Argentine presidential elections: cognitive bias and factual disagreements.
Next Sunday, October 27, 2019, Argentine voters will elect a new president. President Macri goes for re-election, while former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (opposition leader) goes as a candidate for the vice presidency in the presidential formula headed by Alberto Fernández (former Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers of Néstor Kirchner).
The plethora of polls indicate two specific issues: on the one hand, the opposition leads the ruling party by a (decreasing) difference of 3 to 6 points, on the other hand, almost 80% of the voters say they are predisposed to vote or by the opposition or by the ruling party.
Argentina does not have a bipartisan system and, besides, it is going through a deep crisis of the political parties, which makes this polarized election an indicator of an intense ideological and normative contest. The opposition affirms that the ruling party constitutes a neoliberal model, while the ruling party maintains that the opposition represents nothing more than a rampant populism. The presence of these imaginary models collaborates in electoral polarization, although this dichotomous semantics does not describe the functioning of Argentine public policies. There is rhetoric, but no public policy proposal, let alone an honest and open discussion about them.
However, within a few days, on Sunday, August 11, open, simultaneous, and compulsory primaries are held. A new democratic ritual that both politicians and citizens live with passion as if it were the first electoral round. Moreover, it is not for less! Both official and opposition will access specific data that will reveal citizen preferences. Thus, they will have, consequently, new material to establish their strategies aimed at making the undecided vote the winner or pushing them to vote to prevent them from winning the electoral front over which they have their deepest antipathies.
Although the candidates do not discuss concrete proposals, these presidential elections are essential for Argentine citizens. However, they are also for political science, at least for two issues that present below.
First. Argentina has been averaging negative GDP growth per capita for eight years. The current administration will culminate its mandate with most of the economic and social indicators at a level of more considerable deterioration than when it received them (mainly the indicators of inflation, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, real wages, external debt, among others). If the ruling party reaches the second electoral round, Argentine democracy will become a case study that would call into question the thesis that argues that a poor economic performance affects the electoral performance of the offices.
Second. A thesis with enough scientific support affirms that the electorates do not vote on proposals for economic openness. Put: the electorates prefer protectionist proposals. President Macri has tried to capitalize on the recent announcement of the MERCOSUR-EU trade agreement. Moreover, he reaffirms, whenever he can, that he wants to open up to the world and reinsert Argentina into it. The relationship between Macri and the citizens, at least in this respect, cannot be more transparent: “there is no deception if you have been warned.” For the first time in a century, a candidate for president sincerely affirms that this is the way forward. For now, beyond the final result of the electoral contest, that surveys show is that there is a critical mass of voters who are willing to vote for trade opening policies.
The thesis that postulates that voters do not vote for trade opening policies has two components. On the one hand, citizens vote policies that in the long term harm them because they are ignorant (lack of episteme), because cognitive biases influence them or because they are irrational. On the other hand, economists (in countries that have made measurements, for example, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, US) maintain a negligible consensus on the idea that tariffs and import quotas reduce general economic well-being. Therefore, the thesis that voters prefer to vote on protectionist proposals looks like this: the bad policies that voters vote to go through the filters of experts, which makes the democratic system end up implementing suboptimal policies, but altogether less harmful than the ones that citizens voted.
Although for Argentina there is no measurement on the dissent or consensus that experts maintain on the proposal of free trade and the level of well-being, the degrees of disagreements are surely not less than those that exist among Mexican economists. Thus in Argentina, there are two types of disagreements: doxastic and factual ones.
Regardless of how voters settle the doxastic disagreement, that is, if they end up voting mostly for protectionist (opposition) or free market (official) policies, factual disagreements will still exist. Disagreements that are non-normative and based on rival epistemic traditions and based on different interpretations of the same evidence. In Argentina, if voters vote for protectionist policies, democracy will not have a consensus among experts to filter out bad electoral decisions. If voters vote in favor of economic openness, dissent among experts will require great institutional work to process such disagreement.
In conclusion, if the ruling party wins, political science will have new empirical material to investigate and rehearse explanations on how a government with poor economic performance can be re-elected and will also have to describe, at least, how a majority of voters would have voted pro-free trade policies. If the hypothesis becomes a reality, Argentine democracy will have to process factual disagreements institutionally. The task that according to recent history, does not seem straightforward. For the sample of a button, the new external indebtedness was not approved in the National Congress as indicated by the National Constitution. Also, the National Office of Public Credit, a decentralized agency planned constitutionally to monitor public indebtedness, is not accountable, nor dialogues with public opinion. In this context, prosecuting factual disagreements seems like a task worthy of Prometheus, but judging by recent institutional history, it is most likely to be left to Epimetheus.