Sunday, June 15, 2014

Santos's Campaign Secret: La Selección?

Pres. Santos and supporters celebrate his reelection victory. (Photo: El Tiempo)
Pres. Santos, it seems to me, ran a remarkably ineffective reelection campaign, despite impressive achievements to run on: The economy is growing at an almost 5% annually, unemployment is dropping, inflation is low, Santos has killed several important guerrilla leaders and the government-FARC peace negotiations are progressing.

Colombia beat Greece 3-0 on Saturday.
Nevertheless, just ten days ago some polls had Santos trailing right-wing candidate Oscár Iván Zuluaga - who until recently was almost unknown to Colombians - by as much as 10% in voters' intentions.

And then, today, Santos won reelection with a comfortable 6% margin.

What changed things? It wasn't the debates, in which Santos seemed to flail and Zuluaga made his arguments with confidence.

Members of Colombia's selección celebrating yesterday.
Pres. Santos had good reason to celebrate, too.
Perhaps continued progress in the peace negotiations helped, as did vigorous support from left-wing political leaders.

But a significant factor may have been Colombia's previous day's victory in the World Cup.

Before you shake your head, read this 2010 study 'Irrelevant events affect voters' evaluations of government performance,' which found that in United States elections, a victory by the local college (American) football team gave an incumbent politician an average 1.61% vote increase. The connection isn't rational, of course. But when a voter feels that things are going well generally, he or she can subconsciously transfer that sentiment to the local incumbent.
'Polls predict a Zuluaga victory in Colombia.'

'Big poll: Zuluaga 49% Santos 41%.'

'Santos 38%, Zuluaga 37%. 'The competition is head-to-head.'
Take that 1.6% number, add in the facts that this was Colombia's first World Cup appearance since 1998 and that the national team seems to represent Colombian patriotism, and it seems to me Santos' World Cup boost might have been 2 or 3%. In addition, a more enthusiastic public would tend to turn out to vote in higher numbers, which generally favors the more leftist candidate.

Arguing against a large football influence is the match's closeness to election date - by the day before the vote, most people have already made up their minds.

Still, it's hard to imagine that Colombia's resounding victory over Greece didn't make a difference of at least a point or two. Such a shift of votes from Zuluaga to Santos would at least have changed the election results from a tiny Santos victory to the minor mandate which he received.

Santos voters? Workers in Paloquemao market celebrate Colombia's World Cup victory.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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