2011 has started with a number of important changes in Mexico’s political scene. Already we can see maneuvering and the beginning of campaigning from the parties and the likely candidates. With 18 months to go before the election in July 2012, the major actors are preparing electoral strategies, building coalitions and alliances, and feeling out their opponents, in both their own, and the opposing, parties. The latest opinion polls from Mitofsky show that the PRI leads the PAN in the race for the presidency, by a margin of 39% to 19% (with the PRD on a lowly 11.5%), a big lead but one that is beginning to narrow as Mexico’s economy recovers (more on that in a later post). It is important to note that the PRI leads across the four regions of Mexico, even in the traditional strongholds of the PAN (in the north) and of the PRD (in the center and south).
In terms of individuals, at this stage there is a clear front-runner, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, but the gap between Peña Nieto and his rivals is sure to close as the race proceeds. At the moment there is limited national recognition of any potential candidate apart from Peña Nieto and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). In the most recent Mitofsky poll addressing individual candidates, from November 2010, Peña Nieto was mentioned by 27% as a preference, showing a huge advantage over AMLO, in second place with 9%. When these two candidates are placed on a hypothetical ballot paper alongside the front runner for the PAN, Santiago Creel, the Mexican public preferred Peña Nieto with 52%, over AMLO (16%) and Creel (13%). All of this is likely to change dramatically over the next twelve months, as the contest for the PAN candidacy heats, with the Finance Minister, Ernesto Cordero, and the Education Minister, Alonso Lujambio, likely to join Santiago Creel in the race. In the PRD, Marcelo Ebrard will consolidate his support to challenge AMLO, and of course we cannot forget that Peña Nieto will be challenged within the PRI, most importantly by Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones.
Over the next two weeks this blog will feature an analysis of the state of each of the major parties and their potential candidates, examining both the depth of their support, their weaknesses, and likely electoral strategies. However, later this week, we will examine the recent shuffle in President Calderon’s cabinet and its implications for the political balance.