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As Mexicans Buck Political Status Quo, Independent “El Bronco” Wins Election

By Duncan Wood and Pedro Valenzuela

Originally published in The Wilson Quarterly

A BREAK WITH TRADITION

As the votes from Sunday’s midterm elections were counted in Mexico, it was clear to everyone what the story of the campaigns would be. Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, better known as El Bronco (the rough one), is projected to be the clear winner in the Nuevo León gubernatorial election, more than doubling the vote received by each of his nearest rivals from the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) parties.

The truly remarkable thing about Calderón’s candidacy is not his margin of victory, but that he ran and won as an independent — this was the first time in Mexican history that such candidacies were possible. His victory marks a potential sea change in Mexican politics, with voters increasingly tired of the established parties and disillusioned with the traditional political elites.

The midterms were expected to change little at the national level, and at first glance that is what appears to have happened: the ruling PRI held on to its dominance of the federal congress, and there was only sporadic electoral violence in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Yet, a number of key stories emerged on Election Day that hint at significant trends in Mexican democracy.

First, the PRI only managed to hold onto its leading position by working closely with two other parties, the Verde (Green) and PANAL (a teachers’ union party). The PRI’s vote fell to around 29 percent, down from almost 32 percent support in the 2012 congressional elections. With the support of its allies, and the even more disappointing performance of the opposition PAN (21 percent) and PRD (10.6 percent), it will be able to maintain its majority in congress.

Second, there was a high turnout, indicating that the Mexican public was indeed motivated to participate and that the parties were anxious to get as many supporters as possible to the polls.

Third, the left is more divided than ever — the well-established PRD was almost matched in the polls by the breakaway Morena party, run by former PRD leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador. When the votes for the leftwing parties (PRD,Morena, Movimiento Ciudadana, PT) are added together, their total comes to almost the exact same number as the PRI’s.

Fourth, there appears to have been a very high number of spoiled ballots (voto nulo) — almost five percent of the total number of votes cast. This points to a worrying trend towards electoral disenchantment, a tendency borne out by polling data on Mexican skepticism about democracy in recent years.

But the story of the election is clearly El Bronco. The independent candidate for the governorship of Nuevo León, a wealthy northern border state and one of the country’s industrial engines. In his victory, Rodríguez broke the mold of Mexican elections by proving that success can come from outside of the established party system. As an independent, Rodríguez was one of fifty candidates nationwide running without party affiliation — in this, the first election in Mexican history where independents were allowed to run for office.

The national and international media attention El Bronco attracted virtually guaranteed that even if he did not win the governorship, many more independent candidates would come forward in forthcoming elections, including the 2018 presidential contest. Mexicans’ growing disillusionment with traditional party politics and the established modes of democracy in their country may just see an outlet in the prospect of candidates who have broken free from the dominant party paradigm.

LONE RANGER OR PROFESSIONAL POLITICIAN?

“I’m not saying I am Superman, but I could be the Lone Ranger.” El Bronco used this phrase repeatedly during the race, and it served him well. Voters clearly identified with his outsider status, and he appears to have won 49 percent of the vote in Nuevo León, compared with 23 percent each for the PRI and PAN candidates.

Of the 50 independents running in this election, only one other candidate won election, and this is no accident. Current electoral rules make it difficult for independents to compete with candidates from Mexico’s well-established political parties. Though independent candidates are allowed to have access to promotion on radio and television, candidates from political parties receive much more airtime. Campaign funding — which in Mexico has traditionally been entirely public — is more uneven still: independents receive less than one percent the amount the public funding received by their competitors from established political parties.

Though independent candidates can receive private funding, the rules governing this have not been clearly delimited by the authorities. Nor is there clarity on the rules governing independents’ campaign spending. In El Bronco’s race, local authorities declared that the amount of private funds that a candidate can use cannot exceed 10 percent of total campaign expenses. In theory, these rules apply to candidates who receive public money through political parties. If they were applied to El Bronco, it would jeopardize his position because he received the equivalent of $23,000 in public financing — compared to the nearly $3 million that his competitors received just through their political parties. This legal uncertainty raises the prospect of postelectoral instability, challenges, and conflict.

Despite these challenges, El Bronco led the polls in Nuevo León for the past three months, jumping nearly 16 points since March. He received a further boost when, a few weeks ago, Fernando Elizondo, a former interim governor and senator, dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Rodríguez.

