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Argentina elections: Javier Milei and Sergio Massa fight for Patricia Bullrich’s votes

The 6.2 million people who voted for the conservative candidate in the first round are the key to deciding which candidate will win the presidency in the November runoff

Presidential hopefuls Sergio Massa (l) and Javier Milei.
Presidential hopefuls Sergio Massa (l) and Javier Milei.REUTERS
Federico Rivas Molina

The runoff of Argentina’s presidential election on November 19 is shaping up to be a vote-by-vote battle. Sergio Massa, the economy minister who won the first round on Sunday, and his rival, the far-right leader Javier Milei, have already begun the fight. Both candidates are looking to sway supporters of Patricia Bullrich, the conservative candidate of the Juntos por Cambio (Together for Change) alliance, which brought Mauricio Macri to power in 2015.

Bullrich — who came in third place and was knocked out of the race — received 6.2 million votes in the first round. Who these voters choose to support at the November runoff will be key to deciding who will be the next president of Argentina: Massa or Milei.

Bullrich voters are not a homogenous bloc, but rather made up of supporters of the two parties in the Together for Change coalition: Pro and the Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civil Union, UCR). The majority back Pro, the party that Macri founded in 2005 as a platform to govern the city of Buenos Aires, and later the presidency. Its members consider themselves republicans and liberals, but what really unites them is a common hatred toward the left-wing Peronist political movement and Kirchnerism, the political movement based on the ideas of former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which is considered a branch of Peronism.

UCR, on the other hand, was the first mass political party in Argentina. Starting in the 1940s, national politics in Argentina was based on the party’s dialectical relationship with Peronism. The party peaked in 1983, with president Raúl Alfonsín and the transition to democracy, but went into decline after president Fernando de la Rúa resigned in 2001, during the bank run crisis. The UCR never lost territorial control, but at the national level it was reduced to an appendage of Pro in the Together for Change alliance. The party’s voters are against Peronism, but not fanatically opposed to the group.

Massa and Milei made their first attempts to sway these voters on Sunday night. Massa — the Peronism canidate — went after the UCR supporters. “I want to speak to those thousands of UCR voters who share with us democratic values such as public education and the independence of powers. I am going to make every effort in the next 30 days to earn your trust,” he said.

Milei, on the other hand, has dismissed UCR voters, accusing them of betraying Bullrich. “Massa’s vote went up and Bullrich’s went down. It is clear who betrayed them,” said the far-right leader, in reference to the Together for Change coalition.

But why does Milei believe he can dismiss these voters? “He believes that they switched to Massa [in the first round]. And that the six million votes that stayed with Bullrich represent the hardcore of the coalition, and therefore closest to supporting him,” says Sergio Morresi, professor at the Litoral National University. “The issue is whether it is really true that the UCR voted for Massa, because Milei does not have people studying this phenomenon with empirical data. For now, it is nothing more than his impression,” he explains.

While Massa may have a greater chance of swaying UCR voters, Milei is likely to win over most of the supporters of Pro. According to Morresi, the party “declares itself to be very republican, but is above all deeply anti-Peronist and anti-Kirchnerist.” In his opinion, the protest vote against Massa is stronger than Milei’s calls to upend the political system, legalize the sale of organs, and close the Ministries of Education and Health.

Eduardo Fidanza, director of the consulting firm Poliarquía, agrees that the Together for Change vote will be divided between Milei and Massa, but warns that it is too soon to know to what degree. “Both the UCR and the moderate sector of Pro would not be willing to vote for Milei,” he says. “But he will undoubtedly sway some of them: Macri’s hardcore voters and everyone who hates Kirchnerism, of whom there are many.” The Bullrich voters who change their vote to Massa “will be more covert” about their voting intention, he says.

If Milei sways all of Bullrich’s 6.2 million voters, he will have enough votes to win the runoff. For now, that does not seem a likely situation. Two other presidential hopefuls were also knocked out of the race on Sunday: Juan Schiaretti, an anti-Kirchnerist who at some point flirted with joining Together for Change; and Myriam Bregman. from the traditional left. The two won 1.7 million and 700,000 votes, respectively.

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