Petro and Gutiérrez in run-off tiebreaker predict pollsters

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Colombians appear to have skipped the outcome of the May 29 presidential election given that not one of the six candidates will be able to clinch more than 50% plus one vote of ballots cast.

As the race to Casa Nariño narrows with three front runners – Gustavo Petro, Federico Gutiérrez, Sergio Fajardo – and representing very opposing political agendas, two polls released over the weekend show, that in the eventuality of a run-off ballot on June 19, Gustavo Petro and Federico Gutiérrez are in a tiebreaker.

The first poll by the Centro Nacional de Consultoría (CNC) surveyed 4,206 citizens, of which 36.5% would vote for the left-wing progressive Gustavo Petro on the first-round and 43.1% in the second. As the candidate most likely to take the majority of votes on May 29, Petro’s lead narrows to right-wing candidate Federico Gutiérrez, who in the first round, according the pollsters, gets 24.5%, yet surges to 40.1% on June 19.

Taking into account that the CNC survey has a 1.5% margin of error, if the numbers are a close reflection of voting intention, Petro would be elected the next President of Colombia.

A second poll released this weekend by Guarumo/El Tiempo also names Petro and Gutiérrez as leading candidates to contest the second round, but the numbers are reversed, giving Petro 40.1% compared to 43.5% for the former Mayor of Medellín. In the Guarumo poll, Gutiérrez would be elected President.

If the numbers are an important index of voting intent – and also discontent – the center does not appear to hold in this race as candidate Sergio Fajardo of the Center Hope Coalition remains in the single digits with 8.4% according to CNC, or 9.5% in Guarumo.

Independent Ingrid Betancourt of the Oxygen Green Party gets 1.5% in the first round (CNC), and 2.6% (Guarumo). Another independent and the former governor of Santander, Rodolfo Hernández, manages in the CNC poll to break into double digits with 10% of the vote, but trails to Fajardo at 9.3%.

After almost eight years in which Gustavo Petro has tried to win the presidency, if one compares the most recent poll numbers with the election results four years ago, the current front-runner in this race was tied in almost every poll conducted by Guarumo with the official candidate of the Centro Democrático party – Iván Duque.  Petro’s highest poll numbers (26.7%) was registered by Invamer two months before the first round on May 27, 2018. Ahead of that run-off, Petro’s voting intention ranged between 34% (Yanhass) and 40.2% (Datexco).

Even though Petro’s electoral base appears to be almost the same today as four years ago, first-time presidential candidate Federico Gutiérrez already commands almost the same acceptance among voters entering the first round with 24.5% (CNC) as the former candidate, and current President, Iván Duque had with 23.6% (Guarumo).

Over the weekend Petro both welcomed the CNC poll that put him in the lead and dismissed the Guarumo poll as “Duque II,” showing his disdain for surveys, as well as televised debates. Petro appears increasingly divisive to anyone who  challenges his conviction that he will win in the first round, and statement that has been replicated on social media for months.

Having declared himself in “opposition” to President Duque since the head of state won the election with 54% of the vote – compared to Petro’s 41% – the leader of Colombia Humana party and Pacto Histórico coalition doesn’t appear to rise above the 40 percent benchmark. And with few alliance possibilities on the horizon, the majority of Betancourt and Hernández voters will most likely find common political ground in “Fico’s” neo-liberal, pro-business and security grounded agenda.

The question many Colombians are now asking is “what happens to Fajardo voters, should the centrist candidate come third in the race?” The answer could be a repeat of the 2018 election, when Fajardo, the leader of Movimiento Compromiso Ciudadano, announced his blank vote for the second round given that Duque was the candidate of the party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe.

But Fajardo’s political affinities in the 2022 race are close to Gutiérrez given that both politicians served as mayors of Medellín, and when Fajardo was governor of Antioquia (2012-2016), he openly supported Gutiérrez’s bid to run Colombia’s second largest city. Fajardo in 2018 got close to 24% of the popular vote, and number that dissolved in the second round as voters either cast “protest votes” (voto en blanco) or rallied to the camps of Duque or Petro.

The most important difference, however, between the upcoming election and one held in 2018 aren’t the numbers, but the narratives.