Rodríguez’s performance is partly a testament to his considerable political savvy and experience, and partly a reflection of his roots in local and sectoral politics. He is originally from Pablillo, a small town in central Nuevo León with fewer than one thousand inhabitants. As a young agricultural engineering student, Rodríguez fought against increases in public transportation fares and later became the leader of the National Agricultural Confederation in Nuevo León. For that post, he responded to an opponent’s complaints that he wore “exotic leather boots and jeans purchased in the United States” with a speech that rallied farmers to “stop thinking squat, and instead think big,” inviting them to dream of better boots, better tractors, and better incomes. These battles honed his campaign skills and furthered his image as a charismatic, nontraditional politico.

In 2009, after climbing the political ladder to become a federal and local deputy, Rodríguez won election as mayor of García, a municipality with a population of around 145,000 that is part of the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Nuevo León’s capital. Here, he earned a reputation as a strong and determined character.

His government philosophy is called the “García model,” and focuses on three policy areas: security, education, and labor. He considers the participation of government, citizens, and businesses to be fundamental to good governance. To facilitate this as mayor, he used unconventional methods — publishing his private telephone number so he could receive requests directly from the citizenry, or registering complaints and requests through his Facebook page.

At that time, he realized that security was the number one concern of the electorate, so as a first step, he launched a strategy to take back some public spaces that had been claimed by criminals. More dramatically, he dismissed all of the municipal police in García. Those actions won him public trust, but also made him a target of organized crime groups, who kidnapped his two-year-old daughter, murdered one of his older sons, killed his city’s public security minister in the municipality, and tried twice to assassinate him.

As insecurity and violence decreased in Nuevo León, his popularity transcended his term in office and the figure of El Bronco became known in the state and nationwide, with songs and even a film, Un Bronco Sin Miedo (A fearless Bronco), inspired by his story.

In September 2014, Rodríguez decided to give up his membership to the PRI because he foresaw difficulties in obtaining the nomination to run for governor. In his resignation letter, he expressed the ideas that became the banners of his campaign for governor: political parties are no longer responsive to citizens’ demands, and the community is angry and tired of corrupt politicians.

Relying heavily on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube as means to promote himself, he obtained registration as gubernatorial candidate. El Broncoran his campaign based on the strength of his personality and charisma. Through informal and often obscenity-laced speeches, he increased his popular support, promising to always speak the truth to citizens, and insisting that with courage and strategy, an effective and lasting security strategy can be built.

THE MEANING OF EL BRONCO

Doubts remain as to the nature of the governor-elect. Is he truly independent, breaking away from the established model, or should we instead see him as a former party man who is first and foremost an opportunist and professional politician, someone who has seen the writing on the wall and is willing to do what it takes to win office?

No matter what kind of governor El Bronco turns out to be, the rise of independent candidates should be read as a call for political parties to increase internal competition and improve the quality of their candidates. Parties clearly need to recapture the allegiance of the growing number of Mexicans who have lost faith in the established model. At the same time, civil society movements such as the 3de3 initiative (which calls on candidates to make a full disclosure of their business and financial interests) are raising public awareness about the issues of corruption and conflict of interest. Latinobarómetro polls consistently place Mexico at or near the bottom of the Latin American region in terms of citizen satisfaction with democracy.

Whatever the more generalized implications of this for elections, El Bronco’s particular style of governing will be difficult to repeat at the gubernatorial level, and he will have to find new ways to face the challenges to come. Nonetheless, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón has bucked the status quo and emerged as the most compelling character of Mexico’s 2015 midterms.

More intriguingly, as Luis Carlos Ugalde, former president of the electoral body in Mexico, recently said in an event at the Wilson Center, we cannot rule out the possibility that an independent candidate could run for president in 2018; while he or she will not likely have the strength to emerge victorious, they might win enough votes to tip the balance.

The rise of El Bronco is emblematic of the rising disenchantment on the part of the Mexican electorate with the country’s political parties, and will likely prove to be a disruptive factor in national politics for years to come.

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Duncan Wood is the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. Follow him on Twitter at @AztecDuncanPedro Valenzuela is a consultant with the Mexico Institute.

Gubernatorial Elections in Mexico: The Polls

By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

In this infographic, the Mexico Institute analyzes the published polls of some Mexican states holding gubernatorial elections in 2015. We highlight the top two candidates in the states, except in the case of Nuevo León, where we want to highlight the surprising rise of an independent candidate above the PAN’s candidate (click here to read our previous analysis on Nuevo León).

