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The 2012 Presidential Election and What It Reveals about Mexican Voters


The 2012 presidential election in Mexico is significant for many reasons, not least of which is that it returned the Partido Revolucionario Institucional to power after two Partido Acción Nacional administrations. This essay reviews more than 50 surveys taken before and during the election to determine significant patterns among Mexican voters, comparing the most influential traditional and non-traditional demographic variables, as well as other variables such as partisanship and policy issues in this election, with those of the two previous presidential races. It also analyses other influential variables in the 2012 presidential race, including social media and the application of new electoral legislation. It identifies significant differences and similarities among voters today in contrast to the two prior elections, and suggests long-term patterns among Mexican voters which are likely to influence voting behaviour in future elections, ranging from regionalism and gender to partisanship and social media.

La elección presidencial de 2012 en México es importante por muchas razones, en particular por el retorno del Partido Revolucionario Institucional al poder después de dos administraciones del Partido Acción Nacional. Este ensayo revisa más de 50 encuestas hechas antes y durante las elecciones para determinar qué patrones significativos existen entre los votantes mexicanos. Aquí se comparan, junto a las dos elecciones pasadas, variables demográficas tradicionales y no tradicionales que ejercieron mayor influencia, así como otras como simpatías partidarias y asuntos políticos durante las votaciones. También analiza otras variables significativas en las elecciones de 2012 como las redes sociales y la aplicación de una nueva legislación electoral. Identifica diferencias y similitudes significativas entre los votantes de hoy con los de las dos elecciones pasadas, y sugiere patrones de largo plazo entre los votantes que pudieran influir en el comportamiento electoral en futuras elecciones que van desde regionalismo y género hasta las simpatías partidarias y redes sociales.

A eleição de 2012 no México é significativa por diversas razões, dentre quais se destaca o fato de ter retornado ao poder o Partido Revolucionário Institucional após duas administrações do Partido Acción Nacional. Este ensaio revisa mais de 50 pesquisas eleitorais feitas antes e durante as eleições para determinar padrões significativos entre eleitores mexicanos. Compara esta eleição com as duas disputas anteriores, analisando as variáveis demográficas (tradicionais e não-tradicionais) mais influentes, assim como outras variáveis, como o partidarismo e propostas políticas. Também analisa outras variáveis influentes na disputa presidencial de 2012, incluindo as mídias sociais e a aplicação de nova legislação eleitoral. São identificadas diferenças e semelhanças significativas entre eleitores hoje em contraste com as duas eleições anteriores e sugere-se padrões de longo prazo dentre eleitores mexicanos que deverão influenciar o comportamento eleitoral em eleições futuras, desde o regionalismo e o gênero, até o partidarismo e as mídias sociais.

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1 McCann, James A. identifies some of these same variables from the earlier elections in ‘Changing Dimensions of National Elections in Mexico’, in Camp, Roderic Ai (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 510.

2 Moreno, Alejandro, La decisión electoral: votantes, partidos and democracia (Mexico: Miguel Angel Porrúa, 2009).

3 Domínguez, Jorge I., ‘Mexico's Campaigns and the Benchmark Elections of 2000 and 2006’, in Camp, (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics, p. 540.

4 Domínguez, Jorge I. and Lawson, Chappell (eds.), Mexico's Pivotal Democratic Election: Candidates, Voters, and the Presidential Campaign of 2000 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004); Domínguez, Jorge I., Lawson, Chappell and Moreno, Alejandro (eds.), Consolidating Mexico's Democracy: The 2006 Presidential Campaign in Comparative Perspective (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). For the most comprehensive Mexican collection, see Gimate-Welsh, Adrián (ed.), Rumbo a los Pinos en el 2006: los candidatos y los partidos en el espacio público (Mexico City: UNAM, 2009).

