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Poll reveals voters in Mexico expect a lot from likely first woman president

Frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum held up her arm as she closed her presidential campaign before a crowd at the Zocalo in Mexico's capital city on May 29, 2024. If she wins the June 2nd election, Sheinbaum could become the first woman and Jewish leader of Mexico.
Omar Ornelas
/
El Paso Times
Frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum closed her presidential campaign at the Zocalo in Mexico's capital city on May 29, 2024. If she wins the June 2nd election, Sheinbaum could become the first woman and Jewish leader of Mexico.

A poll commissioned by Puente News Collaborative represents a rare survey by U.S. Media of voters ahead of Sunday's presidential election.

MEXICO CITY – Crossing a historic threshold, Mexicans appear poised to elect a Jewish woman as president this Sunday but to otherwise leave politics largely unchanged.

Indeed, the vote won’t reflect hunger for a sweeping shift in the country’s direction, according to a nationwide in-home poll commissioned by Puente News Collaborative, an El Paso-based non-profit organization.

In what will prove the largest election in Mexican history, nearly 100 million people – including millions living in the United States and elsewhere – are eligible tocast a ballot.In play are more than 20,000 local, state and congressional posts.

The likely election this Sunday of Claudia Sheinbaum, 61, an environmental scientist and former Mexico City mayor, comes amid a deepening gangland grip on the country and widespread fears of a return to the autocratic rule that governed Mexico until the turn of this century.

In addition to political preferences, Puente’s survey gauges Mexicans’ attitudes toward their solid export-fueled economy, the often fraught ties with the United States and the millions of foreigners who have taken up at least temporary residence here, the most ever.

While concerned by the migrant influx, more than two-thirds of poll respondents said the migrants should be given temporary work permits even as the government tightens control of the borders and the human flow.

Yet, if the Puente poll and an array of others prove accurate, most Mexican voters will opt for the status quo.

“There seems to be a certain complacency, social resignation – a certain lack of (the) urgency that a few years ago really ignited Mexicans,” said Carlos Bravo, a leading Mexican political analyst and frequent critic of the governing party. “What we're seeing is that the Mexican people are behaving as if they had no power to demand and to expect a better government.”

The Puente poll -– conducted by Mexico City’s Buendia & Marquez firm and funded in part by the Center for the U.S. and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute and UC-San Diego’s Center for U.S. Mexican Studies – represents a rare survey of the Mexican public by U.S. media. The poll interviewed 1,000 demographically diverse people and was slightly skewed to areas nearer the U.S. border. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

A poll of voters commissioned by the Puente News Collaborative shows 54% prefer Claudia Sheinbaum,  34% Xochitl Galvez, 12% Jorge Alvarez Maynez

The survey gives Sheinbaum as much as 54 percent of the vote, after eliminating undecided or non-voters. Center-right candidate Xóchitl Gálvez garners 34 percent while 12 percent of respondents favor center-left candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez.

WITH AN EYE ON THE NORTH 

Mexico’s national election this year – as it does every dozen – coincides with the U.S. presidential vote.

Overall, Mexicans have a favorable view of the United States, particularly the Americans who are increasingly moving to Mexico either to retire or work remotely. Those recent arrivals so far are undeterred by a 23 percent strengthening of the peso against the U.S. dollar in the past five and half years.

Most respondents in the Puente poll judge Sheinbaum most capable of dealing with the U.S. relationship. The poll suggests that 69 percent of Mexicans believe Joe Biden would prove better for Mexico, compared with just 11 percent saying that about Donald Trump.

“Elections in Mexico don’t worry me much, because nothing really changes,” said Miguel Vargas, 68, a taxi driver in Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso. “What I’m really worried about is Trump coming back to office. I’m scared he’ll shut down the international bridges and that will kill us financially.”

Mexico last year overtook China as the largest U.S. trading partner. Nearly $800 billion worth of products were traded in 2023, the largest sum between two nations anywhere, according to U.S. trade figures.

Texas, California and Arizona take the lion’s share of that business. But binational trade is deepening into the U.S. industrial heartland – particularly in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Graphic shows top five U.S. states by amount of trade they do with Mexico.

Other key Puente poll takeaways:

· Most Mexicans (68 percent) oppose building border walls to stop migrants, preferring the implementation of work permits instead.

