Thanks to Mike Allison for pointing out this story in IPS about the relationship between economic growth and presidential approval in Chile. As I've written about in the past, growth doesn't help you. For Sebastián Piñera low approval has been ascribed to lack of mobilization, inability to handle his image, or problems he inherited from Michelle Bachelet. The IPS story has another explanation:
Mauricio Morales, a political scientist at the Diego Portales University, explained, “The percentage of approval is determined not only by economic indicators but also by a president’s personal traits.”
“Piñera is not perceived as an honest or approachable president,” in contrast to his predecessor, the socialist Michelle Bachelet, who governed from 2006 to 2010 with an approval rate of over 50 percent.
I am uncomfortable with analyses focusing on personal traits, but this is a really unusual situation. Piñera is not terribly different from Bachelet, yet her numbers ended very high after a trough, and his have remained stagnant. If we blame inequality, then we would expect Bachelet to have suffered as well. They are both establishment and moderate, fighting off the extreme wings of their coalition. The core direction of the economy has not changed. This leaves us with largely ad hoc reasoning about the differing outcomes.
We also need to explain why Bachelet was so low in the first part of her term. Personal traits had not changed, nor had inequality or discontent with the economic system.