Monday, April 28
With presidential elections in Colombia less than a month away, a new poll by Datexco, commissioned by El Tiempo and “W” radio, was published on Sunday, April 27. See here.) The poll, conducted in 1,974 face-to-face interviews in five regions of the country from April 21-24, 2014, with a 2.8% margin of error, asked voters about their intentions for the upcoming elections on May 25. The breakdown in responses showed that in a first round of votes, respondents elected incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos with 28.3% of the vote. Santos represents the National Unity Coalition, which includes the “U” Party, the Liberal Party, and Radical Change party. Blank votes, with 17.3% of the vote, scored the second highest preference among survey respondents. Oscar Iván Zuluaga, of the Democratic Center (former President Alvaro Uribe’s party), was favored by 16% of the voters. Next was Green Alliance candidate Enrique Peñalosa, who polled 15.7% of the votes; Clara López, of the Democratic Alternative Pole-Patriotic Union coalition, who garnered 9.6% of respondent votes; and Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez who polled 7.2% of the vote.
The Datexco survey coincides on two major points with other recent polls by Cifra y Conceptos and the Centro Nacional de Consultoría. First, the polls agree that no candidate is likely to win a majority in the first round, thus requiring the two candidates with the highest votes to compete in a run-off election on June 15. Sunday’s Datexco poll, unlike earlier polls, indicates that the incumbent candidate would win the run-off election. (See poll findings here.) In an election between Santos and Peñalosa, 34.1 % of the survey respondents favored Santos and 28.5% preferred Peñalosa. In a Santos-Zuluaga contest, Santos was favored by 36.2% of the respondents against Zuluaga’s 26.6%.
Secondly, a large number of voters are either undecided or intend to cast blank votes. The Cifra y Conceptos survey in early April gave the blank vote 39% of the votes in a run-off election; the Centro Nacional de Consultoría survey a week earlier put the figure at 5%. There is some discussion over whether a high blank vote in the second round would have any impact on the election results and force another election, but most analysts seem to feel it would not. If the March congressional elections are any indication, the high numbers of respondents intending to cast blank votes is not likely to bear in the actual voting at the polls in May and June.
The Datexco poll asked about recommended priorities for a new President. Despite the general support for peace among the public, it was noteworthy that only 5% of the respondents saw the armed conflict as a priority for an incoming president. The topic ranked sixth in the list of primary concerns, after lack of jobs (17.1%), security in the cities (13.3%), quality of health care (12.1%), poverty (11.2%), and quality of education (8.2%).
The Datexco data shows a widespread lack of familiarity with the proposals of the candidates, with the exception of the incumbent. When asked, 56.2% of the respondents said they were familiar with Santos’s proposals. Only 33.8% knew Zuluaga’s proposals, 23.2% were familiar with those of Clara López, and 21% knew those of Marta Lucía Ramírez.
Lack of Public Debate
There has been some frustration at the lack of public debates with the presidential candidates. Invitations proferred for a forum at Javeriana University were accepted only by Zuluaga and Ramírez. President Santos agreed to participate only once a second round was under way. The other candidates declined to debate without the presence of the incumbent. Patricia Muñoz, a political scientist at the Javeriana University told El Tiempo that the campaign had been “cold, apathetic, with candidates that have neither participated in public debate nor accepted Academy or media invitations, with excessive attention by the candidates to their strategies.”
While polling in situations of conflict, repression, or where high levels of distrust prevail are to be taken with a grain of salt, it should give the candidates pause that one month out from the elections, so much of the electorate is unclear what the candidates are proposing to the country, and so many citizens say they will take the time to go to the polls but will not cast votes for any of the five presidential candidates. The low levels of concern about the armed conflict suggest likewise that many people do not see themselves as directly affected by the conflict or the peace talks in Havana. These polls help explain the decision by Santos not to wage his campaign on a “united for peace” slogan, and they should raise a warning flag about the need to educate the public about the hidden and not so hidden costs of war on the country. For now, the war continues in the countryside and the government peace talks in Havana seem far removed for most voters.