I had planned on writing about the recent polls from the UCA and La Prensa Grafica that had given the FMLN approximately 10 pt. leads over ARENA, but the newest one from the Universidad Francisco Gavidia just hurts. The poll that they released on Friday gave the FMLN a 20 pt. lead heading into next month's second round (once you exclude the 10 percent who are not voting).
I have a hard time seeing Sanchez Ceren surpassing Armando Calderon Sol's 1994 high but, then again, I was pretty certain that he would get between 35 - 45 percent in the first round - not 49! In 1994, Calderon Sol narrowly missed winning a first round victory as well when he captured 49 percent of the vote in the country's first postwar elections. He went on to defeat Ruben Zamora (current Salvadoran ambassador to the US) in a second round with 68 percent.
Francisco Flores defeated Facundo Guardado with 52 percent (Flores timeline from CISPES) in 1999. There was no need for a second round. This was a pretty ugly election following an embarrassing primary election (s) for the FMLN and dirty campaigning by ARENA. Flores seems to have been absent for the last few weeks and it now looks like he has been suspended from ARENA.
Tony Saca defeated Schafik Handal with 58 percent of the vote in 2004. Most of us thought that Handal was a terrible candidate for the general election and he was. However, the FMLN seemed to have learned from the 2003 mayoral election for San Salvador that the individual candidate did not matter - they had a strong brand. Saca then jumped ship from a sinking ARENA and has since been cozying up to the FMLN. I have this recurring nightmare that the relationship between the FMLN and Saca is going to turn into an Ortega-Aleman pacto.
And Funes defeated Avila with 51 percent of the vote in 2009 even though the FMLN had everything going for it, well, except maybe governing experience and concrete accomplishments which they now have.
According to the UCA's recent poll, roughly 30 percent of the voters made their mind up in the months before, including the day of, the election. At the same time, 66 percent of the respondents said that the accusations against Flores strongly influenced their choice of candidates. Flores seems responsible for turning a close race into a lopsided victory for Sanchez Ceren in round one. ARENA now has to convince the Salvadoran voters that they are a clean party, competent to govern. They get rid of their corrupt officials like Flores and Saca (cough, cough). I swear, everybody else is honest.
It's going to be really tough. So many respondents do not believe that ARENA should return to power (55 percent said no) and so many say that they would never vote for ARENA in March (46 percent said never).
ARENA needs to start looking towards 2015 and 2018 (municipal and legislative elections) and maybe event 2019 (presidential elections) when they get to do this all over again.