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  • Mexico’s Pivotal Democratic Election: Candidates, Voters, and the Presidential Campaign of 2000
  • Diego Reynoso
Jorge I. Domínguez and Chappell H. Lawson, eds. Mexico’s Pivotal Democratic Election: Candidates, Voters, and the Presidential Campaign of 2000. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Figures, tables, abbreviations, appendix, glossary, index, 392 pp.; hardcover $75, paperback $27.95.

When Paul Lazarsfeld wrote his seminal work on election campaigns, the political sociologist came to a very radical conclusion: elections are over before they start. His point was that election campaigns do not matter at all. People have their own electoral preferences rooted in structural factors, and no matter what politicians say or do to persuade them, voters go ahead and do just as they please. Only a very small percentage of voters change their opinion during election campaigns, while the majority votes for partisan preferences. Campaigns have, at most, an enforcement identification effect.

Political science has developed considerably over the last 50 years. The political science approach of Domínguez and Lawson and their colleagues goes contrary to the structural and macro determination of voter preferences. Electoral campaigns matter, and in Mexico 2000, politics had a pivotal role to play.

In 2000, conditions were satisfactory for a victory by the PRI candidate. On the one hand, "the combination of prosperity, stability, and democratization earned [incumbent president Ernesto] Zedillo a high approval rating," while on the other, there existed a "failure of Mexico´s political opposition to form a united front." So what happened in the minds of the voters? Why was the PRI defeated? The answer provided in this volume is, of course, not the only one, but it does stress three important aspects: the electoral context, parties and candidates, and the campaign message and voter responses.

The contributors to the volume rely primarily on data from the Mexican 2000 Panel Study, a project overseen and conceived by the editors themselves. This project consisted of approximately seven thousand interviews in five separate polls over the course of the campaign, using a hybrid panel/cross-sectional design. The findings were vast, and each chapter of this book explores different particular potentially explanatory factors involved. No factor is exclusive or sufficient (for example, mass [End Page 148] media, events, and campaign speeches), while some factors do seem necessary (institutional reforms during the 1990s, increased electoral support for opposition parties).

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 pose a series of questions on the social, political, and institutional contexts in which Mexicans cast their votes. Voters' attitudes toward democracy and the political system varied throughout the campaign (see chapter 2, by Roderic Ai Camp), while familiar PRI tactics--vote buying and manipulation--were less effective than in the past (chapter 3, by Wayne A. Cornelius). Another factor was the nature of the turnout itself: there was greater participation from PAN voters and less from PRI voters, contrary to trends in the 1990s (chapter 4, by Chappell Lawson and Joseph L. Klesner).

Conditions that seemed necessary at the time were not the factors that triggered Vicente Fox's victory. Necessary conditions are only necessary but not sufficient; the actors also play a central role. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 examine the parties, candidates, and voters who interacted in this incredibly varied process. The PRI's impact in the primary elections might explain the party's eventual presidential defeat, but apparently not, according to James A. McCann (chapter 7). The hegemonic party was not so hegemonic. During the 1990s, the opposition parties increased their share of the vote, and by the end of the decade, political loyalties had changed significantly. In this electoral context, the volatility of the electoral support of all parties was a determining factor in sowing the seed of uncertainty as to who would come out on top.

Campaign messages were effective at exploiting "antiregime" sentiments; there were votes enough to defeat the PRI, Klesner affirms in chapter 5. The PRI, moreover, was unable to convince voters that its intention to democratize was serious. Meanwhile, the PRD committed key errors that contributed to the success of PAN candidate Fox's campaign message. This message was far from perfect; but considering PRI and PRD propaganda, the PAN...


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pp. 148-151
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Archived 2007
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