Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 5/29/2012
Thousands of students took to the streets last week in Mexico City and across the country, with 45,000 (according to newspapers) marching in the capitol city on May 23. The spark originated after a May 11 visit by Peña Nieto to the privateIbero-AmericanoUniversity where he was met by a group of protesters who demanded that he leave. After some time, he left without speaking. Peña Nieto’s campaign later dismissed the group as paid hecklers brought in by the PRD campaign. Mexico’s two main television networks, which together dominate 95 percent of the country’s viewing audience and are believed by many, including the Ibero students, of favoring the PRI candidate, picked up Peña Nieto’s claim.
In response, the students took to YouTube in a video in which 131 of those involved show their student identification cards and denounce what they considered poor and slanted news coverage. The video went viral and generated an outpouring of support for the Ibero students with others rallying around the phrase “I am number 132.” The movement quickly spread through social media outlets, leading to public protests that have largely centered on media bias. While some have held anti-Peña Nieto signs, the majority seem to criticize all the major presidential candidates and to instead be promoting freer information. Their demands are for an immediate commitment by the networks to broadcast the second and last presidential debate on June 10, (TV Azteca broadcast an important soccer match during the May 6 debate while Televisa only broadcast the debate on its secondary channels) and for an end to the television duopoly in the country.
Analysts disagreed on the impact of the marches on the upcoming presidential election. Many speculate that López Obrador will benefit slightly, since young, educated and urban voters often lean left, but others doubt the protests will severely damage Peña Nieto’s near twenty-point lead in the polls. In either case, some experts are optimistic that the marches and student movement will highlight the frustration many Mexicans feel with the lack of competition in the media and hope this could lead to an eventual diversification of network coverage. It also offers hope that not all young voters are apathetic in a race that has been marked by a wide-spread belief that the PRI candidate would inevitably win.
The Mitofsky polling firm reported that López Obrador moved into second place in voter preferences for the first time on May 22. His support grew by 1.4 percent over the past week to 20.5, while Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) dropped to 20.1 percent. López Obrador trails Peña Nieto by 17 points according to Mitofsky, while a GEA-ISA poll released on the same day found him behind by 20 points. The poll results vary widely by company, however, as they have throughout the race; an SDP- Covarrubias poll released on May 21 found Peña Nieto ahead by only nine points.