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Mexico pollsters: PRI’s Pena Nieto coasting to victory in issueless race

Gangsters have regions of Mexico in their grip and joblessness corrodes the social fabric. But curiously, such pressing issues do not dominate the final lap before Mexicans elect a new president July 1.

“It is an election less about ideas and issues than about personalities,” said Jorge Buendia of the Buendia & Laredo polling firm.

Buendia and executives from three other polling firms said Thursday that Mexican voters have not seized on a defining theme – hope vs. fear, say, or change vs. continuity – but were judging the candidates at a gut level on credibility.

The four pollsters concurred that the front-runner, Enrique Pena Nieto, enjoys such a margin in at least 10 major polls that the trend is unlikely to revert in the three weeks that remain. Pena Nieto is from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, which ruled Mexico for much of the 20th century and now is in the opposition.

In elections since 2000, polls have differed, sometimes radically, in the run-up to voting, said Francisco Abundis of the Parametria polling firm. “This is the first time that we’ve all agreed,” Abundis said.

Pena Nieto’s lead has fallen from an average of 48 percent when the campaign kicked off at the end of March to about 43 percent in the most recent polls, said Marcelo Ortega of Consulta Mitofsky, another polling firm.

But he retains a commanding margin in the multi-candidate race. The No. 2 candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a white-haired leftist who led protests for months in 2006 after he lost the presidency by a mere 0.56 percent of the 41 million votes cast, polls an average of 29 percent. Only one recent poll, conducted for the Reforma newspaper and published May 31, showed Lopez Obrador climbing within 4 points of Pena Nieto. Competing pollsters described that survey as an “outlier.”

The No. 3 candidate is Josefina Vazquez Mota, Mexico’s first woman presidential candidate and the standard-bearer of President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party, the PAN. She’s the preference currently of an average of just 24.6 percent. Pollsters said she has failed to frame herself effectively, ensuring the departure from the presidency for her party, which has held the office for the past 12 years.

“She’s never defined herself as to whether she is ‘change’ or ‘continuity,’” Abundis said.

Four candidates – Pena Nieto, Lopez Obrador, Vazquez Mota and Gabriel Quadri, who’s drawing in the single digits as the representative of a small party linked to the country’s massive teachers union – will square off Sunday night in the second televised debate of the campaign. Unlike the first on May 6, this one will be carried by both major television networks, giving Mexicans a further chance to size them up, though Mexico’s pollsters don’t expect the current standings to change much.

“I don’t think the results will be a lot different from what we are finding” now, Buendia said of the July 1 balloting.

Ortega said Pena Nieto, a 45-year-old former governor of the state of Mexico, and his advisers may try to cloak themselves in an aura of inevitability.

“What they want to show is, ‘We’ve already won,’ and that there is unity” around Pena Nieto, Ortega said.

Asked to describe the defining theme of the campaign, the pollsters, speaking to a group of foreign correspondents, said a dominant theme had not emerged.

“It’s a difficult election in that sense,” said Buendia. “Everything revolves around the matter of credibility of the candidate rather than one of proposals and ideas.”

The campaign formally ends June 27, four days before voting. The winner takes office Dec. 1 for a six-year term.

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