5 For the most detailed analysis of why the PRI lost this election, see Magaloni, Beatriz, Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and its Demise in Mexico (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Greene, Kenneth F., Why Dominant Parties Lose: Mexico's Democratization in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

6 Rottinghaus, Brandon and Alberro, Irina, ‘Rivaling the PRI: The Image Management of Vicente Fox and the Use of Public Opinion Polling in the 2000 Mexican Election’, Latin American Politics and Society, 47: 2 (2005), pp. 143–58.

7 Carta Paramétrica, ‘¿Cuando deciden su voto los Mexicanos?’, 1 July 2012.

8 Moreno, Alejandro, ‘Who is the Mexican Voter?’, in Camp, (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics, p. 592.

9 Klesner, Joseph, ‘The Structure of the Mexican Electorate: Social, Attitudinal, and Partisan Bases of Vicente Fox's Victory’, in Domínguez, and Lawson, (eds.), Mexico's Pivotal Democratic Election, pp. 99103; Camp, Roderic Ai, ‘Democracy Redux: Mexico's Voters and the 2006 Presidential Race’, in Domínguez, , Lawson, and Moreno, (eds.), Consolidating Mexico's Democracy, pp. 47–8.

10 Moreno, Alejandro, El votante mexicano: democracia, actitudes políticas y conducta electoral (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003), pp. 2149.

11 Lawson, Chappell and McCann, James, ‘An Electorate Adrift? Public Opinion and the Quality of Democracy in Mexico’, Latin American Research Review, 38: 3 (2003), pp. 275–7.

12 Joseph Klesner, ‘Electoral Competition and the New Party System in Mexico’, paper presented at the Latin American Studies Association, Washington, DC, Sep. 2001, p. 53.

13 Camp, ‘Democracy Redux’, p. 42.

14 Klesner, Joseph, ‘The Structure of the Mexican Electorate’, in Domínguez, and Lawson, (eds.), Mexico's Pivotal Democratic Election, pp. 108–9; and ‘A Sociological Analysis of the 2006 Elections’, in Domínguez, Lawson and Moreno (eds.), Consolidating Mexico's Democracy, p. 52.

15 Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Preferencia para presidente por segmentos’, April 2012. That same survey revealed that Peña Nieto had a 40/41 per cent split between women and men, and López Obrador a 16/19 per cent split.

16 Reforma, exit poll, 5,803 voters, +/–1.3 per cent margin of error, 2 July 2006.

17 Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Una verdad: las mujeres votan más que los hombres’, Oct. 2011.

18 Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Mexico: 1 de Julio 2012, perfil del votante’, 20,000 respondents in 520 balloting stations, +/–1.2 per cent margin of error, 1 July 2012. In the last survey that it took among likely voters, on 24 June, Mitofsky reported that women would account for 57.2 percent of Vázquez Mota's votes.

19 For valuable insights as to why political parties in Mexico would nominate female candidates, see Bruhn, Kathleen, ‘Whores and Lesbians: Political Activism, Party Strategies, and Gender Quotas in Mexico’, Electoral Studies, 22: 1 (2003), pp. 101–19.

20 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Mujeres en la política, el género a la Presidencia’, 500 respondents, +/–4.3 per cent margin of error, 29 Oct. to 3 Nov. 2011.

21 Camp, Roderic Ai, ‘The Armed Forces and Drugs: Public Perceptions and Institutional Challenges’, in Olson, Eric L., Shirk, David A. and Selee, Andrew (eds.), Shared Responsibility: U.S.–Mexico Policy Options for Confronting Organized Crime (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2010), p. 319.

22 Klesner, Joseph, ‘The End of Mexico's One Party Regime’, PS: Political Science & Politics, 4: 1 (2001), pp. 107–14.

23 Alejandro Moreno, ‘2012: el factor jóvenes’, Reforma, 2 June 2012.

24 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Encuesta Parametría – Yo Soy 132’, 4 June 2012.

25 Camp, Roderic Ai, Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Consolidation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 220.

