Will Torres Win the 2019 Guatemala Presidential Elections?

J.A. Carizo

The 2019 Guatemala Presidential Elections is an uphill battle for former First Lady, Sandra Torres. Torres who is running under the National Unity of Hope (UNE) Party generated 33.4% of the votes cast during the first round of the presidential elections last June 16, 2019 but only climbed 7.56% based on the pre-runoff polls conducted by the CID Gallup for Fundación Libertad y Desarrollo.

The pre-runoff polls was conducted last July 9-14 with a sample size of 1,204 and a ± 2.8% margin of error.

Torres’s rival, Alejandro Giammattei of Vamos Por Una Guatemala Diferente (VAMOS), on the other hand, jumped to almost three times of the votes he gathered during the first round. From 13.95% of the total votes cast during the first round of the presidential race, Giammattei got 40.6% in the CID Gallup poll.

Given her performance, will Torres concede defeat? If not, will her efforts be an exercise in futility?

source: CID Gallup for Fundación Libertad y Desarrollo

Since the start of the campaign, Giammattei’s performance rose slowly but consistently. From 7.4% in March this year, Giammattei’s vote share hiked to 10.8% in April, moving to 12% in May, then to 13.95% during the First round. Though there were minor dips, these can be not considered to be statistically significant.

Torres, meanwhile, started at 20.7% in March but dropped to 17% in April, then 23.6% in mid-May and settling to 25.54% in the First Round.

Torres’s performance though does not guarantee she will be the runaway winner of the presidential race. An anatomy of the latest survey results show that the negative perception against her is 37.3% rating her to be a “bad” to “very bad” candidate. Only a small majority or 54.6% of the respondents think that Torres is “good” to “excellent” candidate. The negative perception is basically rooted on the corruption-related issues against the former first lady and her party-mates.

On the other hand, negative perception for Giammatei is only 11.7% with positive perception recorded at 78.4%.

Second, Torres has her support from the rural voters. The challenge here is that rural voters are smaller in number than the urban voters.

The biggest challenge not only for Torres but also for Giammattei is the big number of disinterested voters. Around 40.5% of the voters are disinterested to vote while 8% have not yet decided whether to cast their vote. Of the total number of disinterested voters, 51% think that there is no appropriate candidate to choose from while 16.8% claims that the voting center is far from their residence. The rest says that voting will not solve the country’s problem.

Given the short period of time, there is a low probability that Torres can attract these voters to the voting precincts and overturn the results of the CID Gallup. Low voter turnout is normal in Guatemalan presidential elections especially during the run-off. Average turnout, for instance, is only 58.37% with run-off elections recorded to be as low as 46.78% as in the case of the second round of the 2003 Presidential Elections. This being the case, the only room for Torres to maneuver is the 8% undecided voters. If she can get the 8% to vote and ensure that all of these vote for her, she can draw a vote-margin of more or less 1%.

Getting the support of the 8%, however, is less likely for Torres especially considering that the issues being raised by the votersseem to favor Giammattei. The CID Gallup shows that 28% of the voters consider security as an issue — something that Giammattei claims to be able to provide being a former director of prisons.

22.7% of the voters also consider combating corruption as the second most important issue. While voters believe that both Torres and Giammattei do not have clean hands, the weight is heavier against the former First Lady over  alleged illicit campaign financing four years ago. UNE has been accused of receiving around $2.5 million for the 2015 elections which were not reported to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Guatemala.

Unemployment is also a major issue as claimed by 17.4% of the CID Gallup’s respondents. Complicated by the strengthened anti-immigration laws of the United States, Torres still has a lot of message refinement to do to be able to attract more voters. It should be noted that Guatemala is a major source of migrants heading north through Mexico for the United States. Most of these migrants are fleeing from poverty and violence.

Guatemalan elections, however, are full of surprises. Just like how Giammattei consolidated the supporters of his rivals during the First Round, there is also no reason why Torres cannot muster sufficient support and emerge the winner. Her greatest enemy, however, is time and the appropriate message to get the voters out to vote and put her name in the ballot.

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