While public attention may be focused on a scandal over the secret application of Covid-19 vaccines to several hundred government officials, the presidential election campaign proceeds amid heightened uncertainty over the outcome. The latest Ipsos poll carried out late last week and published on 14 February indicates the race remains wide open with less than eight weeks to go before the 11 April first round. Below we examine the latest key dynamics in the race.
Most voters remain uninterested in the elections. Only two candidates are polling in double figures: George Forsyth (National Victory – VN) on 11% and Yonhy Lescano (Popular Action – AP) on 10%. Those saying they will cast a blank ballot and those who still have not made up their minds total 29%. However, apathy and indecision could fade as the elections near; 88% of voters say they intend to vote on 11 April.
The mood of the electorate is downbeat, as evinced by candidates’ extraordinarily high rejection levels. Lescano fares the least worst by this measure; 43% of voters say they would definitely not vote for him. Forsyth’s anti-vote is 49%, up from 42% in January. The next three contenders in the Ipsos poll have even higher anti-votes: 72% for Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular – FP), 51% for Veronika Mendoza (Together for Peru – JP), and 50% for Daniel Urresti (Podemos Peru – PP). This anti-vote dynamic remains important for the second round when the electorate will face a binary choice; for example, Mendoza’s dream scenario would be to reach a run-off against Fujimori, which she would easily win – despite the electorate’s clear misgivings over her politics – because Fujimori has such a low ceiling.
The center ground is crowded. Forsyth has slipped, losing six points since January. Julio Guzman (Purple Party – PM) has also lost ground, shedding three points since January to reach a lowly 4% now. The candidate to profit has been the veteran former congressman Lescano, who has grown from 3% last November to 10% currently. Whether he can continue his rise will be a key issue to watch over the coming weeks. A critical related issue will be whether the JNE electoral board rules in Forsyth’s favor after the JEE Lima elections board on 10 February ordered Forsyth’s exclusion from the race over omissions in the résumé he submitted when filing his candidacy. Leaving aside the uproar it would generate, Forsyth’s definitive exclusion could benefit Lescano, though sexual harassment allegations against Lescano could also limit his chances. Conversely, if Forsyth’s appeal is upheld, he could experience a poll bounce.
The current scandal over vaccines given to government officials will have multiple implications. In the first instance, it will raise public frustration levels with the political class, which could foster greater apathy or encourage a vote for systemic change (with Forsyth and perhaps Mendoza most likely to benefit). Although caretaker President Francisco Sagasti does not appear to have known that officials were obtaining vaccines meant for clinical trials, still less sanctioned this arrangement, his government will remain under fire. That will almost certainly tarnish Guzman by association (both Sagasti and Guzman hail from the PM), underlining not just how the caretaker administration is a net negative for Guzman’s chances, but also how scandals and unforeseen developments continue to shape the race.