With just three months left before leaving office, President Michelle Bachelet continues to set new records for job approval and support. But coalition’s replacement hopeful, Sen. Eduardo Frei, isn’t so fortunate.

A poll by the Center for Public Studies (CEP) put Bachelet’s popularity (approval rating) at 73 percent, with 14 percent disapproving.  These high numbers far surpass anything seen by former presidents, and are the best the president has ever seen.

Another recent poll by the daily conservative newspaper El Mercurio found that 71 percent of respondents thought that she has done a better job than former president Ricardo Lagos (of Bachelet’s own coalition). Lagos left office with a very high 58 percent approval rating, and just 28 percent of respondents to a 2006 El Mercurio  poll thought that Bachelet could improve on Lagos’ performance.

The same sentiment appears to be present today, as the Concertación, the center-left political coalition that has ruled since the country’s return to democracy in 1990, sends forward Sen. Frei to try to replace Bachelet. Frei, a somewhat dour Christian Democrat, served as Chile’s president between 1994 and 2000 and never scored more than a 49 percent approval rating. By the end of his term his approval rating plummeted to 28 percent, according to CEP.

Frei is running behind his conservative rival, billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera, who has a steady though unchanging lead in most polls. When asked who they would like to be the next president, 33 percent of all registered voters chose Piñera, compared to Frei’s 22 percent, according to CEP. Independent candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami scored 14 percent.

Piñera’s lead has grown since last month, when a May-June poll gave him a 6-percent lead over Frei, 32 to 25 percent. Enríquez-Ominami’s slice also increased in that time period, from 9 percent to 14 percent.

Still, the election remains up for grabs. If none of the candidates wins a majority on the first round of voting, a runoff will occur. In the second round of a Piñera/Enríquez-Ominami election, CEP shows that Piñera would take 44 percent to Enríquez-Ominami’s 34 percent, with 22 percent planning to abstain. Piñera would also take a runoff with Frei, though just 42 percent to 39 percent, with 19 percent abstaining.

The candidates will be reaching for the undecided voters as they prepare for the first presidential debate, scheduled for this Wednesday, Sept. 23, at the TVN studio in Santiago. Long shot leftist candidates Sen. Jorge Arrate and Socialist Sen. Alejandro Navarro will be debating along with the more popular contenders Frei, Piñera and Enríquez-Ominami.

By Daniel Zarchy (

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