Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 2/13/2012
A new poll shows Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) consolidating her second-place position, narrowing the gap with Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) and pulling away from Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD). Observers assess the impact of a woman candidate on the presidential contest, as López Obrador reiterates his security plans and Enrique Peña Nieto, according to strategist James Taylor, misses the opportunity to engage the growing Mexican middle class.
Fresh off her victory in the PAN primary, Josefina Vázquez Mota has solidified second place in the presidential race, according to a new Mitofsky poll. Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) is clearly still the frontrunner with 40 percent support, but no longer seems invincible. From the peak of 25 points, Peña Nieto’s lead is 16 points above Vázquez Mota (she polls 24 percent). Vázquez Mota outpolled Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) by more than the margin of error for the first time, six points ahead of his 17.7 percent.
Observers wonder about the impact of a woman candidate on the presidential contest. So far Peña Nieto outpolls Vázquez Mota among women by 14 percent (according to the Mitofsky poll), but that may change. Certainly the PAN, at least, seems to be betting that a woman candidate will boost party appeal. Shannon K. O’Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations believes they may be right: “She has a chance precisely because she is a woman,” she told Forbes (O’Neil also has a nice profile of Vázquez Mota in Foreign Affairs). Mexico Institute Director Andrew Selee agrees that her nomination will alter the race: “The fact that she is a woman certainly injects a new story line into the election campaign,” he told The Associated Press. “Certainly people will find that attractive.”
Andrés Manuel López Obrador has committed to pulling the military off the streets within six months if elected president. He has repeatedly called for a reorganization of security forces and for the creation of a unified police, while emphasizing that reforming social policy to target poverty and inequality is fundamental to overcoming the threat of organized crime.
In an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News, political strategist and Mexico Institute Board member James Taylor criticizes Peña Nieto’s (and López Obrador’s) stump speeches aimed at Mexico’s poor. The “populist rhetoric… rings hollow” to voters in a now middle-class nation:
While the U.S. bemoans the decline of its own middle, Mexico’s has risen. Studies show that this center is now over 60 million strong, more than half of Mexico’s population. These families own their homes, buy cars, buy life insurance, take vacations and fuel the rapid growth of private schools and universities. They care about what middle classes everywhere care about — family, education, economic opportunity and security. They vote and are increasingly independent — potential swing voters that could turn the July elections.
He cautions that the real challenge for the winner of the July election will be finding a way to “engage the middle class and harness the benefits of a diversified and growing economy while continuing to fight organized crime and strengthening the rule of law.”