Poll Tracker: Costa Rica's 2022 Presidential Runoff

By Holly K. Sonneland

See where economist Rodrigo Chaves and former President José María Figueres stand in CIEP polls ahead of the April 3 vote.

Two candidates are vying for president in Costa Rica. They’re both right-leaning globalists with established professional trajectories. One has already had the job, in fact, and the other burnished his career with the World Bank.

And both are being dogged by events from their past. At a time when electoral enthusiasm and turnout run low, voters are less likely to be positively motivated and how much either scandal sticks to a candidate could end up being decisive. On that front, the candidate whose events took place largely outside of Costa Rica appears to have an edge.

Rodrigo Chaves was a successful economist who rose to the director level of country manager for Indonesia during his decade-plus tenure with the World Bank. His time there, however, ended with demotion for what an internal investigation described as “inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature.” The investigation did not lead to his firing, but it did get him a “no rehire” flag and restricted his access to World Bank properties. For his part, Chaves has said that, “My Latino culture … was interpreted in a subjective manner as inappropriate.”

José María Figueres, meanwhile, is facing again a situation that has hounded him for almost two decades. In the early 2000s, the French telecom company Alcatel was in negotiations with Costa Rica for a pair of contracts worth over $250 million combined; at the center of the negotiations was a lobbying firm headed by one of Figueres’ former presidential advisers. Sometime between 2000 and 2003, Figueres, the adviser, and a former head of his party received payments of $900,000 for their lobbying efforts. But, unlike the other two, Figueres’ name was not disclosed in the contract and he only declared the payment to tax authorities after the story became public in 2004. That same year, Figueres left the country and did not return for almost eight years, despite multiple pleas for him to do so. Authorities investigated him from 2004 to 2007, but never filed charges against him. The case, meanwhile, was still going on as of late 2021. While he’s said he regrets not returning to Costa Rica sooner, Figueres maintains there was nothing improper about the payments.

So far in CIEP polling, Chaves is the rubber and Figueres is the glue. Three in five Ticos believe the claims against Figueres (that the funds are indicative of corruption) are true, while two in five believe the same of sexual harassment charges against Chaves. Similarly, in the survey published March 22, 47 percent of voters said Chaves’ positive traits would influence their decision more than his negative ones would. Meanwhile, 40 percent said Figueres’ negative traits would influence their vote for (or against) him more than his positives ones.

Additionally, while Costa Rican politics were dominated by a strong two-party system for the better part of the last 70 years—one of which is Figueres’ National Liberation Party (PLN)—the Tico political establishment is struggling: just a quarter of voters say party loyalty is a significant factor in their vote, while half say it has no influence. Moreover, a full 80 percent of voters say that they have a desire for change, something that plays to the advantage of a political newcomer like Chaves.


This article was originally published on March 9 and has since been updated.