Surprising Upset in Argentina’s Presidential Election Leads to Runoff

Surprising Upset in Argentina’s Presidential Election Leads to Runoff

In an unexpected turn of events, Economy Minister Sergio Massa emerged as the frontrunner in the first round of Argentina’s presidential election. This outcome reflects a deep apprehension among voters about electing his opponent, a right-wing populist who vowed to drastically reduce the influence of the state. Despite the fact that inflation has skyrocketed under Massa’s tenure, eroding the purchasing power of Argentines and exacerbating poverty, he was not penalized at the polls.

With nearly all votes tallied, Massa secured 36.7% of the vote, edging out the chainsaw-wielding economist and newcomer to politics, Javier Milei, who garnered 30% support. The two candidates will now face off in a runoff on November 19th. Most pre-election polls, notorious for their unreliability, had predicted a slight lead for Milei. Patricia Bullrich, a former Security Minister representing the main center-right opposition coalition, finished third with 23.8% of the vote.

Massa has played a significant role in the center-left administration since 2019 and managed to successfully frame Milei’s proposals to shrink the state as detrimental to the everyday lives of Argentines. This messaging struck a chord with voters and instilled more fear than any other factor, according to Mariel Fornoni of the political consulting firm Management & Fit.

One key factor that contributed to Massa’s victory was a lower abstention rate compared to the primary elections held in August. Around 78% of eligible voters cast their ballots on Sunday, an increase of eight points from the primaries that Milei had won.

Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist and admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, rallied support by advocating for the elimination of the Central Bank, the adoption of the U.S. dollar as the local currency, and the removal of what he termed the “political caste,” the corrupt establishment. However, the radical nature of his proposals and his fiery, profanity-laden rhetoric swayed some Argentines to vote for Massa, albeit with less enthusiasm. Many, like photographer Cristian Ariel Jacobsen, feared that Milei’s project would put democracy at risk.

Leading up to the election, there was a prevailing sense of apprehension among the Argentine population. Those with disposable income rushed to purchase goods in anticipation of a possible currency devaluation, recalling the government’s nearly 20% devaluation of the peso following the August primaries. Argentines also sought out dollars and withdrew hard currency deposits from banks as the peso continued its steady depreciation.

This election marks Massa’s second run for the presidency, after finishing third in a disappointing third place eight years ago. Now, he will have another opportunity to secure the nation’s top position. The outcome of the runoff election will determine whether Argentina continues with a center-left administration or takes a sharp turn to the right.

Massa, aged 51, emerged as the first-round winner despite overseeing inflation surging to 140% and the currency’s decline. In his campaign, he blamed these issues on inheriting an already bleak situation worsened by drought-induced export losses. He assured voters that the worst was behind them.

During the final days of his campaign, Massa fervently cautioned voters against supporting Milei, portraying him as a dangerous upstart. He argued that Milei’s plans would have devastating consequences for social welfare programs, education, and healthcare, as they target the ministries responsible for these areas.

As the results for the next Congress are being finalized, it is apparent that there will be a sharp divide among lawmakers. The ruling coalition will retain the majority of seats in the lower house and Senate. The right-wing vote, however, was fragmented between Milei and two other candidates, while Massa had already consolidated support from the left, according to Atlas Intel’s CEO, Andrei Roman.

Massa hinted at a government of national unity during his speech on Sunday night. He expressed his intention to appeal to members of other parties for the upcoming runoff. He may find common ground with long-serving public servants who have expressed concern about Milei’s candidacy and the threats it poses.

Although Milei characterized his main opponents as part of the corrupt establishment that brought the second-largest economy in South America to its knees, he made a direct plea to Patricia Bullrich’s supporters on Monday morning, welcoming all who want to change Argentina and embrace the ideas of freedom.

In his campaign, Milei positioned himself as a crusader against what he perceives as the sinister forces of socialism, both domestically and internationally. He opposes sex education, feminist policies, and abortion, which is legal in Argentina. He also rejects the notion that human activity is responsible for climate change. Experts suggest that these positions may have alienated some voters, as the Director of the Latin America Program at the Wilson Center, Benjamin Gedan, points out.

During the campaign, Milei, as an anti-establishment candidate, commanded the spotlight. He attracted large crowds of supporters, to the extent that he required a team of bodyguards to navigate through enthusiastic well-wishers. However, despite the media’s portrayal of Milei as an unstoppable force, he ultimately failed to attract broader support and maintained the same level of backing he had two months prior, according to Brian Winter, an Argentina expert and Vice President of the Council of the Americas. The upcoming runoff will be highly contested and unpredictable.

In his speech on Sunday night, Milei attempted to appeal to those who may have been intimidated by his bombastic speeches, aiming to regain his edge. He asserted, “We didn’t come here to take away rights; we came to take away privileges.”

Regardless of the eventual outcome, Milei and his libertarian party have already established a place within the Argentine political landscape, bringing new dynamics to the existing political structure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What were the results of the first round of Argentina’s presidential election?
  2. Sergio Massa finished first with 36.7% of the vote, while Javier Milei secured 30% of the vote. Patricia Bullrich came in third with 23.8%.

  3. What were the main concerns of Argentinian voters in this election?
  4. Many voters expressed apprehension about Milei’s proposals to drastically reduce the size of the state, fearing potential negative impacts on social welfare programs, education, and healthcare.

  5. Who is Sergio Massa and what has he accomplished?
  6. Sergio Massa has been a prominent figure in the center-left administration since 2019. He has focused on highlighting the potential consequences of Milei’s proposals on everyday life for Argentines.

  7. What are some of Javier Milei’s key policies and positions?
  8. Javier Milei advocates for the elimination of the Central Bank, the adoption of the U.S. dollar as the local currency, and the removal of what he perceives as the corrupt political establishment. He also opposes sex education, feminist policies, and abortion.

  9. What happened in the days leading up to the election?
  10. There was a sense of concern among Argentinians, prompting individuals with disposable income to stock up on goods due to the possibility of a currency devaluation. People also withdrew hard currency deposits from banks.

  11. How will the runoff election impact Argentina’s political landscape?
  12. The outcome of the runoff will determine whether Argentina continues with a center-left administration or shifts towards a right-wing direction.


  • Management & Fit – Political Consulting Firm:
  • Atlas Intel – Brazil-based Pollster:
  • Wilson Center – Latin America Program:
  • Council of the Americas: