Polls have detected an increasing preference for the apruebo (approve) option in the constitutional exit plebiscite in September. The Constitutional Convention drafting the proposal seems to have turned the shock induced by unfavorable polls into action. And while the right and some centrist politicians are ramping up the rechazo (reject) campaign, the proponents of a new Constitution could have a another ace up their sleeves.
It was to be expected. After the first draft of the proposal for a new Constitution emerged, the trend would begin to change in favor of the new Magna Carta.
From that moment, the spotlight would turn away from the Constitutional Convention’s 154 members; the fake news and lies – about changing the flag, for example – would end, and the members would get less opportunity to make PR mistakes that often helped the opponents of a new Constitution. In addition, citizens would have the opportunity to read and analyze the proposal, being able to vote informed.
But it’s also crucial that the Convention changed its tone on the final stretch. No doubt the members sensed the danger. To deliver the draft text at a symbol-laden event on April 16, they went to Antofagasta, 1,500km from Santiago. They met with citizens and social organizations, and highlighted patriotic symbols to emphasize that the proposal covers the entire population. On that day the phase that will end on July 4 kicked off. In the period, several committees – of harmonization, transitional rules, among others – review the draft, mostly away from the press, and hence, controversy.
This change has undoubtedly benefited the apruebo (approve) option, reflected in recent polls. Both apruebo and rechazo (reject) are now favored by about an equal number of respondents, with the difference less than the margin of error. This indicates that rechazo reached its ceiling about a month ago, while apruebo still has room to grow. Moreover, and independent of preference, most respondents expect apruebo to win in the plebiscite on Sept. 4.
Deploying the most solid survey methodology, the Center for Public Studies (CEP) found rechazo was favored by 27 percent of respondents versus 25 percent for apruebo, similar to the former’s percentage in the entry plebiscite. That should be the ceiling of the hard right vote, considering that in 2020 apruebo obtained a resounding 79 percent, although just around half of eligible voters cast ballots, while voting in the exit plebiscite will be mandatory.
The survey also identified 37 percent as undecided and 11 percent who didn’t know or didn’t respond. In other words, a sizeable portion of votes is still up for grabs.
Those who voted apruebo in the entry plebiscite are likely to vote this way in September too, as they wanted change and are not comfortable siding with right-wing parties, which promoted the rechazo option long before even the draft was ready.
Rising preference for apruebo is linked to better and more available information and fewer controversies. Crucially, a large-scale media campaign will kick off – as is custom in Chile – to inform citizens about both options.
The Opposition Campaign
But in parallel, the right already pursues a third way, or Plan B, strategy to promote rechazo and propose options to modify the current Constitution, imposed during the dictatorship and heavily modified by post-dictatorship governments. But the rationale doesn’t work out, since the right-wing has always fiercely opposed any change, especially during the Bachelet administration and in the run-up to the entry plebiscite. Why would citizens trust this right-wing now?
Yet, not only the right-wing, but also another sector of the elite is running a rechazo campaign. Participants hail from the conservative wing of the broken Christian Democratic party. They desperately want to convince voters that changes to the current Constitution are coming, but only if rechazo wins.
In this light, the decision of Michelle Bachelet to not seek a second term as UN human rights chief appears in new light. Bachelet knows she has political capital and can be a key player in the apruebo campaign, in passing becoming a pillar of the current government. Just in time.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.