The dust is starting to clear from the first round of Costa Rica’s presidential race, revealing two candidates in a statistical dead heat ahead of the April 1, Easter Sunday runoff election.
The National Restoration Party’s (Partido Restauración Nacional, PRN) Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz leads Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the Citizen Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana, PAC) 45 to 42 percent in the University of Costa Rica’s first head-to-head poll, which has a 3.6 percent margin of error. Though the results are tight, the first round appears to have clarified things for voters: just 13 percent of adults say they’re undecided at this point in the campaign, down from the 36 percent heading into the February 4 vote.
The most common reason Ticos said they voted for Fabricio—an Evangelical pastor, singer, and lawmaker who’s based his campaign on opposition to LGBT rights—was because they wanted to "defend traditional values of Costa Rica” (54%). Tensions over LGBT rights in particular are high in the country. The Costa Rican school year opened with parents blocking the entrances to more than a dozen elementary schools to show their opposition to a government sex education proposal on the so-called “gender ideology,” while others kept their children at home in protest. After vowing earlier in campaigning to take Costa Rica out of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, Fabricio seemed to back off that pledge on February 20 after a meeting with former President and Nobel Prize-winner Óscar Arias, saying withdrawing "was an option." Two-thirds of Ticos oppose the court’s January 9 ruling, which requires Costa Rica and other member countries to recognize same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights.
Ticos who voted for Carlos—a novelist and former minister in the current president’s administration—primarily (63%) did so because they "liked the candidate's ideas." One notable tendency picked up by the February survey is that voters are concerned about the country’s financial situation, in particular a burgeoning fiscal deficit and rising energy costs—and their worries could work in Carlos’ favor, to the degree he’s seen as the more capable candidate on the economic front. In a separate February poll, just 17 percent of Costa Rican business owners said they planned to make a hire in the next 12 months, down from 40 percent eight months earlier. The IMF projects the Costa Rican economy will grow a healthy 4.1 percent in 2018, while the country’s Central Bank puts the figure at 3.6 percent.