26 For valuable comparative, statistical insights on the importance of income in Mexican and US presidential elections, see Jerónimo Cortina, Andrew Gelman and Narayani Lasala Blanco, ‘One Vote, Many Mexicos: Income and Vote Choice in the 1994, 2000, and 2006 Presidential Elections’, Columbia University, 28 March 2008.

27 Camp, ‘Democracy Redux’, pp. 46–7.

28 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Pierde levadura el PAN’, April 2012.

29 In 2000, only 15 per cent of voters were welfare beneficiaries.

30 The most comprehensive analysis of regional patterns in Mexican elections, based on the 2000 election, including influential historical factors, is Simposio Internacional, ‘Regionalismo–Federalismo, Aspectos Históricos y Desafíos Actuales en México, Alemania y Otros Países Europeos’, Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2001.

31 For insights into how these patterns developed and why they are likely to continue, see Klesner, Joseph L., ‘Regionalism in Mexican Electoral Politics’, in Camp, (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics, pp. 622–45.

32 For an analysis of the growing influence of governors since democratisation, see Beer, Caroline, ‘Invigorating Federalism: The Emergence of Governors and State Legislatures as Powerbrokers and Policy Innovators’, in Camp, (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics, pp. 133–9.

33 Carta Paramétrica, ‘El peso de la gestión de los gobernadores en el voto por su partido’, 5 July 2009.

34 Jonathan Hiskey identifies many of these influences in his recent analysis of ‘The Return of “the Local” to Mexican Politics’, in Camp (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Mexican Politics, pp. 545–67.

35 ‘PRI: States and Return to the Presidency’, presentation at the workshop ‘The Return of the PRI: What Does it Mean for Democracy and Policy Making in Mexico?’, Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas, 21 Sep. 2012. To understand better how some of these regional patterns evolved in the 1990s, see Klesner, Joseph L., ‘Electoral Competition and the New Party System in Mexico’, Latin American Politics and Society, 47: 2 (2005), pp. 103–42.

36 On the movement's lack of an early impact, even among its peers, see Carta Paramétrica, ‘El movimiento Yo Soy 132 y el voto de los jóvenes’, 4 June 2012.

37 For a wide-ranging analysis of other forms of non-voting participation in Mexican elections through 2001, see Ventura's, María Fernanda Somuano excellent ‘Más allá del voto: modos de participación política no electoral en México’, Foro Internacional, 45: 1 (2005), pp. 6588.

38 Seligson, Mitchell A. and Smith, Amy Erica (eds.), Political Culture of Democracy, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas during Hard Times (Nashville, TN: Latin American Public Opinion Project, Vanderbilt University, 2010), p. 125.

39 In fact, a strong interest in politics expressed among all Mexicans has rarely exceeded 10 per cent since 2003. During both the 2006 and 2012 presidential campaigns, however, the average level of citizen interest had typically doubled by the end of the campaign – see Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Preferencias ciudadanas’, 19 June 2012; and ‘Preferencias ciudadanas’, 29 April 2012.

40 Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Perfil de usuario de redes sociales en internet, Facebook y Twitter’, Dec. 2011; Alejandro Moreno and Yuritzi Mendizábal, ‘El uso de las redes sociales y el comportamiento político en México’, paper presented at the Latin American Studies Association, San Francisco, CA, May 2012.

41 For background on the influence of television and other media on elections, see Lawson, Chappell, Building the Fourth Estate: Democratization and the Rise of a Free Press in Mexico (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 157–72; and Lawson, Chappell and McCann, Jay, ‘Television News, Mexico's 2000 Elections and Media Effects in Emerging Democracies’, British Journal of Political Science, 35: 1 (2005), pp. 130. For the impact of the content of the media on the 2006 race, see Sebastián Valenzuela and Maxwell McCombs, ‘Agenda-Setting Effects on Vote Choice: Evidence from the 2006 Mexican Election’, International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA, 18 May 2007.

