Michele Bachelet vs Evelyn Matthei

As we come upon our own election in the US, I have seen videos showcasing foreign female heads-of-state to remind Americans that a female president is not an unheard-of phenomena (see this awesome video where Samantha Bee interviews President Bachelet, among others – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0AhzLEXWgY). Always included is President Michele Bachelet of Chile, who is currently serving her second term (though not consecutive, as this is banned in Chile). She won reelection in 2013 with a 62% majority in the runoff election, which was the largest majority in Chile since the Pinochet years, according to NPR. Unfortunately, I could not find any data breaking down the voters for President Bachelet into female and male. Yet with such a resounding victory, she presumably had a strong lead with both genders. After reading Morgan’s article, we could try to explain President Bachelet’s sweeping victory with his observation that women, a powerful voting bloc, will often vote for a female candidate over a male regardless of ideology when given the chance. But there is a twist – both candidates in the runoff election were women. How else, then, can we explain President Bachelet’s resounding victory with Morgan’s ideas?


Without detailed voter data, I cannot say for sure whether President Bachelet was a huge hit with women on election day. Perhaps her opponent, Evelyn Matthei, a conservative, received a large chunk of female votes as well. Morgan argues that, traditionally, women more consistently vote for the right than men, which would favor Matthei. Importantly, though, Morgan also emphasizes that as women enter the workplace more, they are less likely to be stuck to traditional gender voting roles. Perhaps this could explain how Bachelet was able to win with such a large majority – more women in the workplace could lead to more progressive views of women.


In consideration with Morgan’s argument, I think the  most important issue that could have helped Bachelet win the election so decisively was her stance on abortion. According to NPR, Bachelet ran her reelection campaign with abortion rights expansion as a central issue. Currently in Chile, abortion is illegal in any circumstance, including in cases of rape and severe birth defects. Women can be severely punished with up to 15 years of jail time for obtaining an abortion. Morgan argues that abortion-supporting women voters will vote for female candidates specifically because they believe that women will be more likely to make strides towards legalizing abortion, regardless of their party affiliation. In this special election case, women were not forced to choose, for example, between a man who claims to be leftist and a right-wing woman, but had the choice between two female candidates. Perhaps the inclusion of abortion in her platform, then, was enough to persuade many women to vote for Bachelet over Matthei. Specifically, Morgan claims that women voters who support abortion rights are more likely to vote for female candidates, whereas men who support abortion rights are no more likely to vote for a female candidate based on this belief. This could be extrapolated to suggest that Bachelet’s stance on abortion attracted more women to vote for her.


Lastly, I think it is important to consider that President Bachelet had already had success as a former president of Chile. She also ran against a conservative, who had to battle the dissatisfaction with preceding conservative President Piñera. These factors could have contributed to her success. I also think Morgan’s ideas about feminine issues could hold be applied. Bachelet included in her campaign promises the expansion of social programs to reduce inequality. Could this have appealed to the traditional mothers in Chile more than Matthei’s plans? Chile is also still recovering from Pinochet’s dictatorship. While Matthei’s family supported Pinochet, Bachelet’s family was persecuted by the Pinochet government for their beliefs. President Bachelet herself was tortured. Maybe she thus represents the change that the people of Chile want to see. In an election with two female candidates, it is impossible, of course, to explain a resounding victory by only observing that women will often vote for women. This interesting case presents other reasons that women and men would vote for President Bachelet besides her womanhood. I do believe that Morgan’s ideas could have predicted a Bachelet victory simply on the abortion issue, but such a resounding victory presents a great case study to further research on women’s roles in elections. I know that this is at least the first election I have heard of that was between two women. Maybe as more elections emerge with two women running against one another, we will better be able to understand the complexity of female voting patterns in Latin America.


I used these sources to learn more about the 2013 election in Chile.