Poll Update: Costa Rica's 2018 Presidential Election

By Holly K. Sonneland

Fabricio Alvarado maintains his lead in the final poll before the February 4 vote, while Carlos Alvarado makes big gains, and Juan Diego Castro tumbles.

Just days before February 4 general elections, pollsters at University of Costa Rica’s Center for Research and Political Studies (CIEP) released their final public opinion survey on January 31. The results show that the presidential race—in their words—is a statistical rollercoaster. Here are the notable developments.

Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz maintained his lead. The congressman and contemporary Christian singer surged 14 points in one month in CIEP’s first January poll, conducted a week after an international court ruling on LGBT rights that galvanized conservative voters, two-thirds of whom oppose the ruling. The National Restoration Party (Restauración Nacional, PRNJ) candidate, who promised that if elected he’d have Costa Rica leave the regional court, maintained 17 percent support in CIEP’s second January poll, conducted nine days later, and sits in first place with a 5-point lead over the next candidate. He also picked up one of the largest shares of undecided voters from the previous month.

The other candidate picking up undecideds at a similar rate is Carlos Alvarado Quesada (no relation to Fabricio). The Citizen Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana, PAC) candidate garnered 11 percent support, nearly doubling his numbers from the earlier January poll—and critically making it into the final debate on January 30, during which he generated some of the most traffic online. At 38, he is the youngest presidential candidate and comes from the party and administration of the current president, Luis Guillermo Solís, who in 2014 surged from fourth place in polls to win the first-round vote and eventually the presidency.

The establishment candidates are struggling. No candidate has lost more ground cumulatively in polls in the last five months than Antonio Álvarez, who heads into Sunday’s vote with 12 percent voter support. Should he fail to make it into the runoff, it would be the first time the National Liberation Party (Partido Liberación Nacional, PLN) candidate would not finish in the top two spots of a presidential race since Costa Rica’s first modern democratic elections in 1953. Also falling steadily in polls is candidate from the Social Christian Unity Party (Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, PUSC), the PLN’s longtime rival. Rodolfo Piza—who in the January 30 debate said that Costa Rica should “de-Nicaragua-ize” its foreign policy—technically sits  in fifth place in the final pre-vote poll, though essentially in a statistical tie with three other candidates.

Juan Diego Castro might have been his own undoing. The “Trump in the tropics” candidate was the story of the 2017 campaign and finished the year leading polls. But it seems voters might have reached their limit with his bombastic statements. The National Integration Party (Partido Integración Nacional, PIN) candidate said in January both that he’d close the country’s biggest newspaper and that some Supreme Court justices had obtained their seats on the bench by performing sexual favors. Castro fell nine points in the nine days between the two January polls to fourth place and single-digit support.