Observations of the Mexican elections

I just returned from a visit to the Yucatan, where I had a chance to talk with some voters about their pending presidential and federal elections. I also had a chance to see some of the campaigning, and to hear local coverage of the elections, and to then compare that to how the election was being covered in some of the publications back in the States.

First, one of the more interesting things I observed over the past week in the Yucatan was how the federal election campaigns were utilizing roadside advertising, something that I’m not sure I’ve seen much of in the United States (for example, I’m not sure that I can remember seeing a Bush or Kerry billboard alongside a freeway in 2004!). Here’s one photo of an enormous billboard, advertising the PRI presidential candidate alongside the local federal candidates. And here is a picture (admittedly not the greatest in the world!) of a road intersection, showing all of the poles plastered with candidates for federal offices. Along the major roadways in the Yucatan, especially near towns and settlements, the political advertisements line the roads and paper many posts and walls.

A second observation concerned how the election campaign is being portrayed here in the United States, relative to how it is portrayed and seen back in Mexico, at least in my admittedly non-scientific sampling of voters and newspapers in the Yucatan. Much of the coverage in the United States has portrayed the presidential race as close, polarizing, divisive, and nasty; for example, a recent story in the New York Times asserted that much of the presidential campaign revolved around “fearmongering.” Indeed, the election looks close; but in a close and hotly contested election, is it really surprising that the rhetoric and debate gets heated? Is this really so surprising, given that Mexico has not had a history of contested presidential elections?

A third observation was my impression that the American media’s focus on the tone of the campaign was missing a more important problem: voter coercion and election fraud. In the American media, the Washington Post did recently cover some of these concerns, based on two recent studies of vote buying in the current election, but it seems to me that this has not attracted the same level of coverage in the U.S. as it has in Mexico. It’s hard to evaluate these concerns, but it will be productive to follow the coverage of this weekend’s election to see what data comes out concerning election irregularities in the Mexican presidential election.