A clear partisan divide

Julio Burdman

Argentine, US voters and their views on capitalism.

Like all the world’s voters, Argentines have their own set of economic ideas. And they matter.

Usually, it is believed that the economic ideas of a given constituency are influential in determining the economic decisions taken by presidents. Heads of state, for example, know that they cannot go against public opinion too much, nor too often. And when governments implement more conservative economic policies, as happened in the United States and Britain in the 1980s or in Latin America in the 1990s, polls generally showed that the public was more or less receptive to these changes. Or at least more receptive than in the past.

In Argentina, in the 1990s, polls indicated that a significant proportion of the population had positive perceptions regarding privatizations and that even if big business still had a very negative image (as elsewhere in the world, no matter when), it was not that much worse than before. Today, however, two out of three Argentines support the decision to nationalize YPF, Aerolíneas Argentinas and private social security — and this explains why none of the presidential candidates dare to propose a reversal of that process.

To further explore these issues, Observatorio Electoral carried out a survey investigating economic perceptions, based on 600 telephone interviews in Buenos Aires City and Greater Buenos Aires conducting over the first week of September, produced exclusively for the Herald.

The questionnaire was partially inspired by the annual poll addressing the public’s confidence in US economic institutions by Gallup, the leading public opinion pollster in the United States. Not only because Gallup’s questionnaires and methodologies are excellent (and are available to view at www.gallup.com), but also because that gave us the opportunity to compare our results in Argentina with Gallup’s from the US. And, as we imagined, the comparison showed that Argentines and US citizens think differently when it comes to economic matters.

When we asked about the image of capitalism, we found that in Argentina, only 19 percent have a positive image of the economic system — most responded by saying they have a “regular” or “bad” image of it.

In comparison, according to Gallup, 61 percent of US citizens have a positive image of capitalism. This support is even more pronounced among Republican voters than among Democrat ones.


We also wanted to know about the degree of confidence in business, distinguishing between those that are small in size (popularly labelled PyME here) and big business. We found — unsurprisingly — that in Argentina, as in the United States, the popularity of small businesses is far higher than that of big businesses: 42 percent (combing those who claim to have “a great deal” and “quite a lot” of confidence) against the 15 percent of supporters who have considerable faith in big business. In the United States meanwhile, these confidence levels were 67 percent for small businesses and 21 percent for big businesses, according to Gallup’s poll taken in June this year.

We should note that today in the United States the level of public confidence in big business is significantly lower than in the 1980s and 1990s, and perhaps that explains why the Republican right has been focused on nationalist and moral issues, discarding the neoliberal Reaganite agenda.

There was also a very appropriate question regarding the current electoral campaign in Argentina in our survey — it addressed social perceptions of the level of government regulation for businesses and the economy. Do we have too much, too little, or the right amount?

In Argentina, 36 percent said that government regulation on businesses is too much, while 37 percent said the current level of regulation was appropriate. Some 21 percent wanted even more.

The sum of those who believe that the current level is too little or the right amount is 58 percent, which helps to explain why all Argentine presidential candidates are talking about a “strong state.”

In the US meanwhile, those who believe that there is too much regulation stands today at 49 percent, while those who believe that the current level is the right one or too little also accounts for 49 percent of respondents.

In both countries therefore, there is a clear partisan divide: in the US, most Republicans think that business is overregulated, while only a minority of Democrats think that way.

In our study, something similar happens in Argentina: most Scioli voters want as much state intervention as now, or even more, while most Macri voters want the exact opposite. Macristas want more public services and less state intervention; Sciolistas want both.

Publicado en Buenos Aires Herald el 15 de septiembre de 2015. Versión publicada aquí.