The triumphant 58% of the vote and the fervor of his supporters seemed to herald that President Gabriel Boric would command broad support for at least the first year of his term – the “honeymoon” that has become so elusive for so many leaders. in the region-. But none of that happened. On the contrary. Not only did his approval ratings drop below his disapproval levels within a few months of taking office, but he experienced a rapid decline before he was a year old.
This undoubtedly accounts for the complex economic and political scenario that it inherited. But also, that his base and support for his program were weaker than the triumphant electoral results of the second round showed, and that the government did not know how (or was it unable?) to adapt in time.
Boric’s initial program was built by Apruebo Dignidad, the coalition made up of the Broad Front parties (among them, the president’s party) and the Communist Party. The proposal – refoundational and from the left – quickly collided with a reality that surveys have systematically revealed: in Chile, those who declare themselves to be left do not exceed 20% of the population. To reach the majority and give credibility to his moderation, Boric had to add his teams to Democratic Socialism, made up of various parties from the old Concertación. That coalition that he and his supporters had previously reviled and criticized. It was one of the first decisions that forced the president to accept that his plans are the ones that must be adapted to the political scenario and not the other way around. A decision that allowed him to win, but forced him to govern with two coalitions – two “souls” – that until recently were in direct conflict, and have been in permanent tension ever since.
Soon after, not only the ideas that supported his program have been losing support among the citizens, but also issues that were not on his agenda have been imposed. Citizen security -historically associated with the right- has marked these months. Crime stands out as one of the main concerns of citizens at a transversal level, regardless of who they voted for or their political position. Likewise, confidence in the forces of order and support for the use of force by them to control violence in demonstrations was recovered.
In another dimension, there has also been an increase in those who believe that the main responsibility for economic sustenance lies with the people and not with the State, and a large majority supports international openness. A large part of these issues and the tenor of his debates contrast sharply with the positions that Boric defended while he was a deputy as well as until now I Approve Dignity, one of the souls of the Government.
Perhaps the most paradigmatic example of these two elements is what happened with the proposal for a New Constitution and the exit plebiscite. This proposal, considered by many as re-foundational, contained multiple elements of the initial program of the Government, and I Approve Dignity played an important role in the Constitutional Convention.
The president and his government were strongly linked to the fate of the proposal, to the point that key officials warned that the development of the program depended on the approval of the text. Although in recent months they have tried to distance themselves, public opinion associated the Executive with Approval, and the result of the plebiscite was read as a great defeat for the Administration. In addition, in the triumph of the Rejection it was evident that refoundational ideas did not have the support of the citizenry.
Given this scenario, only ten months were enough for disapproval to reach 61%. Only among his hardest base – those who voted for him in the first round – approval exceeded disapproval (CEP, 2022). Economic expectations also fell to their lowest level: 49% believe that the country’s economic situation will worsen in the next 12 months, which contributes to the poor evaluation of the Government.
Although learning has been costly, the Executive seems to have understood that the victory was not thanks to its most refoundational soul and that, in order to achieve majority support, it must remain on the side of the moderates. Something not easy when the two souls -at times in conflict- continue to live together in the Government. But there is no other way out if one considers that in Chile almost a third of the population is located in the center of the left-right axis, while another third is not identified in this spectrum. To which we must add that close to half of the population prefers individual effort to be rewarded, even if there are differences in income.
And so we landed at the end of his first year in government. Although the president seemed to arrive at this date with optimism due to the good news on growth and inflation, and certain hints of greater citizen support, the recent rejection of the tax reform – the central axis of his program and essential to achieve financing -, puts in check So much so that he was forced to change the urgency and tone of his recent cabinet change. Now the focus had to be management, one of his weak points, as well as improving legislative work and dialogue in Congress. It is not clear if, before public opinion, Boric will be able to endorse the cost of rejecting the tax reform to the right, but he exposes La Moneda’s difficulties in political management. Faced with this episode, two approaches were observed: one confrontational and, to a certain extent, similar to the post-defeat display of Approval, and another, conciliatory to seek broad agreements that make it possible to continue advancing in the major reforms.
With the recent change of Cabinet, it seems that Boric has leaned towards his more moderate soul. It remains to be seen if the president stays the course or ends up in a kind of two-sided game that, until now, has brought his government and the country more costs than benefits.
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