In general, the fight for governor in each state will end up being between two candidates or coalitions. The PAN is competitive in almost all of the gubernatorial races, but the PRD is strong in the southern region of the country. Furthermore, the PRI is competitive in all of the elections, either leading the preferences or coming in a close second.  In particular, in the states of Sonora, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Michoacán, the race will likely become more competitive as the campaigns continue. In the states of Colima, Guerrero, and Nuevo León, although the current leaders have a significant advantage, this may change due to the recent trend of the other top contenders. Finally, in Baja California Sur and Campeche, the leaders in the polls could strengthen their positions as the campaigns advance.

Polls- State level elections.001
Download here a pdf version of the infographic and visit here the post in our website
Visit here for more information on this election
Visit here for other polls analysis

Campaign Advertising

By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

According to Integralia, a think tank based in Mexico City, during this electoral process there will be a total of 24.5 million advertising spots for political parties and candidates. In 2007, changes to the law were made in order to control the access of the parties and candidates to radio and TV. Those changes were a product of the controversial 2006 Presidential Election and are the current normative framework under which campaign advertising is being regulated for the 2015 midterm elections.

Two basic ideas were behind the regulation for campaign advertising. First, it guarantees equity for the candidates and proportionality for the parties, according to previous voting levels. Second, it eradicates negative campaigns. To do that, a special committee was created with the objectives of 1.) allocating times for TV and radio promotion and 2.) knowing and approving all the advertisements.

Following Integralia’s report, the private value of the broadcasts in Mexico City and Estado de México will only be around $1,043,000 USD. The PRI will be able to transmit 5.5 million spots, the PAN 4.7 million, and the PRD 3.6 million. This contrasts both with the newer parties such as MORENA, PH, and ES, which will have around 1 million spots each, and with the independent candidates, which will only have access to 342,504 advertising spots.

With this in mind, it is good to analyze the messages that the parties will be transmitting to the citizens over the next two months. For that purpose, here are some spots and the multimedia accounts for all of the parties, where one can analyze their TV and radio spots (all the spots are in Spanish):

Click here for more PAN spots

Click here for more PRI spots

Click here for more PRD spots

Click here for more PVEM spots

Click here for more PANAL spots

Click here for more MORENA spots

Click here for more Movimiento Ciudadano spots

And if you want to check out PT, PH, ES, and independent candidates advertising plus a complete list of all the local and federal advertising by party visit here.

Mexico City: Mancera, MORENA, and the PRD

The Challenge of Governance: Lessons from Mexico City - A Conversation with Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera

By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

Around 23 million people live in the Metropolitan Area of Mexico, which encompasses municipalities from Estado de México and Hidalgo. Of these 23 million people, almost 9 million live in Mexico City. In this election, all of the municipalities (or delegaciones) and the local legislature will be renewed.

Miguel Mancera, the Mayor of Mexico City, was elected in 2012 and enters the midterm election with high levels of disapproval, according to the latest Reforma survey. However, numbers show that his popularity increased 8 points during the last 4 months. As shown in the chart below, Mancera’s highest approval rates, from both leaders and civil society, come from the way he handles cultural issues. On the other hand, his lowest approval rates surround the way he deals with issues related to informal street trading and corruption, from leaders and civil society respectively.

Given this context, Reforma’s latest poll on electoral preferences in Mexico City registers a significant competition between MORENA and the PRD for the state legislature, whereas the PRD still has the lead in preferences for municipalities.

For the state legislature, MORENA and the PRD have an effective vote preference of 24%, followed by the PRI with 15%, PAN with 11%, ES with 6%, PVEM with 5%, PH with 4%, PANAL with 3%, PT and MC with 2% and 4% for independent candidates.

Furthermore, for Federal Deputies in Mexico City, the electoral preferences are still led by the PRD with 24%, followed by MORENA with 20% (you can see the original figures in the Reforma Surveys Blog).

In conclusion, it is yet be seen if the competition will become tighter between PRD and MORENA, or if the former will have the political ability to remain the dominant political force in Mexico City.

For more information, watch this webcast from our event with Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera, “The Challenge of Governance: Lessons from Mexico City.”

PRI has more than 10 points of advantage

By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

According to the latest poll (with March data) published by BCG-Excélsior, the PRI has an advantage of 13 over the PAN in electoral preferences toward the 2015 midterm elections. the PRI has 36%, followed by the PAN with 22%, PRD with 15%, PVEM with 8%, MORENA with 7%, MC and PANAL with 3%, and the rest with 2%. 

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According to the poll, only 40% of the survey respondents are totally or highly interested in this elections whereas 21% is not very interested. Furthermore, 41% is not identified with any political party.

