Former President Sebastian Piñera won 36.6% of the vote in yesterday’s first round presidential election in Chile. In second place is Alejandro Guillier of the Nueva Mayoria with 22.7%, placing him only narrowly ahead of the Frente Amplio’s Beatriz Sanchez who won over 20% of the vote. Piñera will face Guillier in a second round on 17 December.
It’s not often that my pre-election analysis from six months earlier works as the post-election analysis the day after, but here’s what I wrote in May
First, there are a high number of undecideds and a high number of people who are dissatisfied with the major political parties. That feeling of dissatisfaction is why a candidate like Sanchez can surge. Second, Piñera is a weak frontrunner candidate at the moment. The former president is only pulling a third of the vote and it isn't as if voters don't know him or are undecided about him. He's just not that popular, which means he will need to rely on a negative campaign against his opponents in order to win.
Five more points:
1. The expectation was that Piñera would win over 40% in this first round. His failure to meet expectations gives an opening for Guillier to rally the center and left by showing a plausible path to victory. In 2009, Piñera won 44% in the first round and only narrowly won in the second round with 51.6% against Eduardo Frei. They hypothetical polling prior to the first round showed Piñera with a solid second round lead over any opponent, but that will almost certainly narrow in the coming weeks now that the second round is no longer hypothetical.
2. A big story from this election is the rise of Beatriz Sanchez and Chile’s left outside of the Nueva Mayoria coalition. Sanchez’s results in the first round mean she has significant leverage with Guillier, who needs her support to win. The parties of the Frente Amplio went from three to 21 seats in the expanded lower house, giving them a significant presence that could be the key to a majority coalition with Nueva Mayoria on certain issues.
3. Analysts are now trying to figure out where votes go. Do Sanchez’s and MEO’s (5.7%) voters go vote in the second round for Guillier or stay home? Do Kast’s (7.9%) voters go to Piñera or stay home? How do the voters for Carolina Goic (5.9%), the underperforming centrist in the race, split in the second round? If the same voters turn out as in the first round and vote their preferences, the back of the envelope math says the decisions by Goic’s voters are likely to be the key that pushes one of the candidates over 50%.
4. Voter turnout was below 50% in every region of the country. That low turnout is a bad sign for Chile’s democracy. It also creates a second round prediction challenge. There are questions about whether first round voters will now stay home, but there are also a significant number of citizens who could show up in the second round who didn’t vote in the first round because they didn’t view it as decisive.
5. The parties that make up Piñera’s Chile Vamos coalition gained significant ground in both the lower and upper house, but they failed to reach a majority in either. The Chile Vamos coalition will have 71 out of 155 seats (up from 120 total seats) in the expanded lower house. It will also fall just short of a majority in the Senate. This means that even if Piñera wins the presidency, his agenda will require significant compromise to push through the legislature.