The first round of the presidential election is now 17 days away. Below is a summary of the state of the race, recent key developments, and their implications.
Many voters remain uninterested in the election campaign as they grapple with the economic fallout from the pandemic and amid signs of a new surge in Covid-19 cases. Health and economic concerns are compounded by widespread disillusionment with the political class. A Datum poll that concluded 21 March puts the number of undecideds at 17%, while 14% say they will cast a blank or spoiled ballot. Only 28% of voters have fully made up their mind. How opinion moves over the next two and a half weeks will be a crucial indicator to watch.
Substantive policy discussions are still largely absent from the campaign and there is little in the way of proposals to address the structural flaws – such as the limited social safety net – that the pandemic has uncovered.
Voting intentions remain highly fragmented, with no candidate polling above 14-15%. However, Yonhy Lescano of the Popular Action (AP) party appears to have consolidated his position at the head of the field. Nothing is guaranteed, even at this stage of the race, though it would appear that Lescano has a good chance of making it to the run-off vote in June.
There is a fierce battle for second place being fought between the ultra-conservative Rafael Lopez Aliaga (Renovacion Popular), George Forsyth (Victoria Nacional), Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular), and Veronika Mendoza (Juntos por el Peru); Datum has Lopez Aliaga on 9%, Forsyth and Fujimori both on 8%, and Mendoza a little way back on 6%. The Datum poll’s margin of error is +/- 2.8%. Unless one of these four pulls ahead in the next few days, whoever makes it through to the run-off – presumably against Lescano – could do so by a very small margin.
Polling suggests Lescano would defeat any of his potential rivals in the run-off. Lescano’s most competitive rival would appear to be Forsyth; an Ipsos poll from earlier in March had Lescano defeating Forsyth by 39% to 33%, when in February their hypothetical head-to-head was tied. While it is still too early to examine run-off dynamics in any detail, it is worth bearing in mind that in Peru the more moderate candidate tends to prevail in any run-off. Any candidate of the Right in whatever form it takes (moderate, populist, or ultra-conservative) would play up Lescano’s leftism and statist approach to the economy, which could work to their advantage.
A surprise is still possible given a) how close the race remains and how many undecided voters there still are; b) the health situation; c) that there are still candidate debates to come; and d) the potential for missteps and scandals. Hernando de Soto (Avanza Pais) yesterday, 24 March, revealed that he had received a Covid-19 vaccine in the US, which could send his supporters towards Lopez Aliaga (de Soto is polling at 5% according to Datum). Meanwhile, Forsyth has shaken up his campaign team, Mendoza is facing internal squabbles within her Juntos por el Peru group. Meanwhile, Lescano has upped his nationalist rhetoric, perhaps after he claimed last week that some people had kept Covid-19 at bay with cane alcohol and salt.