A national poll released last week by Management and Fit, a credible local pollster, shows that roughly 45.91% of respondents do not identify with the ruling Cambiemos coalition nor the FPV, the Kirchner-backed faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party (PJ). Only 28.93% of respondents expressly support Macri’s group, whereas 25.16% back former President Cristina Kirchner’s group.
The political parties’ deeply polarized discourse is clearly not resonating with a significant portion of the electorate, as the poll demonstrates. This group of skeptical voters is diverse, including people who identify as independent leftists, those who declare themselves alienated from politics, and a number who opt for smaller fringe political factions. The polls also show that there has been little demographic variance in historical preferences. The cities of Buenos Aires and Cordoba remain dominated by the middle-class, pro-market vote which favors Macri’s group; whereas the rest of Buenos Aires province (traditionally a Peronist stronghold, and home to nearly 40% of the national electorate) remains mostly in favor of Kirchner’s group.
The poll shows the limits of Macri’s alliances with the centrist UCR and other leaders that do not lean to the right, like Elisa Carrio of the Civic Coalition (CC). After the brief euphoria following his victory in the second round of the presidential election in 2015, when it seemed that Macri would be able to build more varied support among the electorate, his government now seems limited again to the constituencies that have always sympathized with the economically liberal ideas of his Republican Proposal (PRO).
Strains on the PRO’s alliance with the UCR have been more evident in the last few weeks. With congressional lists due to be released by the end of this month, UCR members have vented their discontent with Macri’s attempts at deciding which of the party’s legislators should be included in order to increase Cambiemos’ competitiveness. Over the last few weeks, a number of deputies reportedly met with Mario Negri, the UCR’s congressional leader, to complain about Macri’s interventions. A private UCR meeting at the Hotel Savoy in Buenos Aires on 6 June also allegedly addressed the party’s dissatisfaction with its position in Cambiemos. Congresswoman Carrio, arguably Macri’s most important ally, has also recently made backhanded, ambiguous remarks about the president. (She recently compared him with Donald Trump, suggesting he had risen to the presidency partly through strong marketing.)
Macri and Kirchner have both followed strategies of personal attacks against each other. Indeed, Kirchner is currently on trial and has alleged political persecution by Macri’s government. But if these polarizing strategies continue, neither Cambiemos nor Kirchner’s FPV are likely to net more than a third of the electorate in the upcoming October elections. Accordingly, political fragmentation will persist and possibly deepen. With the economy remaining sluggish, inflation still at roughly 40% and Macri’s approval rating below 50% for the first time since he took office, there could be more fractures in Cambiemos next year. This would particularly be the case if an independent path becomes more appealing for UCR members and even for Carrio, who has long aspired to the presidency. Likewise, Kirchner’s FPV seems unlikely to unify the Peronist party anytime soon, which is another variable that could increase fragmentation.
The midterm elections, in other words, will make Macri’s position more fragile. Policy-wise, the government is likely to continue on its pro-market path, but its capacity to maintain an operating legislative bloc will be severely tested if splinters in the coalition appear, since the Peronist opposition, though also fragmented, would be stronger. Historically, fragility in Congress has also meant greater government vulnerability on the labor front. A crucial event to observe will be salary negotiations early next year with the General Confederation of Workers (CGT). After a brief honeymoon period, the government and CGT have fallen out more often – with the latter calling a major demonstration and national strike last March and April. Since the government is unlikely to match salary raises to inflation, pressure from labor groups is likely to increase in the run-up to the midterms.