The Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) candidate Patricia Bullrich came third on the 22nd of October losing unexpectedly badly in the second presidential election vote. Sergio Massa, Union por la Patria (UxP), topped the ballot with 37% of the vote and Javier Milei, La Libertad Avanza (LLA) came second with 29%. Massa and Milei now face off in the balotaje: the final and decisive run-off vote. This article analyses the political alliances and social media strategies before the last debate and the run-off election on November 19th.
Bullrich received 23% of the vote in October eliminating her from the race. With her also went the centre-right Cordoban Juan Schiaretti of the “Federal” right-wing faction of Peronism, who received approx. 7%, and the Left Alliance candidate Myriam Bregman with just 3%. This leaves 33% of the vote to transfer either to Massa or Milei so it’s all still to play for. Schiaretti’s unexpectedly high vote and the concentration of population in Cordoba, which has often been decisive in Argentine elections, is a sizeable chunk that, if it goes to Massa, will make him difficult to beat but it will not go all Massa’s way. One suspects that Myriam Bregman’s vote has been hugely understated, since so many of her supporters voted strategically against Milei in round two, but these votes will stay with Massa, hence no change as Bregman has called for her supporters to vote against Milei rather than spoil their vote. Schiaretti is holding his cards close to his chest (negotiating favours for votes) but primarily with Massa. Just the small “socialist party” from Schiaretti’s alliance has said they will work with Massa, the rest remain neutral for the moment.
This leaves a little more than 23% PRO transfers that might be decisive. This block of votes can be divided into two sub-blocks. The centrist PRO candidate Horacio Laretta was eliminated in the PASO (candidate selection) round. While many of Laretta’s votes may have remained loyal to the JxC and so they would have gone to Bullrich, many of his centrist voters, one suspects, went to Massa (and will stay that way). In the run-off though others may follow as JxC has basically ceased to exist and PRO has split. Laretta has declared against Milei so this might be another few percentage points for Massa and possibly a role for Laretta in Massa’s government should Massa win.
The largest party in JxC is Propuesta Republicana, (Republican Prospect) a.k.a. PRO party founded by Argentina’s kingmaker, and former President, Mauricio Macri, who was also a linchpin behind JxC. Unsurprisingly, Bullrich defeated, Macri changed strategy abruptly. In just two days he called Milei and Bullrich to his home where he encouraged them to work together for Milei for President 2024. Macri has thus effectively offered to attempt to drive the PRO vote to Milei but such generosity does not come for free. The deal will require that certain economic roles in Milei’s government will now align with Macri’s PRO (neoliberal) agenda effectively fusing the PRO and LLA parties should Milei win. Macri thus offers to put his economic machine and personnel, as well as extensive parliamentary and senate votes, behind Milei. This could empower Milei to make legislative change and may give him the stability he needs to endure his first term. Milei as president in an alliance with PRO would in effect mean Macri (with Milei’s sister Karina, who Milei refers to as the boss) will effectively control the presidency.
The 23% vote comes from Bullrich, a hard right PRO conservative popular with the urban upper middle class. The Bullrich votes are being fought for tooth and nail and we can expect a hard campaign. When it comes to social media both teams have social media troll farms. On both sides the social media regurgitates clips (usually from interviews). The Milei-Macri trolls rely on right wing legacy media channels such as the populist right wing LN+, which, like the newspaper La Nación, likes to present a professional face but which is blatantly biased and consistently favourable to Macri. Other offerings are more creative with a focus less on Milei himself, rather attacking Massa. The legacy media (newspapers and TV) are generally pro-PRO (many are extremely favourable to Macri) but a few channels and two newspapers are more favourable to Massa. In that little has changed, except that Milei now has two teams of social media troll farms and creatives with better access to former Bullrich voters. The social media strategy at this late stage in the campaign and after such an abrupt last minute alliance is to produce tweets and posts which almost ignoring Milei, as many upper middle class don’t really like Milei, instead narrowing the focus on voting against Massa. Massa himself is neither very easy to like or to hate so the social media strategy is to paint Massa as an ally of current vice president Christina Kirchner. This is only partially true but in social media posts truth is largely irrelevant, accusations matter and retorts are largely ignored.
