Friday, September 09, 2022

"Chile's Rejection" Vergara in the NLR blog

Support for Rechazo (‘Reject’) was strongest in low-income municipalities, where turnout was also higher than in upper-class neighbourhoods. While in the 2020 plebiscite the opposition to the constituent process was led by the three wealthiest municipalities, this time around the poorest neighbourhoods turned out en masse to vote against the proposed draft. Also in contrast to 2020, voting was mandatory – with fines for non-compliance – which forced the popular sectors to cast a vote for fear of the pecuniary costs of abstention. Turnout increased substantially from 50% to 86%; and of the 5.4 million new votes cast, 96% opted to reject. In total, the draft constitution received only 4.8 million votes – one million less than voted in favour of redrafting two years earlier. This was not only a vote against the new constitutional text, however. It was also a rejection of Gabriel Boric’s administration and its parties: the ‘new left’ coalition including Frente Amplio, the Communist Party and the parties of the old Concertación. Apruebo (‘Approve’) was supported by roughly the same number of people that voted for Boric in the runoff against the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast in December 2021 – suggesting that he has been unable to expand his constituency since taking office.

At least a million dollars were poured into the month-long campaign to raise awareness about the draft constitution. About 90% of these funds were spent by the Rechazo camp, comprising the right-wing parties, parts of the Christian Democrats and the new centrist coalition ‘Amarillos por Chile’. They repeatedly denounced the document as ‘extremist’ and ‘poorly written’ on morning talk shows and evening news programmes, while conservative thinktanks bombarded audiences with opinion polls of doubtful accuracy showing that most people would vote down the new draft. Such efforts were bolstered by the spread of disinformation on social media, as well as the distribution of fake copies of the draft constitution with doctored articles. In one illustrative episode, the far-right Convention representative Constanza Hube was caught giving out fake copies of the constitution during a Rechazo meeting.

Exit polls and vox pops revealed that many people were confused about what the plebiscite was actually about; some even thought that by voting to reject they were abolishing the Pinochet constitution. This is not surprising given that the only official information on the constitutional draft amounted to thirty minutes of television broadcasting a day, divided equally between Rechazo and Apruebo, over a 28-day period. Since the broadcasting space was allocated to an array of political parties and civil society groups, the messaging was fragmented. For the Apruebo campaign, ten organizations participated in the broadcasts; even after various deals were struck between them, some ended up having less than five seconds to say their piece. There were no official campaign adverts, nor leaflets sent to people’s homes, nor in-person information sessions; all the outreach was done by political parties, NGOs, or volunteers. It remains unclear why the Boric administration did such a poor job informing the electorate on such a crucial matter.

While the daily information broadcasts for and against the new constitution had little impact on voters – only about 720,000 people tuned in each day – the endless stream of TV shows featuring politicians and self-styled intellectuals spreading disinformation about the content of the draft surely did.... 

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