It will be an unprecedented event since the return of democracy. Because since 1992, the elections for mayors and councilors have never had to share space with other elections: if the parliamentary and presidential have gone hand in hand -except for the period between 1997 and 2001-, the measurement of forces at the local level has always been on a separate track. And now, in the absence of one, it will share space with two elections: the one for regional governors and the one that will elect representatives for the constitutional convention.
The milestone has two effects that could be described as inverse. The first is that the candidates will probably have less attention and coverage: the few minutes or seconds must be contested with the other elections and the interest focused on the constituents makes the municipal election go to a more discreet plane. But at the same time, the attraction and mobilization of voters due to the accumulation of elections put the 2021 mayoral race on track to be the one with the highest participation at the municipal level in all history.
In 2000, almost nine months after the second presidential round between Ricardo Lagos and Joaquín Lavín, the municipal elections summoned 7,089,886 voters. In 2016, and after the changes in automatic registration and voluntary voting, participation in the mayors’ election was 4,926,935 people. If the 7,538,120 voters who turned out to vote on October 25 for the constitutional plebiscite in Continental Chile plus Antarctica and Easter Island were to go back to the polls on April 11, potentially the participation figure could grow by more than 2,610,000 people, increasing 53% compared to 2016.
Following the same analysis, the rise would be especially significant in the Metropolitan Region, where the voters for the plebiscite more than doubled the number of people who participated in the previous municipal elections. An increase that, in addition, is even greater in emblematic communes of Greater Santiago such as Puente Alto, La Pintana, Maipú and Peñalolén: in the first of them, for example, it went from 85,296 voters in 2016 to 228,573 for last year’s plebiscite .
In a post-social outbreak political scenario, the entry of this group of new voters also makes municipal elections one of reserved prognosis. The uncertainty of not knowing who will vote or what the final number of participants will be has candidates, both challenging and incumbent, on alert. And, according to experts and analysts, it could even play a role in the proposals that are beginning to come out about changing the timing of the elections.
A different electorate
Candidates for mayors and councilors will no longer run alone and the field will be divided into four for the next elections on April 11, with a more diverse electorate that demands new definitions.
The October plebiscite marks a precedent. The voters who voted were characterized by being younger, in addition to having a participatory increase in urban-popular sectors. Hence, the experts agree that the demographic factor and the challenges of the aspiring mayors this time will vary greatly.
Unholster’s Director of Data Science, Cristóbal Huneeus, He says that “they are going to have the challenge of summoning people and speaking to voters who have never voted for them and that is going to change the map of mayors in a very important way. The mayor will have a much greater legitimacy because he will be elected with triple, quadruple or double the votes of what he was used to ”.
Pamela Figueroa, political scientist and teacher at the Usach, states that “the plebiscite was an important milestone, the most massive election that there has been in the history of Chile. Without a doubt, that will impact the April 11 election, and in 2021 Chile has an electoral super cycle and this activates the parties and civil organizations and the citizens. The trend will probably be similar or even higher than the number of people who voted on October 25 ”.
In that sense, Marco Moreno, director of the School of Government of the Central University, points out that there will be an inertial factor in the voting universe that could go to the polls on April 11 where actors who previously did not do so in large numbers will be incorporated. “The most important change is the sociodemographic change. In the plebiscite, many more people from communes voted than before. There was a growing phenomenon of what is called class bias, that is, those communes that had greater access to information voted more. They are not only younger people, but more diverse. In addition, they have demands for participation, social demands, around inequality, and others ”, he analyzes.
The uncertain as pattern
Compared to the 2016 municipal elections, 2.6 million more people voted in October. The average of the former was around 35% and the most recent vote showed 51% of the electoral roll. Puente Alto, Maipú, Pudahuel, San Joaquín, La Granja and La Pintana are some of the communes in which the votes doubled and even more: several of them also have mayors seeking a new term.
