Saturday 28 May 2022

Abstentionism: GAM and the rest of the country distance themselves more and more

36 years ago all the cantons, rural and urban, had high percentages of participation, but over the years residents of areas far from the GAM stopped going out to vote

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QCOSTARICA – In the 1986 presidential elections, cantons such as Carillo, in Guanacaste, or Esparza, in Puntarenas, had a higher percentage of participation than the central canton of San José. In those cantons, up to 90% of its residents attended the electoral call.

The same thing happened in rural Alajuelense cantons such as San Mateo or Palmares, where the enthusiasm to go to the polls was greater than that of Flores or Belén, in Heredia. These last territories were among those that registered a higher level of participation in the past elections on February 6.

36 years ago all the cantons, rural and urban, had high percentages of participation, but over the years residents of areas far from the GAM stopped going out to vote

Historically, urban areas register more participation than rural ones; however, at the end of the 1980s, abstentionism inside and outside the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) was low and had a similar behavior (18-19%). This meant that among the ten cantons with the most votes, five were rural and five were metropolitan.

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That reality changed and over time a gap arose between these two populations, which made the cantons outside the GAM lose interest in voting. This is demonstrated by an analysis of the last ten presidential elections, carried out by La Nación based on data from the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE). – Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

An example of this gap occurred in Garabito, in Puntarenas, and in La Unión, in Cartago, which in 1986 both had an abstention rate of 17%, and now it is 55% and 34%, respectively.

This happened in the majority of cantons outside the GAM and in the previous elections, the gap between urban and rural regions reached its maximum in recent history: In the GAM, abstentionism was 35% and in the rest of the country 44%, a different of 9 percentage points.

How did this difference arise?

The gap is the result of a set of political and socioeconomic situations that grew hand in hand with abstentionism. This was explained by Ronald Alfaro, researcher of the Programa Estado Nación (PEN) – Nation State Program.

“The period of increased abstentionism coincides with the time when Costa Rican society begins to become more unequal, from the socio-economic point of view, that gap begins to open when society perceives itself as more unequal. So, some people probably say that politics is not part of their daily life and they stand aside, they don’t participate or get involved,” Alfaro commented.

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This caused the coastal provinces, such as Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limón, to be the areas most prone to abstentionism. In the case of Guanacastecans, 36 years ago they had a turnout similar to that of the Central Valley, but inequality made a large part of its inhabitants opt not to vote.

Geographic corridor

The expert on sociopolitical issues assured that the differences are due to a phenomenon known as a geographic corridor, which generates similar behaviors between geographic areas that share problems such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and little supply of services.

In Costa Rica, this corridor is made up of the northern zone, the Caribbean and the south and central Pacific, as well as the southern zone of the country. The cantons of those regions have little participation in the elections, such as Golfito, where 57% of the electorate did not vote in the first round on February 6.

For the PEN researcher, Sarapiquí is another example of the influence of the geographic corridor, since it has high abstention rates even though it belongs to Heredia, a province where more voters go to the polls.

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Likewise, he indicated that this phenomenon is independent of changes in the political system, because even if a new party appears, it does not change the pattern of abstentionism. On the contrary, the gaps are getting bigger and bigger.

“Someone could say that the emergence of a party is agitating people and is taking them out of their seats to go vote, that is happening but it is not moving that pattern of abstentionism. It is not changing it, what is happening is that the people who participate move from one party to another,” Alfaro asserted.

Generational problem

The young vote has a great weight in the elections, but the democratic conscience is, for the most part, a pattern learned at home. If a child did not grow up seeing his or her relatives vote, he or she will hardly do it when she grows up.

This is another of the factors that Alfaro associates with both the geographical gap and the increase in abstentionism in the country.

“Politics is learned by seeing, above all, the people close to them, if in the case of Talamanca or Esparza the younger people see that an important group of people does not participate, then they learn not to participate, they learn that this is normal because it they live and they are seeing it”, commented Alfaro.

According to the expert, there is a “national champion” that has managed to be the most participatory canton despite not being in the metropolitan area, it is Zarcero, which in recent decades has been by far the most participatory in electoral processes.

“If you look at Zarcero’s levels of participation, it’s extraordinary. But what has happened? Well, it is a small canton, very cohesive, easily everyone knows each other there. Also, if many vote, many learn to participate in politics by seeing that. It is impressive, but we are talking about a canton that is not in the GAM but behaves as such”, explained the researcher.

Another generational change that could be contributing to abstentionism is the loss of political identity of the new generations. On the one hand, generations that were faithful to the vote and that generally identified with certain political groupings have been lost. On the other hand, the new generations move between different parties.

“We have a political fracture, a fracture that in the long term has nothing to do with the collapse of bipartisanship, it has to do with the loss of party identity, that weakening and the fact that younger people do not have those ties with the parties and does not feel a strong affinity for a party”, added Alfaro.

One way to reverse the loss of party identity is by renewing structures and refreshing political parties. The political expert explained that an example of this was the National Liberation Party (PLN), which for the 1986 elections changed its traditional politicians and brought former President Óscar Arias as his candidate and triumphed at the polls.

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Reports by QCR staff

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