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Reforma Polls

By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

On March 26, the newspaper Reforma published its most recent public opinion analysis of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s approval rate. It is important to highlight three key aspects:

1. It seems that the approval rate has stalled at its lowest level and is not going to go lower, at least judging by the changes from previous figures. The approval is 39% for citizens and it drops to 17% for leaders.

2. The perception of Mexico’s problems varies between leaders and civil society. For the former, corruption is the main problem of the country, for the latter, crime is the main problem. 

3. Finally, the way economic issues are handled is what is most disapproved of by both groups, while health, education, and poverty are handled the best, according to citizens; and health and employment according to leaders.

In contrast with the low approval rates for the President, on a new pollster published on March 30 regarding voting intentions for federal deputies, Reforma locates PRI with an effective rate of 32%, PAN 22%, PRD 14%, MORENA 8%, PVEM 7%, ES (Social Encounter) 4%, PANAL 4%, MC 3%, and PT, PH, and independent candidates with 2%.

These results represent a rise for PRI and PRD and a decrease for MORENA, PVEM, and PAN, in comparison to the prior poll. Similarly, there is a surprising 4% for both the new ES party and the PANAL.

These results potentially indicate that the PRI is surpassing the low approval of the President and that the opposition parties have failed to capture that discontent for the Executive branch, with the exception of some small and new parties. Furthermore, it may also mean that some social issues, such as Ayotzinapa or local-level scandals of corruption, have not made a significant change in the mind of the voter. All these numbers are before the formal start of campaigns next Sunday, April 5.

Initial Polls

By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

Since late last year, the main pollsters in Mexico began to turn their measurements towards the midterm elections of 2015, where the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies will be renewed. In the graph below, effective preferences for the top political forces are tracked during this period. Some key findings may be highlighted from it:

Pollsters March 2015

  1. Preferences for the PRI have declined between 10 and 12 percentage points (see Reforma, and El Universal-Buendía and Laredo). This could be a result of several protests and scandals that have affected the Federal government and have clouded the political landscape of the party in power. Still, the party continues to lead the race with around 31% of the potential vote share. 
  1. Preferences for the PAN have increased modestly between 1 and 3 percentage points (see Reforma,El Universal-Buendía and Laredo, and El Financiero-Parametría). The party is consolidated as the second electoral option with a median of 26% of the potential vote share.
  1. Preferences for the PRD have remained relatively stable, down by 2 points according to Reforma but around 13% of the potential vote share. It is clear that, from an electoral standpoint, the main challenge for the PRD is to maintain its position as the largest leftist party, whose votes are compromised with MORENA, the party formed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
  1. Following the previous point, the numbers reinforce the idea that the vote share of the left in Mexico will be fragmented, on one side with the PRD and on the other side with MORENA. This last party is shaping up to be one of the first ones in the Mexican electoral history to have no problem reaching the 3% threshold required to keep the national registry, and, according to all polls, is even fighting tooth and nail to become the third or fourth political force. According to surveys, MORENA alone would reach around 9% of the potential vote share.
  1. The PVEM or Partido Verde Ecologista de México, lies a solid 10% in the polls, which puts it in direct competition with both MORENA and slightly behind the PRD to fight for the third position.

Finally, the last three polls from El Universal-Buendía Laredo, Consulta Mitofsky, and El Financiero-Parametría are reproduced in the graph below, from which several conclusions can be highlighted:

Pollsters March 2015_all

Firstly, The PT or Partido del Trabajo concentrates another 3% that would tentatively be also from left-minded voters.

Secondly, MC or Movimiento Ciudadano could reach another 3%, although it is not clear that those votes only represent leftist voters.

Finally, the polls show about 2.5% for the PANAL or Partido Nueva Alianza and 1% for other new parties (Partido Humanista and Encuentro Social). In the first case, it is possible that the PANAL may keep its registry through alliances and in the second case, it is less likely that those new parties would be able to reach the required threshold.

In conclusion, the fight for Congress will be competitive; no party is shaping itself to have a relative majority. Alliances will become key, both to fight for specific districts, but also to vote once the new legislature is in place. Parties like the PVEM and PANAL have the opportunity to ally with the major parties and advance their agendas. On the other hand, the PRD and MORENA are competing to be the biggest party of the left in Mexico and the epicenter of that fight will be Mexico City, where the local congress and municipalities also change in this election. Apparently, PT and MC will keep their registry and the other smaller parties will lose it. Finally, the PAN has the challenge of becoming more competitive and fight for first place in preferences, which the PRI still has.