“Turnout is always lower in local elections than in national elections. This favors mayors seeking reelection. The fewer people vote, the better, because the more likely it is that the people mobilized by the mayor will be the ones who finally decide the election. On the other hand, when more people come to vote, the levels of uncertainty increase and the mayor loses control of the election. For this reason, it is not so strange that the councilors are the ones who promote the idea of separating the elections, leaving the mayors and councilors for the same day ”, describes the academic from the University of Talca, Mauricio Morales.
His comment points to the joint initiative presented during the week that just passed by the mayors of Florida, Rodolfo Carter; and from Providencia, Evelyn Matthei. Unlike what was proposed by the government, which will promote extending the voting in all elections to two consecutive days, the councilors proposed that the elections be separated, leaving the election of constituents of the municipal vote on a different weekend. The analysis indicates that, if the classic behavior of the Chilean electorate were followed, this would have the effect that participation in the election of mayors and councilors would be lower than in the other elections.
For Pamela Figueroa, the low certainty factor of multiple simultaneous elections “makes the mayors uncomfortable, who were used to one type of electorate; however, this will strengthen local governments, because there is a great variety of candidates that have joined ”.
Huneeus points out that the youth factor will be much more influential in some communes. However, he foresees that the participation of older people will also increase – who on this occasion are probably vaccinated – and that they could define mayoral elections in Santiago Centro or Providencia. In addition, he envisions other factors such as contributions: “They have fewer resources because the large amount is going to the constituents. They will have to campaign with less money, and perhaps that makes the field more even between the incumbent and the one who goes for the first time ”.
The political scientist of the Network of Politologists, Javiera Arce, stresses that the mathematical models of predictability are not working and a relevant factor is the crisis of the political-social institutionality. In addition, it states that “within all the elections in recent times, the ones that have had the most electoral volatility have been those of mayors. They are the ones that have changed the most of the people in charge. The low predictability responds precisely to the replacement of the voting elite. I do not think it is convenient for us to isolate the elections, because the election of constituents that is the one that attracts the most attention can lead to more voters, it can make people go more to vote ”.
Experts agree that councilors will have to offer the electorate clear definitions and programs based on the needs of the population. They emphasize that the role they played during the social outbreak and the pandemic management contributes to their revenues, however, no one is assured of the position.
“Campaigns that were previously focused only on image have to migrate to the programmatic debate, which is what the public is waiting for. It is also relevant that these proposals include citizen participation, ”says Figueroa.
For his part, Huneeus points out that if the incumbents who are going to re-election did not include the young electorate, it can be risky. “It may be that the mayor of a commune was elected with the votes of the elderly, but it turns out that 50% of a new electorate arrives, with which he no longer gained credibility. And if they vote for another candidate they can make him lose, then the composition of the electorate in the municipal can change the result in many communes if the mayor never took this age group into consideration and that is the concern of several councilors ”.
Morales emphasizes that there will be a high volume of mayors who will not repost, communes where any scenario can occur. “We will have the lowest incumbent mayors volume since these authorities were directly elected (in 2004). If for the 2016 elections we had 294 incumbents, in 2021 it will be 206. Population changes – reflected in the register – will also increase the dose of uncertainty, particularly in the municipalities of the Metropolitan Region ”, he indicates.
Arce says that candidates should aim for “targeted campaigns, in which people are informed, taking a position on certain issues. As long as that is not done, they are doomed to failure. “
For Tresquintos CEO Kenneth Bunker, There are two key factors that mayoral candidates might consider: aligning themselves with constituent positions and focusing on the communal. “Several will try to exploit the local national cleavage that has emerged in recent times, focusing on the good work, in quotation marks, that mayors had in recent years, especially on the issue of the plebiscite and the social outbreak, I believe that this character is going to be exploited a little more than normal ”, he says, adding that“ they could also try to anchor their programs according to what some of the largest electoral lists propose for the constituent convention, informing the voters in what position are they on constitutional issues, that is, a double discourse ”.