Monday, June 21, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

With 99.91% of the vote counted, the National Registry of Colombia reports the following results:


One of the thing that struck me was that at first glance (I need to actually do some checking to confirm my impression), the voto en blanco numbers aren’t especially high.  This is noteworthy, as the Polo was actively campaigning for the voto en blanco.  Of course, if one is going to officially abstain, the motivation to stay home and watch the Mundial is probably pretty high.

As I noted in passing yesterday, this victory is of historic proportions.

Of course, exactly placing in its proper context is another issue, as not all historical periods are created equal.  Going backwards we can understand the basic eras of Colombian presidential elections as follows:

  1. The Absolute Majority Era (1994-2010).  With the implementation of the Constitution of 1991, it became necessary to win an absolute majority of the vote to be the president of Colombia.  If no candidate received an absolute majority, a run-off (like the one held yesterday) has to be held.  This applies to the elections of 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.  Of those, a run-off was required in all save 2002 and 2006 (Uribe’s two wins).  It should also be noted that from 1994-2002, a one-term limit was in place, but the constitution was amended to allow for two terms during Uribe’s first administration.
  2. The Plurality Era (1974-1990). The basics here are that the presidency was won by the candidate with the most votes on election day and non-consecutive re-election was allowed.   The constitution of 1886 governed these elections.
  3. The National Front Era (1958-1970).  As a condition of a pact signed by the (then) major political parties (the Liberals and Conservatives), the presidency would alternate between the two parties every four years.  Elections would still be held, but the party whose turn it was would submit an official candidate and the other party would not.  Dissident candidates could run, but with the exception of he 1970 contest, such challenges were relatively insignificant.  The pact in question was in response to a partisan civil war in the 1940s and 50s and a military government that briefly ruled (1953-1958).
  4. Early 20th Century/pre-coup period.  This period has a number of sub-periods that I won’t get into here.  This was an era of limited suffrage elections, uncontested elections and other issues that make the period not especially useful for comparison to the current era.

Having spelled all of that out, where does Santos’ election fit, in term of comparative numbers?

If we look at the most comparable era (i.e., #1), the next biggest percentage win was Uribe’s 62.35% in 2006.  In some ways, that number is more impressive than Santos’ as Uribe won his in the first round against six challengers.  In the other two cases (1994 and 1998) the second rounds were quite competitive.

If we look at the pre-1991 constitution period (#2 above), the biggest winner was Virgilio Barco (PL) in 1986, who won 58.36% of the vote.

If we go back to the NF era (#3), the remarkable thing is that even with the restricted nature of the races during that time, only two of the four elections gave the winner a more impressive final percentage than the one Santos won yesterday.

In the first NF election (1958), Alberto Lleras won 80.14% of the vote against token opposition and in 1962, Carlos Llera won 71.72% of the vote.  The 1962 winner, Guillermo León Valencia won 62.30% and in the highly contested and controversial 1970 election Misael Pastrana won only 40.69% of the vote (with, likely, a little extralegal help, shall we say).

So, in sum, to put Santos’ win into perspective:  it is the most impressive win in terms of numbers of any fully competitive election in Colombian history (i.e, from 1974 onward).  Further, it is an even more impressive win than two of four elections held under less than fully competitive circumstances during the NF.

Here’s a better map than the one I posted yesterday, as it has the names of the departments noted:


The views expressed in the comments are the sole responsibility of the person leaving those comments. They do not reflect the opinion of the author of PoliBlog, nor have they been vetted by the author.

8 Responses to “Some Historical Perspective on the Santos Win”

  1. MSS Says:

    So what accounts for Putumayo as the hotbed of Mockusismo?

  2. MSS Says:

    It is noteworthy that turnout was down, compared to the first round. But perhaps more noteworthy that it was down by so little, given the foregone conclusion of the runoff (and the fútbol competition).

  3. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    In regards top Putumayo: excellent question. The only hypothesis that springs to mind is that there has been both an active FARC and coca cultivation presence there, neither of which would be too keen on Santos!

    And yes, I did see that the turnout was lower and concur with your observation.

  4. Mario Cabrera Says:

    The case of Putumayo is explained by public discontent with the current president, Alvaro Uribe, who dismantled an illegal business, an economic pyramid, which was a source of income for them. Moreover, in doing so many lost their savings. The government’s efforts to return that money have been found to be insufficient for its inhabitants.

    As the candidate Juan Manuel Santos is the political heir of Alvaro Uribe, the people of Putumayo gained electorally such action, voting for the opposition candidate Antanas Mockus.

  5. Steven L. Taylor Says:


    Interesting. I was unaware that the pyramid scheme was especially limited to Putumayo.

  6. Fruits and Votes » Prof. Shugart's Blog » Colombia’s runoff Says:

    [...] 14.75 million on the first round to about 13.3 million in the runoff. (See the first-round and second-round data that Steven Taylor [...]

  7. Contributor Says:

    Of note, in some municipalities Santos had 94% of the vote, such as Chita, Boyacá

  8. Contributor Says:

    Putumayo had two pyramid schemes: “DRFE” which stood for Dinero Rápido Fácil y Rápido, and DMG, DRFE “fell” and DMG was shut down by the government but there was not enough money left. DMG stood for David Murcia Guzmán, now in prison in the US charged with money laundring.

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