Friday, 30 July 2010

CEP Piñera. C'est Piñera?

Anyone who follows politics in Chile knows that the CEP poll is the one poll that people trust to indicate the nature of the political universe. The first CEP poll of the Piñera years was released yesterday, and it can be found here.

The Concertación tried to make much of the fact that Sebastián Piñera's approval ratings, at 45%, were the lowest that any president since 1990 has received at this point in his, or her, administration. But not by much. The fact is, besides Aylwin, who took over in extraordinary circumstances, the others have all been in the ballpark.

The Concertación, in looking for the silver linings, also points out the stratospheric approval of Michelle Bachelet. But Ricardo Lagos was also pretty popular in the first CEP poll after he left office. And Bachelet's high approval will only contribute further to making her a juicy target for the government, trying to burst the bubble as they did successfully with Lagos. It won't be pretty, but I doubt it will work. It's like trying to dis Mandela. Who ends up looking bad?

I think that if the Concertación wishes to find some silver linings, it's actually to be found in the small print. For example, when asked 'Who is to blame for the bad economy' (besides the fact that it's a strange question -- the CEP thinks that the economy is in bad shape?), the number one answer is the current government. Not the previous government.

Oooooooo. That's gotta hurt.

In fact, for voters to blame the current lot of economists, MBAs and businessmen, who got elected on the basis of their expertise in these matters, who tout efficiency like IBM used to tout 'think', is a really bad sign for the government. It goes to the heart of their discourse, in the same way as the recent CASEN poll went to the heart of what the Bachelet government was all about.

That's where the silver lining lies, and what the Concertación should be exploiting. But they're not, becuase their heads are too far up their [insert appropriate body part here].

Thursday, 15 July 2010


Despite the Piñera government's communication problems, one thing it does well is present one thing as something else. While this may seem cynical and dishonest, it is good politics. The current debate on 'reforming' higher education is really an effort to strengthen the position of private universities vis-a-vis public ones, and especially the University of Chile. This has led to a discussion, led by the Rector of the University of Chile, on the future of public financing for higher education and education in general.

But as my latest column suggests, the government's attitude on this matter is symptomatic of a deeper conceptual confusion on the public and private sphere. Many of the communicational problems the Piñera government has faced arise from this fundamental misunderstanding: the difference between the public and the private.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Ricardo Lagos (Weber) Acting Like Ricardo Lagos (Escobar)

Senator Ricardo Lagos Weber is an easygoing guy. So when I saw the clip below I was a little taken aback by his temper.

But then I remembered who his father is.

The real point, however, is the level of political debate between government and opposition. A slightly more irreverent comment on the exchange can be found in The Clinic.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Political Football

I have not blogged much these days, in part because Twitter is a bit all-consuming, and in part because politics in Chile seems to has taken second seat to soccer during the World Cup, a contest in which Chile, as my previous post graphically illustrates, did reasonably well (but not as well as the graphic illustrations would imply).

The idea that politics disappeared, though, is deceiving. It didn't, and it even made itself felt in many ways through -- and not only despite -- the World Cup.

International sports has always had a political element. Take the mutual Olympic boycotts during the Cold War, for example. But the local implications of international sporting events are interesting too.

Chile's coach during this world cup was Marcelo Bielsa, an intense, almost autistic, Argentine, who by most accounts got on well with Michelle Bachelet. On the two occasions where President Piñera has tried to use the Chilean national soccer team for photo-ops, Bielsa has been -- to put it politely -- uncooperative.

Ascanio Cavallo makes an excellent analysis
of the relationship, but his final point is most important. The way the government has handled the footy-photo-ops is indicative of a far deeper problem: its communication strategy. Several earlier posts have alluded to this problem, and almost half a year (one-eighth) into its term, the Piñera administration has yet to get a grip on its message.

The Bachelet experience shows that it is possible to recover from a shaky start, and recent polls show that Piñera's start is even less shaky than was Bachelet's. But Bachelet fixed it by dramatically changing the approach. Behind the smile, Bachelet was actually quite ruthless in doing what she had to do -- changing ministers, supporting an unpopular finance minister, dropping gobierno ciudadano.

Piñera is a pragmatist, and there is reason to believe he is capable of analyzing and taking steps to remedy a situation. That is why the Bielsa affair is, while seemingly unimportant, so interesting. From a policy point of view, Cavallo explains the conflict... and the conflict of interest. From a communications point of view, Piñera committed the same mistake twice.