Is it okay for representation to drop in a country where voting is compulsory?” asks political scientist Lara Goyburu, a member of the Red de Politólogas, and answers: “No, of course not. But in this scenario, with a very strong economic crisis that has dragged on for several months and with a political crisis of representation, where there are third party scenarios, I can breathe a little”. “That 5% drop in average participation in the provincial elections is thrown up by specific provinces where participation dropped a lot, such as Tierra del Fuego, Río Negro or Mendoza. But in most it did not drop more than 10% ”, she adds.
Goyburu warns that “I would never transfer this trend to what may happen on the national stage.” “Local dynamics in any federalism, but particularly in Argentina, cannot be extrapolated to a national level. They are different games and, fundamentally, the territories weigh differently. The fact that 20% of the register is not going to vote in Tierra del Fuego does not have much weight for a national election because it is not defined in Tierra del Fuego, but in the Buenos Aires suburbs (where no vote has yet been taken), in Córdoba, in Santa Faith… If abstention in Córdoba reaches 20%, then we do have to open our eyes and look carefully”, he explains.
Participation in the general elections
Argentines over the age of 16 will go to the polls throughout the country on August 13 to vote in the Open, Simultaneous and Mandatory Primaries, the PASO, in which the presidential candidates who will compete in the general elections on August 22 will be chosen. October. The candidates with the most possibilities according to the polls are the Peronist Sergio Massa, for the Unión por la Patria alliance, and the conservatives Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich, who will contest the internship of Together for Change. Javier Milei, the far-right libertarian deputy, also appears in the painting.
Pablo Secchi, director of the Poder Ciudadano organization, insists that it is necessary to wait until the primaries to see if the drop in participation that was observed in the provincial elections is ratified in the general ones. “And I PASS them, let’s remember, they will surely have less participation than the general elections,” he points out. “We know that participation is dropping in a year in which at the national level we are going to vote three times. In (the city of) Córdoba, for example, the governor and mayor were elected, with which they can vote up to five times a year. All this discourages a bit. But at the national level we don’t know, ”he explains.
Since Argentina returned to democracy in 1983, after a dictatorship that lasted seven years, participation in general elections has always been above 70%, except in 2021, in the legislative elections that were held during the covid-19 pandemic. . On that occasion, participation was close to 68% of the electoral roll. The obligatory nature of voting in the country, determined by the Constitution and by law, has always favored high levels of participation. The highest turnout figures in Argentina were recorded in the 1983 and 1989 elections, when it exceeded 85%. Starting in the 1990s, citizens went to the polls less, but the decline has not been considerable.
A report from the University of Buenos Aires indicates that the majority of Argentines are “somewhat interested” in politics, although “little mobilized.” “It is imprecise to say that apathy and disinterest rule us. There is interest, enough. But it is not majority. This means that there is not necessarily a mobilization for politics and for politics”, the study reads. Some surveys predict that the turnout, in fact, will be maintained. A survey by the consultancy Zubán Córdoba, for example, ensures that “71%” of those consulted “affirm that it is highly probable that they will vote” on October 22. The text, published in July, clarifies: “Although there has been a lower turnout in the provincial elections, this does not necessarily mean that it will be repeated in the general election.”
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