Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 5/14/2012
The PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto appears to hold his lead in the polls after the first presidential debate, and some observers bemoan the lack of interest among young Mexicans in the election and politics more generally.
The impact of the first presidential debate
The first polls after the first presidential debate suggest that the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto held on to his lead. According to Mitofsky polling firm, Peña Nieto increased his lead slightly by 0.7 percent since May 1 to 38.5 percent. The PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota dropped by half a point to 21.4 percent, her lowest in the campaign yet. Andrés Manuel López Obrador rose by almost a percentage point to 19 percent and PANAL candidate Gabriel Quadri reached 1.9 percent, up from 1.1 percent. As Mexico Institute Senior Advisor Andrew Selee commented on a similar new poll by GEA-ISA:
[The latest polls] reflect what many suspected after the debate: Enrique Peña Nieto survived mostly unhurt, with a better showing than most expected, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador positioned himself well to move into a tie with Josefina Vázquez Mota for second place.
Last week we noted the disagreement among experts as to which candidate (which would exclude the scantily-clad model-turned-assistant who dominated the news the next day) won the May 6 debate. In the Mitofsky poll, 33.7 percent of viewers said the PRI candidate won, compared to 21.3 for Vázquez Mota, 15.1 for López Obrador, and 14.5 for Quadri. These findings may reflect the greater support for Peña Nieto more generally: the ratings of the debate were highly partisan. As Mitofsky notes, “cada quién vio su debate:” everyone watched their own debate. Interestingly, more watched the debate than the controversial soccer match televised at the same time.
The second and final debate will be held on June 10.
The Los Angeles Times ran a story on May 12 about the disenchantment that has kept many young Mexicans detached from the presidential race:
Only 12 years ago, young people flocked to the polls with high hopes as part of what would be a historic ouster of the long-ruling PRI. Now, as the country prepares to pick a new president in July, Mexico’s young sound mostly disillusioned by the choices before them, and by joblessness and skyrocketing drug violence that have hit them especially hard.
While Mexico now features cleaner, more competitive elections and a multitude of civil society groups engaged in policy debates, the article suggests that many young voters have lost faith in politicians after paying the price of recession and five years of drug-related violence. Scholars argue that their disengagement with politics is worrisome: “It’s not just traditional apathy and indifference toward politics,” according to sociologist Enrique Cuna, who has conducted a lengthy study of young people’s political attitudes. “This is not a case of ‘It doesn’t interest me.’ ” Instead, young Mexicans are well-informed and engaged, but are disappointed with democracy in their country.
In a March 2012 post on the Center for Strategic and International Studies blog, Deputy Director of Fundación Ethos Alfonsina Peñaloza too argued that the current policymaking process leaves citizens out, especially young people:
[Their] apathy is due, in part, to decades of presidentialism in Mexico, which have led to a general belief in Mexico that politics and policy are tasks exclusively of the government. In addition, a severe lack of accountability between Mexican politicians and their constituencies have entrenched this gap. Neither presidents nor members of Congress are up for reelection inMexico; they are not required to be accountable to their constituencies for a following period. Denise Dresser, one ofMexico’s most renowned political scientists, asked her students to write a letter to their congresswomen/men. In her op-ed “Answer the letter” she doesn’t specify for how many years she has carried out this exercise, but the result speaks for itself: “only seven have written back.”
The paternalistic form of governing which has existed for decades translates into policies which consider young people beneficiaries rather than active members of Mexican society.
As such, Peñaloza argues that it is unsurprisingly that 80 percent of Mexicans from 18-29, according to the 2005 National Youth Survey, are generally uninterested in politics.
Nevertheless, many of these voters plan to cast their ballot for Peña Nieto in the presidential election. According to Mitofsky, 39 percent of youth voters, many too young to remember the PRI rule, intend to vote for the the party’s candidate. According to The Los Angeles Times:
Young people who prefer Peña Nieto say they are drawn to his relative youth and good looks and dismayed by the performance of the PAN. [...] There could be a bright spot in all the[ir] grumbling. Although dissatisfied, young Mexicans haven’t abandoned hope for democracy in their country. The problem, they say, is that there isn’t enough.