A second candidates’ debate took place last night, 11 October, just under six weeks from the first round of the presidential election on 21 November, and with the leftist Gabriel Boric enjoying a consistent poll lead, albeit with voter indecision still high. The timing of the debate was important in view of recent poll shifts and in the wake of the revelations contained in the “Pandora Papers” leak, and ahead of an impeachment filing against President Sebastian Pinera. Below are the key takeaways:
- Sebastian Sichel of the center-right governing coalition, which has rebranded itself as Chile Podemos Mas (CP+), needed to put in a winning performance last night after a torrid last couple of weeks in which he has plummeted to third – or possibly even fourth – place in the polls. This was not Sichel’s night; he distanced himself from Pinera but got bogged down in the debate over the future of the pension system, while also facing attacks from his rival in the centerground space, Yasna Provoste of the center-left New Social Pact (NPS).
- The ultra-conservative Jose Antonio Kast (Republican Party) had moved into second place (at Sichel’s expense) before this debate. Kast needed to project himself as the main rival to Boric, while broadening his appeal to traditional conservatives. Instead, he fell back to his more extreme positions (e.g., by threatening to withdraw from the UN). This may not harm Kast too much because many right-leaning voters see this as a sign of authenticity and conviction compared to Sichel, who is seen by many in the old Chile Vamos (CV) space as an interloper.
- Provoste did much better than in the previous debate, concentrating her attacks on Sichel rather than Boric, no doubt sensing her opportunity to win over the centerground.
- Boric managed to avoid any serious mistakes, which was his main aim after a difficult few days in which his lack of preparedness on economic questions was exposed and his alliance with the Communist Party (PC) came under scrutiny. Both issues represent Boric’s main vulnerabilities and they will surely crop up again in the next six weeks, assuming he maintains his poll lead.
As things stand, Boric still looks like a virtual shoo-in for the run-off vote to be held on 19 December. He has certainly kept a consistent poll lead despite the shifts underneath him between Sichel, Kast, and Provoste. Indeed, these shifts have probably helped cement the sensation of inevitability of a Boric victory; according to last week’s Cadem poll, 34% of voters expect Boric to eventually win.
Meanwhile, Sichel, who has suffered a 14-point drop in the polls since his July/August high point (24%), risks being cannibalized from the center (Provoste) and right (Kast), especially if the impeachment process against Pinera drags on. Kast, as the polar opposite to Boric, could have a better chance than Provoste of making it to the run-off, though if he does, his chances of defeating Boric appear slim: 64% of voters say they would not vote for Kast under any circumstances. Kast’s rejection ratings are not a total outlier – even Boric has a rejection rating of 56%. However, the bottom line from the polls is that Boric would probably beat any of Kast, Provoste, or Sichel in a run-off. The big caveat to that projection is that 27% of voters are still undecided.