WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Colombians go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of voting in their presidential election. Voters in this election are under more economic stress than they've been in years largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken a toll on how they see their lives and further fueled their discontent with their country's leadership.
Quick Summary: Colombia's election is an opportunity for change, as current President Ivan Duque cannot legally stand for reelection. Duque, who has been in office since 2018, ran as a reformist but then struggled to implement change. He has been criticized for how he implemented the peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which had been fighting the Colombian government for decades.
The election offers Colombian voters six candidates to choose from, but two have emerged as clear front-runners: Gustavo Petro and Federico Gutierrez. Petro, the leading leftist candidate and a former guerilla, is running on a platform of economic, environmental and social reform. Gutierrez, the leading conversative candidate, is emphasizing law and order, vowing to tackle crime and encourage economic growth.
Whoever wins will take the helm of a country in the midst of multiple crises, including a deteriorating security situation and rising income inequality and poverty. Colombia's economy has been battered during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 3.6 million Colombians falling into poverty since it started. Nearly 40% of the country's population is now estimated to be living below the poverty line.
Colombians' Lives Headed in Wrong Direction: After years of steady ratings averaging in the mid-40% range, the percentage of Colombians who are considered to be thriving began to free-fall after 2019. In 2021, thriving dropped to a new record low of 28%. This decline is at least partly related to the effects of COVID-19 on Colombians. In 2020, 65% of Colombians who were working at the time of the pandemic reported they had earned less money than usual because of the coronavirus situation.
Additionally, before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the political crisis in Venezuela arrived in Colombia, which placed additional stress on the country's economy, resources and social services.
Gallup classifies individuals as "thriving," "struggling" or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from zero to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their current life and anticipated life in five years a 4 or lower are classified as suffering.
The Majority of Colombians Are Struggling Economically: A clear majority of Colombians (60%) said in 2021 that they were finding it "difficult" or "very difficult" to get by on their current household income, tying the record high from 2020. Before that year, no more than 44% of Colombians had reported experiencing this much difficulty getting by.
Additionally, a slim majority of Colombians (52%) said in 2021 that there had been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money for food. The percentage lacking money for this basic necessity has generally trended upward since 2015, rising from 32% that year to 45% in 2019 and jumping substantially higher amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Majority of Colombians Lack Confidence in Their National Government: In 2021, 70% of Colombians said they do not have confidence in their national government, an increase of eight percentage points from 2020 but still lower than the record high of 76% in 2017. That record high came after the Colombian government signed a peace treaty with the FARC.
Colombia has been wracked with economic pain and civil unrest over the past several months. At the same time that millions were sliding into poverty, large numbers of Colombians took to the streets to protest increased taxes, as well as shortages of food and fuel. While those protests have largely subsided, the security situation in the country has deteriorated in recent months with a surge of violence. Whoever wins the election will face daunting challenges in both restoring security and turning around the economic downturn.
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