Mexican Midterm Elections 2021 (Intro)

Photo: Instituto Nacional Electoral.

On June 6th, 2021 Mexico will hold its largest elections yet, with 92 million registered voters eligible to define the balance of power in 21,368 local races, as well as in all 500 seats of the lower legislative house, and 15 of 32 governorships.

These historical midterm elections will define the rest of the Lopez Obrador administration; they might even end it. Having pushed to legally extinguish presidential immunity, the president opened a potential front for his ouster via lawfare, the misuse of judicial instruments and public opinion to neutralize or destroy political actors; hence the imperative by both the ruling coalition and the opposition to achieve a majority in the lower house.

But it all hinges on rapidly mutable domestic political conditions, not the least of which are the internal contradictions of a ruling party fraught with divisions and opportunists. This is in addition to a heterogenous opposition increasingly willing to stretch the limits of acceptability in their strategies to unseat the president.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Photo: Presidencia de la República.

The election results will also respond to pressures from abroad, unquestionably the United States, but also from Latin America and increasingly the Asia-Pacific region. Conversely, the Mexican midterm elections will define President-Elect Joe Biden’s approach to all of Latin America, as the configuration of risks, opportunities and willingness in the United States' hemispheric defense and regional integration projects respond partly to the salience of regional counterhegemonic tendencies, in this case, the Buenos Aires-Mexico City axis and regional neighbors gravitating around this pivot.

As the year drew to a close, presidential approval vacillated around 61% in contrast to 32% disapproval, according to an aggregate poll tracker by Oraculus. AMLO’s approval rating remained stable between 57 and 62% all of 2020 after an initial sharp drop in January.

Polling and graphics: Oraculus.

Th left-wing ruling party Morena intends to turn the election into an unofficial referendum on the president in order to exploit the “AMLO effect”, a political capital multiplier driven by his relatively high popularity. An actual recall referendum, part of AMLO’s campaign promises, was pushed by Morena, but after opposition uproar, the president desisted and postponed the referendum until 2022 to untangle his figure from the 2021 electoral process.

Nonetheless, it will be impossible to decouple the figure of the president from the electoral cycle, especially since Morena holds a comfortable advantage over its competitors in almost all states, largely due to the “AMLO effect”, as individual candidacies were not yet defined when the last polls of 2020 were taken.

Polling and graphics by El Financiero.

A poll published on December 15th in El Financiero indicates Morena would win 14 of 15 governorships, losing only to the National Action Party (PAN) in the central state of Queretaro. The statistical study shows that on average, Morena increased its lead by 4 percentage points nationally since August, growing at impressive rates in individual states like 21% in Michoacán and 14% in Campeche.

The leads will likely shrink and electoral preferences will stabilize after official campaigning begins in April, and it’s important to remember anything can happen between now and election day in June, especially in such dynamic conditions as the current Mexican political context.

Polling and graphics by Mitofsky.

Morena also registers favorable voting intention numbers in its goal to retain its supermajority in the lower house. A Mitofsky poll from early December estimates a gross national preference of 28.4% in the federal legislative elections for the Chamber of Deputies. Effective national preference (removing the 30.9% non response to the question) places Morena at 41.1% voting intention, almost double its nearest rival.

These optimistic numbers, however, do not take into account the formation of an opposition electoral coalition that despite being criticized for its ideological incongruity, was nevertheless effective in securing an electoral alliance that includes the three largest opposition parties. The Va por México coalition is made up of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). This electoral front will compete in alliance for 11 of 15 governorships, at least 171 federal districts and in a still undetermined number of local races for mayors, city councils and state legislatures. According to the same Mitofsky poll, 52.7% of Mexicans surveyed said they were unlikely to vote for this alliance.

Voting intention by electoral alliance. Polling and graphics by Mitofsky.

However, describing the opposition to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador means referring to multiple oppositions, not a coherent and homogenous antithesis to the government’s political project, dubbed the Fourth Transformation (4T). This does not mean the opposition is entirely fragmented or disorganized. Rather, an array of groups, parties, individuals and interests antagonistic to AMLO configure multi-scale opposition networks spawning though civil society, political institutions and some (but not all) of the country’s most powerful economic actors.

The next installment in this series on the 2021 Mexican electoral process will provide an overview of the opposition(s) and the occasionally overlapping, sometimes coordinated and intermittently competing opposition political projects.

This is part of a series that covers the Mexican midterm elections, mapping competing political projects at the national and subnational level, and tracing the interaction of geopolitical and electoral processes as they unfold in the local and international dimensions.

Some specific topics covered will include: political opposition; US-Mexican relations; gender quotas; independent candidates; media tactics; social movements; political violence; and federalism.

Reporter and political consultant based in Northern Mexico and the US Southwest