Gustavo Petro’s approval hits rock bottom

The president of Colombia has reached his lowest ratings since assuming office

Gustavo Petro
Gustavo Petro in Bogotá; August 3, 2023.Sebastian Barros (Getty Images)
Santiago Torrado

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has seen a steady decline in his job approval ratings since assuming office nearly 18 months ago. His “Government of Change” has dropped dramatically in public opinion polls, reflecting a national sense of pessimism. The latest Invamer bimonthly poll in Colombia, surveying public opinion for 30 years, reveals that 66% disapprove of Petro’s performance, with only 26% approving. For the first time, more people now favor ending peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) paramilitary force.

Petro, elected with just under 51% of the vote, recorded a significant drop in approval ratings. His numbers are almost the exact opposite of his initial ratings, where 56% approved and 20% disapproved. However, his predecessor, Iván Duque, had even worse numbers with 27% approval and 68% disapproval. Vice President Francia Márquez’s ratings were similar to Petro’s, with 24% approval and 56% disapproval.

The Invamer poll shows trends aligning with previous surveys. Colombian public opinion is leaning right, while the left steadily loses ground as Petro’s term progresses. Reforms in healthcare, pensions and labor face roadblocks in Congress. Security concerns are rising, with 87% believing public safety is deteriorating. Economic worries grow, with 80% seeing a decline. Notably, 57% think Colombia’s international relations are heading in the wrong direction. On a positive note, 49% of Colombians think education is improving in quality and coverage.

The labor unions supporting Colombia’s first left-wing president have a disapproval rating of 57%, the highest in 23 years of polling. Similarly, 63% of respondents oppose the legalization of cannabis, with only 33% in favor, marking the lowest support in two years. Overall rejection of drug trafficking and consumption stands at 78%. Petro has advocated for a reevaluation of the unsuccessful war on drugs, aiming to move away from Duque’s prohibitionist approach. Additionally, 61% disagree with his proposal to suspend oil and gas exploration.

Public pessimism has also seeped into the president’s flagship “total peace” plan. The government is negotiating with multiple armed groups simultaneously, while also implementing the agreement signed by Juan Manuel Santos with the now-defunct FARC guerrilla. Notably, 74% of those surveyed believe implementation of the agreement is heading in the wrong direction, compared to 21% who hold the opposite view. These results closely resemble those observed during the Duque administration, which was known for its critical stance towards the agreement. Similarly, 63% now doubt that the government will fulfill its part of the agreement, while 73% believe the defunct guerrilla group will also fail to comply.

Despite 56% of the respondents favoring the approach of engaging in dialogue with armed groups until peace agreements are achieved, with 41% leaning towards a military solution, this marks the lowest level of support for the Petro’s policy of negotiation since February 2016, predating the FARC agreement.

However, the most surprising poll result arises from the peace process with the ELN. In a first, the percentage of respondents opposing the continuation of negotiations (49%) surpasses those in favor of maintaining the process (47%). Kidnapping has once again taken center stage in public discourse following the prolonged delay of the guerrilla group’s response to the nationwide outcry for the release of pro soccer player Luis Díaz’s father. Peace negotiations remain deadlocked due to the ELN’s obstinacy in renouncing the abduction of civilians, despite mounting government pressure. In contrast, the Central General Staff (an offshoot of disaffected FARC leaders and soldiers) recently declared its commitment to refraining from kidnappings as government negotiations progress.

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