What does Mexico's legislative election tell us?

By Timothy S. Rich, Vasabjit Banerjee and Alianna Casas
Western Kentucky University, Mississippi State University

Mexico's Chamber of Deputies election on June 6 resulted in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's MORENA (National Regeneration Movement) Party maintaining a legislative majority with its coalitional partners, but losing the supermajority of two-thirds seats previously held and necessary for constitutional reform. So what underlies this change?

What shaped Mexican voters' choices

To gauge Mexican public opinion, we conducted a national web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, surveying 625 Mexicans via quota sampling. After a series of demographic and attitudinal questions, we first asked respondents to list the three most important issues for the national government to address, with the assumption that these factors influenced voting behavior.

The word cloud below summarises the 1,834 valid responses, with the size of the word corresponding to its frequency mentioned. Respondents mentioned eleven words 50 or more times: Economics (223), Security (219), Health (164), Poverty (137), Corruption (130), Education (124), Crime (99), Insecurity (72), Unemployment (55), COVID (55), and Employment (50). That respondents frequently mentioned economic issues should not be a surprise given Mexico's GDP declined by 8% in 2020.

The related concerns of poverty, insecurity, and employment/unemployment highlight the broader impact of the pandemic, with families unable to adequately support themselves whether it be due to a lack of employment or sufficient pay. Our survey also indicated that respondents were mixed on whether work responsibilities had changed due to COVID, yet over 65% of respondents stated household responsibilities had increased.

The pandemic also seems to have exacerbated broader security concerns, especially in tandem with rising crime rates. Taken as a whole, these concerns suggest a basket of grievances that likely shaped evaluations of Obrador and MORENA.

A word cloud depicts a jumble of Spanish words

From intimidation to violence

This election cycle also saw a rise in political violence as an indicator that President Obrador has failed to restore integrity to Mexico's electoral process and follow through on campaign promises that promoted the idea of an independent, equal, and non-violent Mexico. According to a report by the security consultancy firm Etellekt, 35 candidates and 89 politicians were killed during the campaign, along with over 700 attacks on politicians and candidates registered.

One high-profile assassination was Abel Murrieta, a former legislator, a lawyer for the LeBaron family killed in 2019 presumably by drug cartels, and mayoral candidate this year for the municipality of Cajeme. Murrieta was killed while campaigning and his murder was caught on video.

While voter intimidation is nothing new, the combined amount of non-lethal and lethal attacks suggest a shift from intimidation to explicit political violence, with national to local politicians targeted. Moreover, despite legislative gender quotas that have resulted in Mexico ranked fifth globally for the percentage of women in the legislature, increasingly female candidates have been the victims of political violence.

Some news sources claim Obrador's silence on this amidst domestic and international concerns is due to his broader policy focus for the remainder of his presidency, but failing to address the may have profound implications on what is seen as acceptable behavior for future elections.

We asked "Do you think that the attacks on politicians and candidates before the election affected how people voted?", finding 78.08% of respondents thought these attacks affected voting, with clear majorities across all political parties thought the attacks affected voting. Additional analysis finds limited differences across demographic factors (age, gender, income, education).

We also find that those that thought the attacks influenced voting were more likely to see this election as an evaluation of Obrador (70.7% vs 64.96%) and as an evaluation of MORENA (75.2% vs 67.88%).

Were the elections an assessment of Obrador's performance?

Next, we asked two interrelated questions: "Do you think that the 2021 elections were an evaluation about the performance of President Manuel Lopez Obrador?" and "Do you think that the 2021 elections were an evaluation about the performance of Morena?". Here we see not only clear majorities saw this election as reflecting on Obrador and MORENA, but, with the exception of PRD supporters, this connection was stronger in evaluating MORENA.

That even a majority of the supporters of the two small parties currently in coalition with MORENA, the leftist Partido del Trabajo (PT) and the pro-environment Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), both consider MORENA’s performance as more important may indicate that — unlike Latin American populist movements centered on charismatic leaders — the ruling coalition is held together by inter-party linkages.

Graph depicts opinions on Mexico's legislative elections

Last, we asked "Do you think that MORENA's loss of the supermajority (mayoría calificada) in the 2021 elections is good for democracy?". Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) thought MORENA’s loss of a supermajority, now making constitutional reforms far less likely, was good for democracy. Broken down by party, clear majorities of each party identifiers except the PRD agreed and this latter finding may be in part due to the limited number of PRD identifiers in the survey.

An unexpected finding was that party identity of respondents influenced their opinion about the benefits of having a super-majority in unexpected ways. Among the major parties, a majority of PAN (84.06%) and PRI (67%) supporters as well as a slim majority of MORENA supporters (50.90%) consider that MORENA's loss of a super-majority is good for democracy.

However, a minority of PRD voters (37.5%) consider the loss of super-majority as good for democracy, which may indicate that supporters of this traditional left-wing party that broke away from the PRI in the 1980s with its clientelist links — maintained via promises of government patronage — to lower income and rural voters, may not equate democratic politics with party competition.

Mexican President Obrador speaks into a microphone
Many Mexicans believe Obrador's loss of a supermajority is good for democracy. Pic: Flickr/Medios Públicos EP

Overall, the results of our survey are consistent with claims that the legislative elections were an evaluation of Obrador and MORENA (see here, here and here), while identifying enduring problems that Obrador and MORENA are unlikely to turn around before the 2023 presidential election. Despite differences between supporters of different parties, there also seems to be broad agreement that any one party dominating the legislature and presidency via a super majority that permits changing the constitution is harmful for democracy.

That only a majority of PRD supporters are the only ones standing outside this consensus may ironically indicate that democratic politics now has cross-partisan appeal.

Timothy S. Rich is an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University and director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Vasabjit Banerjee is an associate professor of political science at Mississippi State University. His research focuses on domestic and foreign policy effects of collective action in developing countries.

Alianna Casas is an honours undergraduate researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Funding for this survey work was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

Banner image source: PxFuel


politics; election Politics; Election americas; mexico The Americas; Mexico

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