On December 17, Chile will face its third consecutive election with automatic registration and mandatory voting. Let’s remember that in the September 2022 plebiscite—in the first constituent test—just over 13 million voters voted, and for the election of members of the Constitutional Council in this second process, in May, 12.5 million voted. However, between one election and another, several differences are worth highlighting.
The first, and most surprising, refers to the high percentage of null and blank votes, representing 21.5% of those who voted to elect councilors who drafted the new text five months ago. Of that number, 2.1 million were invalid votes. In the preceding process, a very small percentage of null or white votes were found (2.1%). The above can be explained by the characteristics of each process. In the plebiscite of 2022, a proposal was at stake that created two different poles, while in the election of the Constitutional Council in May, questions arose about relevance and legitimacy. A null vote can be a protest about the process itself as well as the obligation to vote.
Therefore, the first question to be answered is whether any movement or call to annul the plebiscite vote can be replicated. If the level of participation in elections with a mandatory requirement is relatively high (more than 82%), then the question is how many of those who vote are inclined to cancel their vote. As we know, null or blank votes are subtracted from the votes cast, so they are not considered to calculate the final result. However, the fact that a high percentage of voters lean towards this option may affect the balance in favor of one option or the other. If we consider that a large part of those who canceled their vote instead embraced progressive ideas, and if the number reaches 2 million votes, just by that act of unmarking the option, they will completely accelerate the victory. in For option. The campaign for the Alternative Opposition must convince those calling for cancellation that there is much at stake in agreeing to the Constitution proposed by a right-wing Constitutional Council.
The second issue refers to the number of ideological votes that lean to the right or the left in this process. If we analyze the trajectory of electoral behavior in Chile since the return to democracy, we observe that relatively consistently, the center-left obtained approximately 3.7 million votes on average, while the right obtained 3 million in the national presidential election. We can say that it constitutes a minimum floor on which political disputes and elections in Chile are organized. However, we must be careful with comparisons, because before 2022, the world will have electoral contests with a registration and voting system different from the situation that will be faced on December 17. Until the 2009 elections, there was a voluntary registration system with mandatory voting, we moved to an automatic registration system with voluntary voting, and since the plebiscite in 2022, we have a combination of automatic registration with mandatory voting. For this reason, we should be more cautious about projecting past results into future elections.
For example, we observed that with an average of 7 million voters who came to vote in the world of voluntary voting, in the second round of elections between Gabriel Boric and José Antonio Kast in 2021, it increased to 8.3 million, and in the last two elections, just over 12.5 million voters voted. Therefore, it is suggested that the result of the December election will depend on the 4 million new voters who participated in the vote due to their obligation to attend the voting.
We know that at least the center-left recently mobilized between 3.6 million and 4.8 million voters, while the right mobilized between 3.6 million (in the Kast elections) and 6 million for the Constitutional Council elections in May.
The results of the last two plebiscites should be watched closely. In the initial plebiscite in October 2020, where the idea of having a new Constitution was approved, just over 7 million voters attended and, of them, 5.8 million chose the Approve option. However, part of these 5.8 million are from the right, so it cannot be assumed that 5.8 million belong to the center-left. In the case of the 2022 exit plebiscite, about 7.8 million voters (62%) rejected the proposal of the Convention, but here an important central sector of voters trusted that option. It is very difficult to identify how many of these voters are right-wing, but what we do know is that at least in the last election process, right-wing parties got 6 million votes.
The December plebiscite is different from the election, where party list candidates are presented. In December, two positions will fight again that are likely to polarize society, so we cannot directly project the numbers from the Council elections to the plebiscite that took place in May.
What do surveys say about the climate of public opinion? Most of them told us that until now there has been a favoritism toward the option Against, although in recent weeks there has been a progressive increase in the option. The profile of those who rely on Option Against is made up of people of medium socioeconomic level, mostly younger (18 to 39 years old), from the center and metropolitan area of the country (Santiago de Chile), and who self-identified as middle-of-nothing or nothing. Those who tend to vote in favor tend to be dominated by people of high socioeconomic status, over 60 years of age, and from the center-right or right. Among those who rely on the null vote, people of lower socioeconomic levels from the northern part of the country and people who rely on the center tend to prevail (UDP-Feedback Survey, October 2023).
Given the more right-wing nature of the Constitutional Council’s proposal, the plebiscite is likely to replicate the polarization marked by the left/right axis, where a historic left-right vote will be realigned. The main question is where to lean for those less political social groups (new voters), with more dispersed identities (about 4 million voters), and how to behave in the sector that canceled their vote in the last election (about 2.6 million). It is a universe of 5 to 6 million voters who make this election with an uncertain outcome. The expected trend is that this will be a relatively close election and that we will observe a classic ideological competition of the left against the right, with a large sector in between—not ideologized—that will end up determining the constitutional, which is the destiny of the country.