· Seventy percent of Mexicans believe the most important action the US can take to help combat criminal organizations is to stop the flow of weapons.

· More than a third of Mexicans say they would migrate to the U.S. to improve their living standards.

BUSINESS AS USUAL?

Legally limited to a single term, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 70, has strongly backed Sheinbaum, his hand-picked candidate. She, in turn, vows to deepen his polarizing nationalist-populist agenda – the so-called Fourth Transformation, or 4T – which seeks to replace many market-friendly policies of past presidents with those favoring Mexico’s poor.

Gálvez, also 61, a conservative businesswoman and former federal senator, leads a triple alliance of centrist political parties that dominated politics until Lopez Obrador’s 2018 election.

Galvez’s candidacy perhaps has stolen the import of Sheinbaum’s gender-breaking moment. But Mexican women have greatly increased their political participation. Reforms a decade ago mandate that women comprise half of candidates vying for local, state and federal office.

For many voters, this election stands as a referendum on López Obrador. His Morena party, which he founded barely a decade ago, now holds the majority of Mexico’s national Congress, 23 of its 32 governorships and a similar proportion of its municipalities.

Many critics fear the president – widely known by his initials, AMLO – intends to rule from behind the scenes. In interviews with Puente, analysts and voters said the election may decide whether the country persists in its stumbling search for full democracy that began 30 years ago.

“It’s not so much about two women, but about a stubborn old man,” said Gerardo Contreras, 58, a Mexico City barber. “People forget how far we have come only for our leaders, particularly López Obrador, to send us backwards.”

Neither of the leading candidates’ ethnicity has played much of a role in the campaign. Sheinbaum, whose ancestors fled the Holocaust, has said she was raised in a secular left-leaning household. Gálvez grew up poor as the daughter of an indigenous Otomí father and mixed race mother and worked her way through university.

But Gálvez’s three-legged coalition includes once-prominent and now widely discredited political parties. The Institutional Revolutionary Party held the presidency for most of the past century and its return to the presidency in 2012 proved disastrous.

Gálvez’s center-right National Action Party, which ended the PRI’s political grip in the 2000 elections, largely underwhelmed Mexico in the 12 years it held the presidency. Weakest of the three, the Democratic Revolution Party, was the country’s main leftist movement until Lopez Obrador siphoned away its supporters.

VOTING UNDER THE GUN 

Voters say insecurity remains a primary concern. But they see no immediate end or viable solution to it. Violence simply has become part of daily life for the country’s 130 million people.

Once fueled by narcotics trafficked to U.S. users, criminal violence has risen sharply in the two decades since presidents from Galvez’s PAN party launched a military-led campaign against the criminals.

Hundreds of thousands have been murdered and many thousands more disappeared and presumed dead. Extortion, fuel theft, human smuggling and other rackets have replaced narcotics as sources of gangster income.

Although he’s kept the military in the fight, murders have averaged about 30,000 a year under Lopez Obrador, making his the bloodiest administration this century. Despite that, the president enjoys a 70 percent approval rating, according to Puente’s poll, suggesting he’s largely escaping blame for the violence.

Lopez Obrador leaves office October 1.

The gangsters' sway in politics, especially at the local and state levels, is reflected in the assassinations that have stained this years’ campaigns. Some three dozen candidates from all parties have been killed. Scores more have dropped out of their races out of fear.

“Violence has become a normal thing for us,” said Alejandra Ornelas, 28, a factory worker in Mexicali interviewed by phone. “These days you just never know where you may find bodies on the way to work. Maybe on the road, or next to a canal. There needs to be punishment.”

Still, Ornelas said, Sheinbaum was getting her vote.

“Because of the money Morena gives to help us,” Ornelas explains, nodding to the cash handouts and other subsidies to Mexico’s neediest, a bulwark of Lopez Obrador’s policies.

Elsewhere along the Mexican side of the U.S. border, some poll respondents went silent when the conversation turned to the criminal threat.

“Answering that question can get us killed,” explained a voter in Reynosa, a violent city across the Rio Grande from the South Texas city of McAllen.

KTEP News is a collaborating partner with Puente News Collaborative, a bilingual nonprofit newsroom, convener and funder dedicated to high quality, fact-based news and information from the U.S.-Mexico border.

This story was edited by Dudley Althaus 

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