Only fifty minutes had passed since the polls closed and Colombia already had a faithful political mirror to look at itself in front of. This mirror reflected a new image for the country: that of its left profile, which for the first time in the two centuries since independence was more present than the right. Gustavo Petro passed with an uncontestable victory eleven million votes and 50% of the total vote. He added less to his coalition than Rodolfo Hernández, who nearly doubled his votes in the first round. But it was more than enough to give him a decent win.
This victory does not come out of nowhere, but builds on a development that started years ago. There are two ways to look at it. One is purely ideological, rather sudden: The Left, led by Petro, rose from 0 to 41.7% and from 41.7% to 50.5% in just eight years.
The other, inevitably intertwined, is the political elites’ desire for change. The center played its role, which has been just as important as that of the populist left over the past decade: the mathematician Antanas Mockus was the first “alternative” to make it into a second round of presidency. Today if we count Rodolfo Hernández as a presence against them furnishings (and that doesn’t seem justified: after all, he beat the traditional right-wing candidate to second place), the entire second round was dominated by populist proposals. But in the open struggle for the flag of change (first between center and left, then between right, center and left), it was Petro who carried it.
This has also been achieved with increased participation. The fact that the polls momentum throughout Round 2 was Rodolfo’s relegation led to the assumption that there were plenty of undecideds who could help or hurt him. Put another way, it could be assumed that in order to win, Petro had to demobilize rather than mobilize. However, his victory comes with an increase of 2.7 million and an increase in participation compared to the first round.
The only possible conclusion from this data is that Petro’s leftist proposal, with its dual ideological backbone and against the elites, was persuasive enough to win through a mobilization few credited it with. It wasn’t an accidental victory, nor (solely) due to the failure of the rival’s campaign (although it probably made it easier for them). In fact, it is based on vote increases in each and every region of Colombia. Even (though to a lesser extent) in the areas he had the most against and predictably failed to win: Hernández’s hometown of Santander, Álvaro Uribe’s Antioquia.
The election map continues to show the division of the two Colombias: the conservative interior, the initially liberal and now progressive periphery. But Gustavo Petro managed to get a little deeper into the areas that were (and still are) repugnant to him.
More importantly, these increases are taking place even in places where overall turnout has not increased, while on the coasts they have increased in the very areas where new votes needed to be generated to win. The data shows that he succeeded.
The dynamics in both things must be viewed from different perspectives. In the Pacific, the number of votes in the first round is already up sharply compared to 2018, likely driven by vice presidential formula Francia Márquez, his personal history and activism in the region, and his ability to activate voting afro by the strong argument that she could be the first vice-president of this origin in Colombia. But it was possible that Marelen Castillo, also an Afro woman, canceled out some of that effect. However, this does not appear to have been the case and the outcome of participation in the poorest area of the country and with the greatest logistical difficulties represents a historic milestone that must be seen if it holds up in future elections. In the Caribbean, on the other hand, these increases were relatively feasible, since the turnout in the first ballot was lower than expected, but the fact is that they have taken place and here it will be necessary to analyze in detail what mechanisms that triggered them now , but not on the 29th.
But beyond these mechanisms, the first data underscores that Petro won the first presidency for the Colombian left through a strategy of mobilization, not demobilization. It wasn’t just about lowering the rival’s bar, but raising your own. And this would not have been possible if, topic by topic, topic by topic, the median voter was not positioned between the center and the left.
Colombia is emerging as a less conservative country than many (particularly the Colombian conservatives themselves) seem to believe. And the results of the 2022 presidential election only confirm this hypothesis.