This past weekend formally marked the launch of the presidential campaign season in Mexico, which will conclude next Sunday, July 1, when some 88 million Mexicans will vote for more than 3,400 positions, including all members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic, as well as eight governors and the head of the Government of Mexico City. To the electoral rancor in this volatile time, we must add the serious problems of public insecurity and violence in the country, as well as economic uncertainty due to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the tense relationship with President Donald Trump. Until then, we are in for 90 harsh and dramatic days.
Four candidates are contesting the presidency, although electoral authorities could still invalidate the candidacy of the “independent” Margarita Zavala, wife of former President Felipe Calderón, for irregularities in her campaign. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the 64-year-old candidate of the left, is running for the third time since 2006. He holds a comfortable lead in the polls, reportedly capturing 38% of those who’ve said they intend to vote. His followers in the MORENA party (and the coalition that supports him, the Trotskyist PT and the Christian PES) already view him as a sure winner, and as do many opportunist politicians from competing parties, who have emigrated to MORENA.
It is likely that this migration will increase in the coming months; we have seen it many times in the past, especially in 2006, when AMLO was a very powerful candidate, maybe even stronger than today, who picked up, as now, political pimps who represent everything, except real change. Even some international publications already view him as the clear favorite, such as The Economist and Goldman Sachs (while warning of the macroeconomic problems that he could cause).
The polls place López Obrador today ahead of Ricardo Anaya (39 years old, the candidate of the conservative PAN and the social democrats PRD and MC) and Jose Antonio Meade (49 years old, the candidate of the ruling PRI, who has formed an alliance with the ecologist PVEM and the trade unionist NA). For example, in the most recent survey of polls by Oraculus, a tool that averages together 25 surveys, AMLO has an average of 40%, compared to Anaya at 28%, and Meade at 23%. What is not good news for Meade, the PRI, and President Peña Nieto is that after an intense and dirty campaign to discredit Anaya, Meade did not see the desired boost; rather, López Obrador gained in the polls. Hopefully, it is a lesson learned and we avoid new illegalities and government abuses in these campaigns.
It is important to consider that in Mexico the president is elected without a second round; meaning a candidate can win in the first round with under 50%. Thus, if voters believe that only two candidates have a real chance to win, such as in 2000, 2006, and 2012, they will have incentives to withdraw support from the rest of the field. Thus, it is likely that the presidential election will finally be decided between López Obrador and Anaya, according to the currently available data.
Still, a triumph for López Obrador is far from guaranteed, even though his followers insist that it is a done deal. Some of the opposing candidates can capitalize on a rejection vote against López Obrador, who is the most at risk of a protest vote because Mexicans and the media consider him the favorite.
Criticism of the candidates and their mistakes can considerably alter electoral outcomes over the next 90 days. Consider, for example, the data compiled by Consulta Mitofsky; during the 2006 election, the PAN (with Felipe Calderón at the time) went up five points in the last four months of the campaign, while the PRD (the AMLO party) fell 3 points, after AMLO insulted President Fox, and refused to debate with the other candidates. More spectacular was the 2012 election, where Peña Nieto started with a much greater advantage than that of López Obrador today over Anaya, but the PRD (again with AMLO) managed to raise more than 9 points. Then the PRI (with Peña Nieto) fell another 9 points, in the same last four months of the campaign, after the emergence of a student movement. Finally, Peña Nieto won with only a three-point margin and probably would have lost if the election was held two or three weeks later.
Certainly, the current campaign will be shorter than the previous ones and López Obrador will have the experience of 30 years of continuous campaigns (since his failed candidacy for governor of Tabasco in 1988), in which he has victimized others at his pleasure to satisfy the national psychodrama. But whoever believes that everything is decided in his favor, is wrong. In this regard, one need only consider that at least 60 percent of the electorate would not vote for López Obrador, that is, the Mexican electorate overwhelmingly does not want AMLO to return them to the old corrupt authoritarian model of the PRI of the 70s and 80s. Less so with an ‘updated’, Chavista populism. A majority of Mexicans do not want to be governed by the intolerant and rude demagogue who is AMLO, whose political recipes are a combination of Luis Echeverría, López Portillo, and Hugo Chávez.
Additionally, we can observe the movement of indicators such as the Dollar/Mexican Peso exchange rate, during the campaign. In a country with the harsh economic history of Mexico, a sharp change is a strong deterrent to vote for López Obrador, especially for those over 30 years old. Likewise, the passivity shown so far by businessmen towards AMLO could be reversed and take on a greater role. In that sense, the threat of terminating the new Mexico City Airport is very important: it attracts few new votes for López Obrador, but it shows him to be irresponsible and dogmatic to investors, who could mobilize against him.
In this context, the voter’s fear of losing what Mexico has so far achieved may be more powerful than their hatred of the status quo. For the common voter, then, it would be a matter not of turning the clock back one hour (as happened this weekend with the change of schedule), but of turning back the clock on his economic well-being for 30 or 40 years.
In any case, we should be thinking that the defeat is still a possibility for AMLO if we can ensure extreme transparency and civility of these elections. Although, we already know that López Obrador and his followers will reject any result that does not favor him, claiming fraud. This has been the case over the course of the past 30 years, they will have prepared caravans and publicity, slandering election officials and citizens participating in the voting booths. But provided this electoral transparency is in place, any outburst will show AMLO to be the irredeemably-evil loser that he has always been.