Five points on Petro
In the final stretch of the campaign, Gustavo Petro and the political machine he has built out-hustled Hernández and turned out their voters using basic retail politics. Governing will be harder.
1. Petro won; Hernández lost. Ahead of the election, I said Hernández had a 65% chance to win. Was that wrong or did a 35% event hit? I looked at the numbers the day of the election and this remained Hernández’s race to lose. Maybe there is a reason I should have said Hernández 60% instead of 65%, but the scenarios favored Bucaramanga’s former mayor. I wouldn’t change my prediction; Hernández should have been able to win this race. However, in hindsight with the votes in, it’s clear Hernández underperformed in critical ways, failing to turn out the voters he needed and refusing to invest in the ground game that most campaigns use, instead focusing on social media outreach and a earned media strategy built around his own controversial personality. Meanwhile, Petro over-performed on turning out his supporters, doing basic voter mobilization and coalition building at his strongest levels ever. Petro’s negotiations with political machines and his own ground game to turn out voters deserve a lot of credit for this victory. In the final stretch, Petro and the political machine he has built over a decade out-hustled Hernández.
Lesson 1: In the age of TikTok, the campaign ground game still matters.
Lesson 2: Petro has a significant ground game that supports him, even if his popularity declines, which could prove useful as president.
* I’m going to make a plug here for my consultancy. I predict things publicly and make calls that put me at risk of being wrong sometimes. When I’m on the wrong side of the 50% line, I always try to analyze why afterward. Even when I get things correct, I do a post-mortem in case, perhaps, I just got lucky. I also build out scenarios for various outcomes, likely or not. If the firm you currently pay to provide political risk doesn’t do this, if they make vague predictions that offer no real insights or if they pretend like their past bad predictions never happened, please reach out and let’s have a conversation. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. The best case for Petro: peace accords and gradual economic change. A successful Petro administration implements the key aspects of the peace accords, particularly those related to rural economic development and integration, that have been left behind by previous administrations. In an ideal scenario, Petro manages to build an economic agenda that increases tax revenues, expands the social safety net, and intelligently manages the questions of extractive revenues, particularly in a global environment with high commodity prices. For the next three reasons below, I don’t think this optimistic scenario is likely, but it’s still worth considering what success for Petro and Colombia under his presidency would look like.
3. Petro faces geopolitical headwinds outside of his control. My quote in today’s WSJ:
“Petro inherits all of the problems, particularly low growth and high inflation, driven by factors well outside of Colombia’s control. Whatever his policies, good or bad, he’s going to get hit by the current geopolitical wave of negative events that will make it very hard for him to be successful.”
Even if Petro were the single greatest president to ever take the reins in Colombia, these global challenges are going to make governance difficult. Petro can try to blame any problems he faces on these global issues, but voters and citizens will blame the person in charge.
4. The budget numbers just don’t add up. The Duque administration did not pass fiscal reform. The Petro campaign doesn’t necessarily have a better plan on revenues and, in fact, currently plans to cut proposed mining and oil projects that will harm the country’s ability to raise funds. Meanwhile, the costs on Petro’s proposed social programs are likely to burn through the budget and leave a rapidly widening deficit. By year two or three of his administration, he’s going to have to make tough choices due to financial restrictions and that will end up angering some portion of the coalition that elected him.
5. Petro is a career opposition politician. Petro has been a strong opposition leader over the years because he picks fights with everyone, even his own allies, and is great at arguing with people. Give Petro something to argue against and he’ll run with it. Totally separate from questions of left-right ideology, he has a reputation for being difficult to work with. The qualities that made Petro good in opposition don’t make for a particularly unifying political leader who builds consensus across parties and ideologies. Remember this point later when Petro has a hard time passing legislation and implementing his agenda.