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Three Key Questions Ahead of Election Day in Mexico

Alexandra Helfgott

In just two days, Mexico will hold arguably the most historic elections since the country’s transition from one-party hegemonic rule in the 2000 elections. This electoral cycle is unprecedented for two key reasons. The first, for the sheer number of elections taking place. This is the largest election cycle in Mexico’s history thus far and a total of 20,263 positions are up for grabs across all of Mexico’s 31 states and capital. Elections will be held for 629 federal-level positions, including the presidency, 128 positions in the Senate, and another 500 positions in the Chamber of Deputies. At the local level, there will be 19,634 positions up for election, including eight gubernatorial elections in Chiapas, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos, Puebla, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Yucatán, plus Mexico City's election for Head of Government. The second reason this election cycle is so significant is that Mexico will very likely elect its first female president. Though six women have previously run for the presidency in Mexico, in this election, the two leading candidates are women. This election cycle in Mexico overlaps with that of the United States – a phenomenon that occurs once every 12 years. This only further amplifies the importance of Mexico’s elections as they set the scene for the next phase of the bilateral relationship.

At this point, it seems that Claudia Sheinbaum’s victory is a foregone conclusion. The Morena candidate of the Sigamos Haciendo Historia coalition holds a significant, 14 percentage point lead in the polls over her closest competitor, Xóchitl Gálvez, the PAN candidate for the Fuerza y Corazón por México coalition, which is comprised of Mexico’s traditional political parties. 

These elections set the foundation for the next chapter of history in Mexico. It seems obvious that Sheinbaum will win and Morena will have another six years in Mexico’s highest office, but the subsequent decisions made, and actions taken will dictate how the world analyzes the party and its impact on Mexico – not just the country’s politics, but also its economic and security situation. There are three key questions to consider in the context of Mexico’s upcoming elections and what they mean for the future of politics in Mexico.

1. Is this election cycle a referendum on AMLO and his party?

Polling data for the presidency show the incumbent party’s candidate with a clear lead. While this lead could be interpreted as wide-ranging support for Morena, the outcome of the other elections, specifically the local elections, may provide a more accurate measure of how popular AMLO’s party currently is. The outcome of the federal Congressional election will be important particularly as it comes to passing legislation, especially constitutional reforms. Morena and its allies currently hold a simple majority in both Chambers of Congress (70 seats in the Senate or 56% and 307 seats in the Chamber of Deputies or 61.4%), falling short of the 2/3rds majority required to pass constitutional reforms. 

Current polls show that Morena and its allies are projected to win just 49% of the Chamber of Deputies, far below the minimum required to pass constitutional reforms, thus decreasing the coalition’s power and lessening the broad mandate it once held.  AMLO benefitted from a Morena-controlled Congress which proved to be essential in the passage of his most controversial legislation. Beyond the support from Mexico’s Congress, AMLO also wielded personality politics as a strategic instrument of power. What does that mean for someone like Claudia Sheinbaum who, though powerful in her own right, will never quite match that of AMLO? Combine this with the decreased majority in Congress – what does that mean for the strength of the party long term? Will Sheinbaum and Morena remain as popular even when AMLO is no longer in the picture?

2. Are youth voters rejecting Mexico’s traditional political parties in favor of Morena and MC?

Approximately 100 million Mexicans are eligible to vote in this election cycle, which is 9 million more eligible voters than in the previous election. Of this cycle’s eligible voters, a whopping 37% are between 18 and 34 years old. Though Gálvez consistently comes in second place in national polls, she came in third place during the Simulacro Electoral Universitario, with Sheinbaum winning 63.5% of the vote, followed by Máynez with 23.1% of the vote, and Gálvez with just 8.5% of the vote. Over a quarter of a million college and university students across Mexico participated in these mock elections and though the results are not officially binding, they do reveal a rupture between Mexico’s voting population as represented in national polls and this specific voting population of youth voters – a population that has unprecedented power in this electoral cycle. While voter turnout among youth voters will not likely be a decisive factor in the election outcome, it is significant because these voters are the future of Mexico – a generation of voters who have known nothing but free, democratic elections who are clearly rejecting Mexico’s traditional political parties. 

3. Will Mexico’s democratic institutions withstand the pressure and protect democracy, despite AMLO’s best efforts to dismantle them?

Perhaps even more important than the specific outcome of the elections is the question of whether the strength of Mexico’s democratic institutions will hold and the elections will go off without a hitch and the results respected. A theme of the AMLO administration has been the deliberate efforts to weaken Mexico’s democratic institutions, namely via electoral reforms, thus facilitating the backsliding of democracy in the country. AMLO himself is no stranger to electoral fraud and has both consistently and preemptively alleged electoral fraud by the opposition coalition – claims which have not been substantiated. While it’s likely that Sheinbaum will win the presidency, if her victory doesn’t come with as significant of margins as hoped for, what will AMLO do? Or, in another scenario, what if Morena isn’t as successful in local elections, as has been the case in the past? Will Mexico’s democratic institutions withstand the pressure and protect democracy as intended?

Even more significant than the election results themselves are the legacies they will set in motion. Only time will tell what becomes of Mexico following this election cycle. The challenges in Mexico are abundant and diverse, but so are the opportunities. Mexico is on the precipice of a new chapter and it’s up to the discretion of its leadership, at all levels of government, to steer the country in a direction that benefits its people both in the short and long term, while also promoting and protecting democratic institutions and traditions. 

About the Author

Alexandra Helfgott

Alexandra Helfgott

Office of VP of Strategy and New Initiatives
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more