Public opinion survey shows stability of Chilean politics in jeopardy
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Public opinion survey shows stability of Chilean politics in jeopardy

Last week, the Research Center of Public Studies (CEP) presented the results of its “Study on National Public Opinion,” a survey thats seeks to give a close to accurate picture of public appraisal regarding politics in Chile. That same week, the market research company Adimark also disclosed the results of another survey on government evaluation. Both outcomes are worrying for national politics in general and very bad news for the ruling party, especially for President Michelle Bachelet.

On the CEP survey, 43 percent of respondents answered that they disapprove of Bachelet’s conduction of government, surpassing the 38 percent who approved of what she has done. This is Bachelet’s lowest approval rate since her first term in 2006. To make matters worse, two key traits in the president’s leadership — closeness to the public and confidence of the electorate toward her — have also decreased significantly. Only 48 percent of the respondents trust her, while 50 percent see her as distant.

After the results came in, President Bachelet cut short an all-day tour in the southern region of Bio-Bio to attend what was described simply as a “meeting in the presidential palace.” No official explanation was given as to why the tour ended abruptly and speculation as to what could have been so urgent rose high. Back in the capital, Bachelet held a meeting with Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo and spokesperson for the government Álvaro Elizalde.

Time for a change?

The secrecy of the meeting and unexpected change of plans in Bachelet’s itinerary made news media think a change in the presidential cabinet may be coming soon as a result of the negative outcome of the survey.

This rumor was denied by spokesperson Elizalde, who said that “presidents don’t change their ministers on the basis of surveys, but on the basis of deeper evaluations.” Elizalde added that the idea “wasn’t discussed in the meeting because presidents don’t talk about cabinet changes with their ministers.”

Pressure from civil society to change ministers is also high according to the weekly survey “Plaza Pública Cadem,” which found that 66 percent of the respondents believe that a change in the cabinet is necessary. Political advisors regret that a decision to change ministers wasn’t made earlier, saying Bachelet has lost the freedom to make the change when it was necessary and will now appear to be responding to the survey results.

The opposition, however, isn’t too far from similarly low approval rates. On the subject of political identification, the CEP survey stated that 10 percent of those polled said they identify with the right-wing opposition (Alianza) and 22 percent with the ruling left-wing coalition (Nueva Mayoría). A staggering 57 percent majority said they identify with neither.

When asked if they approve or disapprove the way both major coalitions are doing their job, 44 percent of people surveyed answered that they disapprove of Alianza’s performance while 37 percent disapproved of Nueva Mayoría’s conduction of politics.

The unfortunate results of the survey come at a time of major social discontent in Chile.  Even though the majority of the respondents do not identify with traditional political coalitions, they are very much politicized as insecurity, unemployment, vigilante justice and protests are on the rise. CEP results say that 50 percent of those surveyed feel that education should be a priority in the government’s agenda, while 48 percent and 45 percent feel the primary issue should be crime and health, respectively.

Protests against (and for) public education, marriage equality, abortion and civil rights, just to mention a few, are pushing the country to a polarized state that is not so different from the political scenario prior to the 1973 coup that swept dictator Augusto Pinochet into power.