Today is election day in Chile.  Well, it’s primary day but that is national.  Chile elects its president by a straight majority vote so the three main parties are, today, having a primary to choose their candidate.  Only, apparently, the Christian Democrats are having trouble agreeing on much of anything and the current favorite to win the presidency is a billionaire promising to overturn much, if not all, of the current president’s programs.


The similarity ends there.  The favorite is, himself, a former president who’s programs the current president ran against to win her current term.  You see, in Chile, the incumbent can not stand for re-election.  However, they can come back to run again after sitting out.  Imagine if the 16 years of Bush and Obama in the United States had instead of Bush-Bush, Obama-Obama gone Bush, Obama, Bush, Obama.  Sounds fun, no?

President Bachelet is trying to rally her forces to defend her programs but with four straight years of slow growth and sluggish economies, people seem to have wearied. It’s also true, I think, that, in democracies, while incumbents have tremendous power, people want change. I mean, looking at the United States we’ve gone Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump.  It’s a pendulum that appears to be gaining momentum. As much as I dislike the policies (and personality) of President Trump, I think there is a fair bet that the next president will be a mirror to him on the left. If you’re young or reactionary that probably sounds fine but long term stability is a hell of a good idea.  Constantly yo-yoing between poles is not simply unpleasant, it’s unsustainable.  Eventually, something breaks.

Anyhow, what is the crisis in Chile?  There really isn’t one, it’s just a headline.  Someone on my staff put it in there.  The minor hiccup is this:

Today is national primary day where the parties pick their candidates for the November election.  Today is also the day that Chile plays Germany in the finals of the Confederations Cup.

There are two main worries.  First, and most seriously, how does the game affect turnout?  Second, it turns out that selling alcohol on election day is illegal.  Thus, where will everyone watch the game?  And how will bars/restaurants deal with losing billions of pesos in lost sales?

The first was actually argued pretty vigorously on the group whatsapp.  Like I’ve said, folks are ready to go home.  But they were arguing two different things: why do the lower economic and educated classes see their turnout numbers decline so significantly when faced with hurdles?  And will the game present such a hurdle?  There are any number of possible reasons why but the evidence is pretty clear.  Hurdles of any kind, as the name implies, depress voter turnout.  That tends to hit poorer and less educated voters hardest.  But those of us with coin and diploma aren’t immune. In the United States, no demographic group has a voter turnout number to be proud of. This is a big reason introducing hurdles is so troublesome.  Similar to how everyone would have been Cleopatra or Lincoln in a past life and no one was ever a slave who died by having a rock fall on him when he was 17, everyone always assumes if there is to be a ruling or moneyed class that they’ll somehow be a part of it.  The overwhelming odds are: you won’t (especially if you’re reading this).  Allowing the haves to take more from the have nots does not end with your prosperity.  It’s basic math: the more you shrink the group with power and money, the fewer are people are in it; the fewer the people in it, the lower are your odds of being part of the group.

In any case, as to “Will the game depress turnout?” Yes, certainly.  The political scientists, of which we all know one here, are now discussing/debating how much and if it will change outcomes.  That’s really the question, right? Will turnout go down uniformly among supporters of various candidates or can one candidate use the game as a lever to move up? The answer appears to be almost certainly not at the presidential level where, as with most parties in democracies, the party itself has outsized say in who the candidate is.  However, on the ballot today are slates of parliamentary candidates and attention there is, again like most places, very low already. It’s conceivable Chile’s victory over Portugal in the semi-final has altered the political careers of dozens of candidates.

As to the second question, where will everyone watch the game and how will restaurants/bars deal with the prohibition on alcohol sales?  I am going to head out in a few minutes to find my own answer to that question.  I’ll report back.


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