42 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Conocimiento de la elección y probabilidad de ir a votar’, June 2012.

43 Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Felipe Calderón, evaluación de 19 trimestres de gobierno’, Aug. 2011; and ‘Décima encuesta nacional sobre percepción de inseguridad ciudadana en México’, March 2012, available at

44 In part, this may well have been the result of an unstated expectation among the voting public. There is a belief among many Mexicans who are personally affected in dozens of ways by drug-related violence and the perceived or real consequences of it on their personal security that the PRI can solve this issue through some informal arrangement with the cartels, returning Mexico to a period where such violence is minor, as during the PRI reign. Peña Nieto did not offer any new, concrete ways to address the problem. The likelihood of such a behind-the-scenes solution being possible is not high given the increased number of cartels and the fluidity of their influence.

45 For evidence that campaigns can increase the importance of the incumbent government's economic performance on the outcome, see the excellent paper by Austin Hart, ‘Can Candidates Activate or Deactivate the Economic Vote? Evidence from Two Mexican Elections’, paper prepared for the American Political Science Association, 21 Aug. 2012, p. 26.

46 Carta Paramétrica, ‘La desconfianza en las elecciones’, April 2011.

47 The court ruled in September 2012 that such behaviour had occurred, but that there was no persuasive evidence that it determined how voters cast their ballots or that it affected the election's outcome. The electoral law specifies that such a linkage must be proven to determine a clear violation of the law.

48 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Pierde levadura el PAN’, April 2012.

49 Bell, Brandon, ‘When Do High Levels of Corruption Justify a Military Coup?’, AmericasBarometer Insights 2012, 79 (2012), p. 1.

50 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Mexicanos avalan petición de la ONU para no destruir boletas electorales de 2006’, 12 Dec. 2012. In 2006, 46 per cent of the general population, as well as a similar percentage of those who actually voted in the election, believed this to be the case.

51 The survey also concluded that nearly three-quarters of voters believed their vote did make a difference, and 47 per cent expressed some or great trust in the Federal Electoral Institute, while only 22 percent expressed little or no trust in the institution. ‘Perciben elecciones transparentes, según encuesta de Excélsior’, Excélsior, 23 July 2012.

52 Federico Pereira, Batista, ‘Why Are There More Partisans in Some Countries Than Others?’, AmericasBarometer Insights 2012, 71 (2012), p.1. Some scholars view the level of partisanship as a reflection of the level of development in party systems: see Dalton, Russell and Weldon, Steven, ‘Partisanship and Party System Institutionalization’, Party Politics, 13: 2 (2007), pp. 179–96.

53 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Identificación partidista’, Nov. 2011.

54 Graff, Erica, Orrell, Maranda and Rigl, Alex, ‘Riches Don't Explain Campaign Participation in the Americas, but Community Involvement Does’, AmericasBarometer Insights 2012, 82, pp. 14.

55 Carta Paramétrica, ‘La batalla de Andrés Manuel’, 28 Sep. 2011.

56 Consulta Mitofsky, ‘Así van … elección presidencial 2012 en México’, documento ejecutivo, 23 Feb. 2012.

57 One of the most unique analyses emerging from the 2006 race is that of Allyson Lucinda Benton, who explores the impact of López Obrador's candidacy on economic markets in ‘¿Quién está preocupado por López Obrador?: las respuestas del mercado a las tendencias electorales durante la campaña presidencial mexicana del 2006’, Colombia Internacional, 64 (July–Dec. 2006), pp. 68–95.

58 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Evaluación de la campañas de 2006’, March 2012.

59 Carta Paramétrica, ‘El impacto de las campañas en la imágen de los candidatos’, 26 Sep. 2012.

60 Carta Paramétrica, ‘¿Identificación ideológica?’, July 2011.

61 Camp, ‘Democracy Redux’, pp. 36–7.

62 Kathleen Bruhn, ‘Lopez Obrador, Calderón, and the 2006 Presidential Campaign’, in Domínguez, Lawson and Moreno (eds.), Consolidating Mexico's Democracy, p. 179.

