Violence and the Michoacán state election: What it says about Mexico’s coming election season

Eric L. Olson, Senior Associate, AL DÍA: News and Analysis from the Mexico Institute, 11/18/11

Eric Olson

The “surprising” outcome in the Michoacán state election last Sunday is yet to be fully understood. There is a temptation to give the results a national interpretation. Some have suggested that it is another clear indication of the invincibility of the PRI heading into the 2012 presidential election.  Others say it suggests the PAN and PRD are hopelessly divided and incapable of winning even on their “home” turf.

There are also interesting questions about the importance of violence and drug-trafficking in these elections.  The LATimes Tracy Wilkinson takes an interesting look at this issue here reporting on the impact of threats from traffickers on candidates and in suppressing the vote in some areas.

Mexico’s daily, Reforma, has another interesting take here.  Preliminary results show that the PRI won in 18 of the 33 municipalities, many in areas where organized crime is believed to have the greatest influence.  This analysis opens itself to two contradictory interpretations.  One, the PRI is somehow favored by the drug traffickers, which is the implication of this article.  A second, equally valid interpretation, is that voters in those areas hardest hit by the violence and most effected by organized crime define public security as their greatest concern and see the PRI has the  best hope for restoring a sense of order and safety.

This later interpretation may be borne out by a closer look at exit polling from Sunday’s election.   As discussed in a post on Mexico’s leading political blog (Animal Politico) here, one in four voters said that “public insecurity” was a top priority for them, and amongst these the PRI won with 39%, followed by the incumbent PRD at 33%, and the PAN with 29%.

However, nineteen percent of voters said “narco-trafficking” was a top priority, and amongst these the PAN won with 53%, followed by the PRD at 27% and the PRI at 20%.

Drawing hard and fast conclusions from this data may be risky, but it does raise several interesting questions and possible interpretations:

1)       Given that the PRI appears to have won the governor’s race (results are not official yet and the results may yet be challenges by the PAN), it would seem that defining crime and violence as a public security problem has the most resonance with voters.

2)      Insecurity and drug trafficking are not one and the same in voter’s minds – at least not in Michoacán.  What does this mean?  Maybe that for many, insecurity is much broader than drug trafficking.  In the U.S. people tend to look at them interchangeably, but there are important differences.

3)      Perhaps this reflects a general sense that the PAN has focused too narrowly on drug traffickers and not as broadly on other criminal activity that effects voters as much (or more) than drugs.

4)      Maybe drug trafficking is seen somewhat through a moral frame, where the PAN may have a perceived advantage; whereas general public security is seen as a broader concern that the PRI may more effectively manage.

5)      If public security and violence are closely related, maybe addressing violence is becoming a more pressing issue than tackling drug cartels.  This would be consistent with the emergence and growing influence of the country’s victims, movements who are variously demanding a reduction in violence and greater accountability.

One wonders if the parties will look beyond the winners and losers from Sunday’s results for hints about how the electorate is feeling about crime, violence, drug trafficking and insecurity.  These elections may have just provided some important insights to the campaigns as the presidential election cycle comes into sharper focus.

One thought on “Violence and the Michoacán state election: What it says about Mexico’s coming election season

  1. Pingback: The Michoacán Election: 11/13/2011 « The Mexico Institute's Elections Guide

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