Mexican voters' take on 'good old days' will be key in presidential elections

June 27, 2012

James McCann

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Many voters in Mexico's July 1 presidential election are likely to take a trip down memory lane when considering whether to support the incumbent party or the newly renovated old party, says a Purdue University expert.

"People will be asking the incumbent party, 'What have you done for me lately?' and this type of retrospective voting is not unique," says political science professor James McCann, who studies political behavior in Mexico. "Typically, voters are reflecting over a couple of years, and if they feel things are going well they reward the incumbent party. If not, they opt for the other candidate. My survey work leading up to this election shows that as Mexico's problems with crime, violence and the economy continue to grow, voters are reaching even farther back to an earlier regime to evaluate today's candidates."

The general populace is looking back more than a dozen years to before 2000, when the International Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, was in charge, McCann says. The 2000 general election marked Mexico's first multiparty election, and power shifted from PRI. Since 2000, the president's office has been represented by the National Action Party, known as PAN.

McCann and a team of scholars are collecting and evaluating survey data to understand how Mexico is transitioning from the dominant-party era to the new democratic system. They also are comparing voting decisions, trends and campaign effectiveness.

"Mexico is still a new democracy, and from a policy standpoint, it is important for Americans to follow events in Mexico and be aware of the quality of democratic representation in Mexico," McCann says. "The reality is that the country faces enormous problems, and it is hard to fault voters for being wistful about politics in the old days. But my take on this long-term retrospective view of times being better when PRI ruled everything is that such an attitude could serve as an indictment against the country's fledgling multiparty democratic system.

"Even if PRI wins the presidency, we are not going to see a return to when one party rules everything. Those days are just gone. A new PRI president may not have an effective majority in congress and there may be opposition at the state level."

McCann says younger voters, such as college students, are protesting the popular PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, but they are not supporting the other parties' candidates who are considered weaker.

"Simply being against the PRI candidate is not going to hurt him," McCann says. "In fact, the more we see protesting the more it can play into his stance that he represents harmony and order."

These recent survey findings were presented at the May Latin American Studies Association conference, and they will be compared with additional survey results before and after the election. McCann also is the co-author of "Democratizing Mexico: Public Opinion and Electoral Choices."
Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: James McCann, 765-494-0738,