63 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Debate presidencial’, 30 April 2012.

64 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Debate presidencial’, 14 May 2012.

65 Carta Paramétrica, ‘Segundo debate presidencial’, 18 June 2012.

66 Symposium on Mexican Electoral Reform, Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas, March 1991.

67 The most detailed analysis of why this vote was so low can be found in Lafleur, Jean-Michel and Chelius, Leticia Calderón, ‘Assessing Emigrant Participation in Home Country Elections: The Case of Mexico's 2006 Presidential Election’, International Migration, 43: 3 (2011), pp. 99124.

68 See, June 2012; and Dolia Estévez, ‘Modelo anacrónico, por qué el voto en el extranjero no sería decisivo en las elecciones de Julio’, Poder, June 2012, pp. 2–4.

69 See; and Gámiz, Julio Juárez, ‘El papel de la publicidad política en la nueva ley electoral: una mirada crítica’, Sociológica, 25: 72 (2010), pp. 4370.

70 Parametría, ‘Uso de internet y redes sociales en la elección presidencial’.

71 Carta Paramétrica, ‘¿Cuando deciden su voto los Mexicanos?’.

72 Jaimes, Carlos Moreno, ‘Do Competitive Elections Produce Better-Quality Governments? Evidence from Mexican Municipalities, 1990–2000’, Latin American Research Review, 42: 2 (2007), pp. 136–53.

73 Camp, Roderic Ai and Yanner, Keith, ‘Democracy Across Cultures: Does Gender Make a Difference?’, in Tulchin, Joseph and Ruthenburg, Meg (eds.), Citizenship in Latin America (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner and the Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2006), p. 145. For examples of the conservative findings, see Braun, María, ‘Actitudes políticas de las mujeres en el Cono Sur’, Desarrollo Económico, 31: 4 (1992), p. 576.

74 PRI candidates have traditionally performed well among low-income and less educated voters. These individuals are often viewed as more likely to be ‘clientelistic’ voters. For their continued importance through the 2000 elections, see Aparicio, Ricardo and Corrochano, David H., ‘El perfil del votante clientelar en México durante las elecciones de 2000’, Estudios Sociológicos, 223: 68 (2005), pp. 375–96.

75 A recent study by two leading Mexican economists argues that Mexico's middle class has continued to increase significantly in the last decade and is likely to continue to do so in the foreseeable future. See de la Calle, Luis and Rubio, Luis, Mexico: A Middle Class Society; Poor no More, Developed Not Yet (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2012).

76 Ahern, Patrick, Cotter, Neal and Hall, Duncan, ‘Can Democracy Exist Without Parties?’, AmericasBarometer Insights 2012, 83 (June 2012), p. 1. The authors note that for Latin America as a whole, the average citizen displays only a slight preference for party-based democracy.

77 For insights from the US 2008 presidential race, see Aaron Smith, ‘The Internet's Role in Campaign 2008’, Pew Internet and American Life Project, April 2009; and on the state level, Herrnson, Paul S., Stokes-Brown, Atiya Kai and Hindman, Matthew, ‘Campaign Politics and the Digital Divide: Constituency Characteristics, Strategic Considerations, and Candidate Internet Use in State Legislative Elections’, Political Research Quarterly, 6: 1 (2007), pp. 3142.

78 See Brandon Bell, ‘When Do High Levels of Corruption Justify a Military Coup?’; and Buchanan, Cornelia et al. , ‘Mano Dura in the Americas: Who Supports Iron Fist Rule?’, AmericasBarometer Insights 2012, 80 (2012).

* The author would like to express his appreciation for the helpful suggestions from the editors and the three anonymous readers.

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