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On July 1, 2012, a plurality of Mexicans cast their ballots for the presidential candidate of the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Although Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory had been widely anticipated for months, many observers still marveled that voters had selected a leader from the party that had served as the electoral arm of Mexico’s erstwhile autocratic regime. Why had Mexicans rejected the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which had governed the country for the twelve years after democratization? And why had voters turned to the PRI, rather than to the candidate of the left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who had lost the previous presidential election in 2006 by a tiny fraction of the vote? Finally, what does the return of the PRI mean for Mexico’s still unproven democratic institutions? This volume addresses these questions. It covers both party strategies at the elite level and voters’ responses at the mass level, including the influence on electoral behavior of campaign regulations (Eric Magar, chap. 3), issues (Andy Baker, chap. 5), partisanship (Kenneth F. Greene, chap. 6), crime (Edgar Franco Vivanco, Jorge Olarte, Alberto Díaz-Cayeros, and Beatriz Magaloni, chap. 7), clientelism (Ana De La O, chap. 8; Simeon Nichter and Brian Palmer-Rubin, chap. 9), and salient campaign events (Alejandro Díaz-Domínguez and Alejandro Moreno, chap. 10). This introductory chapter first summarizes the context in which the 2012 elections took place. It then provides a brief overview of the campaign, anticipating Kathleen Bruhn’s more in-depth analysis in chapter 2. The primary purpose of these two sections is to ensure that the rest of the material in the volume is accessible to scholars with limited knowledge of Mexico and to remind those already familiar with that country of the state of play in 2012. But this chapter 1 The 2012 Election in Context CHAPPELL H. LAWSON 2 Mexico’s Evolving Democracy also puts the 2012 election in historical perspective by providing sufficient detail on how people perceived the parties and candidates. With this goal in mind, I draw primarily on voters’ responses to questions about their impressions of the main parties and candidates over the past fifteen years that are intended to complement the more conventional survey items analyzed elsewhere in this volume. The third section of this chapter summarizes why Mexicans voted as they did. In 2012, the mass public was dissatisfied with the state of the country and concerned about the future. This context made it extremely unlikely that the PAN could hold on to power. At the same time, AMLO had partly discredited himself by protesting the results of the 2006 election, and his base was limited both by the size of his party (the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD) and the number of programmatically minded leftists in the population. Given that the PRI had chosen an appealing candidate with a reasonable track record, only a major blunder on Peña Nieto’s part—or scandalous revelation about him— would have prevented his victory. Neither occurred; although his lead diminished somewhat, he won by a healthy margin (38.2% of the valid vote, compared to 31.6% for AMLO and 25.4% for PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota). The PRI as a party did slightly less well than its candidate but nonetheless captured almost as many seats in the chamber of deputies and the senate as its two main rivals combined.1 Much of the analysis in this volume is based on the Mexico 2012 Panel Study.2 This survey consisted of two waves, one in late April–early May (with 1,328 respondents ) and one shortly after the election in July (with 923 respondents), as well as a smaller cross-sectional survey timed to coincide with the second panel wave (with 227 respondents). Like preceding panels during the 2000 and 2006 general elections and the 1997 Mexico City mayoral elections, the purpose of this panel was to understand why Mexicans voted as they did and how they reacted to campaign stimuli. As the data reveal, Mexicans remained highly persuadable by campaign messages; more than half changed their preference in the presidential race from the first to the second wave of the panel. They had many reasons for doing so, but as might be expected, voters with the weakest partisan attachments were most likely to switch (see Greene, chap. 6). The fourth section of this chapter discusses the implications of the election...


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