Even with this last minute right-wing social media blitzkrieg attempting to drag the neoliberal conservative right to the far right, it will be difficult to convert conservative former PRO voters into anarcho-capitalists. The success (or not) of these largely invisible online forces, along with the performance of both candidates in the last public televised debate, will probably decide who will be President of Argentina in 2024. If sufficient mature conservative neoliberal PRO voters can be convinced that Javier Milei is a viable candidate then he can still win.
The election fight itself will be hard fought as will the final debate, a practice round before the big fight.
Round three: ding-ding!
Looking a little frazzled in the blue corner, possibly somewhat over medicated, and almost like he never really thought he would get this close to power punching, we have ultra right wing populist upstart Javier Milei. He’s new to the ring but he’s aggressive and has been training as a deputy in the national congress for two years now. Now with his new management maybe he has the punch to pull this fight off? Whatever he and his party LLA are now, Milei is a genuine showman, an entertainer who boxes well to angry crowds.
In the reddish-blue corner we have the somewhat tired but experienced career boxer Sergio Massa who boxes under the moniker “The Chameleon”. Massa (currently) represents the predominantly Peronist coalition, Unión por la Patria (UxP) team but he’s very flexible having fought on many teams over the years. A canny professional, Massa boxes smart, even if he’s a little short on crowd appeal. Massa will attempt to catch his younger opponent off balance. In pre-fight taunts Massa calls out to the crowd telling them that life will be a little better if he wins but that is hardly a rallying call. His campaign, thus far, offers just a sprinkling of hope and a heavy dose of football-style nationalism, the hallmark of Peronism. He is still taking the high moral ground, boxing to Milei’s weak points which are many, and growing with every declararion he makes in the campaign. Massa is holding off for now having chosen not to go full metal jacket toxic-negative on Milei, not just yet anyway.
In the blue corner angry little Milei is promising profound change should he win, but strangely enough Milei has up until now, said that this can only happen by eliminating what he has labelled till now “The Casta”. This strategy of a fresh new political start against traditional political actors (his casta) seems to have be casta drift with his new coalition with Macri dumping him into bed with Bullrich. It is difficult to paint this new team as anti0-casta and some of his fans have been complaining! Milei, to win, has chosen to do a deal with the devil for more Bullrich casta voters. Milei loves his new backers. He enjoys playing in the big league, which he calls “Flying first class” even with two passengers who, until just a week ago, were LLA’s sworn enemies. Unfortunately some of his party supporters are not so enamoured with Macri being on the team. For many this is their first title fight and their grumblings indicate some disappointment, even abandonment.
Milei’s offer to the crowd is more radical but he says will require 35 years of economic pain, hardly an appetizing formula. The Macri-Milei troll farms have chosen hate as their great weapon of choice ⏤the hatred of Peronists⏤ to drag older conservative Bullrich voters further to the right into his ultra-right fantasy realm. This strategy can work, Bullrich’s voters definitely hate peronism and the LLA hates everyone so they have something in common. It also deflects the mind from who one is voting for focusing instead on who one votes against. Hatred is powerful emotion but an elder urban middle class voting for an anarchist is still a mould-breaker and the hatred might need some refinement. Still though the mere fact that 30% of the crowd are still behind Milei (or rather they were) shows how little trust there is in Massa and his Peronism party (even if it did do much better than Bullrich).
Milei’s younger, largely male fans have been sold a dream, albeit an angry one, of real change and a new start in Argentine politics. After the decades of pain Milei paints a new free economy smelling of roses much like Milei’s armpits in the hot-tub post-election champagne-fuelled celebrations with Macri, his sister, Bullrich and the three cloned dogs. If in November the troll-farms can pull this off (post by post, sneer by sneer) then Milei shall be following in the footsteps of Menem for President 1989 with just a pinch of the 1970’s dictatorship, guns and all, brought to the ballet box by Milei’s neo-fascist vice presidential candidate Victoria Villarruel.
Milei and Massa will fight in their ‘balotaje‘ vote on November 19th. It’s the final countdown! Get your front row tickets now!