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Regionalism in Mexican Electoral Politics

Abstract and Keywords

This article discusses regionalism and the efforts of electoral analysts to understand the regional concentration of partisan advantage. It considers some contending explanations for electoral regionalism and studies the presence of regional differences in electoral performance by the parties. The article also looks at how these regional strengths and weaknesses have varied over time.

Keywords: regionalism, electoral analysts, regional concentration, partisan advantage, regional differences, electoral performance, strengths and weaknesses

In 2006, when Mexico experienced its most competitive presidential election ever, an examination of the electoral map the day after the voting showed a distinct regional divide in the partisan results. With a few exceptions, observable in Figure 26.1, most of Mexico's northern and center-west states favored the National Action Party's (PAN) Felipe Calderón, while the remainder of the federal entities gave the plurality of their votes to Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The similarities in these results to the trends in electoral outcomes in the United States proved irresistible to commentators, who immediately labeled this apparent regional divide “blue and yellow Mexico” to parallel the “red and blue America” coined by U.S. analysts (Aziz Nassif 2006; CIDAC 2006; López-Bassols 2006).

This electoral map obviously excludes the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the largest presence in the Mexican federal Congress after the 2009 midterm elections. Moreover the fortunes of the PRD continue to prove erratic, varying significantly from election to election. The PRD took the plurality of votes in only four states in 2009. Yet even allowing that one party, the PRI, has a continuing national presence and another party, the PRD, struggles to maintain a strong existence, electoral analysts have long noted that Mexico's political parties have had vigor in particular regions, even if not displayed in such sharp relief on a map, as in 2006.1

 Regionalism in Mexican Electoral PoliticsClick to view larger

Figure 26.1 Blue and yellow Mexico: patterns of party competition in the 2006 presidential election. Source: Instituto Federal Electoral (www.ife.org.mx).

Whether region operates as an independent factor explaining Mexican voting behavior, or whether the regionalism captured in Figure 26.1 reflects other, underlying factors has been a key question posed by political scientists and public opinion analysts since the emergence of truly competitive elections in the 1990s. If the (p. 623) 2006 election results reflect a resurgence of regionally based partisanship, what is it about those regions that have encouraged the political parties to capitalize on parochialism of some character? Is Mexican electoral regionalism simply an artifact of other explanatory variables, economic modernization or underlying political attitudes that tend to cluster geographically? Is there a political dynamic at work that has encouraged the parties to focus their efforts geographically, yielding the electoral outcomes illustrated in Figure 26.1? This essay reviews the efforts by electoral analysts to gain some explanatory leverage against what seems to be a clear regional concentration of partisan advantage. Before considering contending explanations for electoral regionalism, we must begin by examining the evidence: Are there regional differences in electoral performance by the parties? How have those regional strengths and weaknesses varied over time?

To prefigure the conclusions, regionalism may be a misnomer for what in fact are state-level differences in partisanship and electoral outcomes. As a federal republic, Mexico's political structure encourages the development of party organizations that have state-level structures that lead to state-level advantages and disadvantages in electoral competition. To some extent, those state-level advantages and disadvantages cluster by region, and we cannot deny the role of diffusion of political gains from neighboring states affecting a party's prospects. However, exceptions to regional patterns are distinct enough to suggest that state-level party organizations and other state-level factors are more important than regionalism per se in explaining electoral outcomes in Mexico's new democracy.

(p. 624) Mexico is not the only federal republic in Latin America; Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela are also federalist regimes. Beyond Latin America, Russia provides a recent example of a federal republic transitioning (abortively, it turns out) away from authoritarian rule. In the Mexican case, a state-level, somewhat regionally clustered strategy by the PAN—its so-called federalist plan—to win mayoral and gubernatorial positions and thereby gain credibility as a governing party played a significant role in the challenge to the PRI regime in the late 1990s, eventually leading to the victory of the PAN's Vicente Fox in the 2000 presidential race (Shirk 2005; Ochoa-Reza 2004). Democratization in Brazil also came about in part through the dynamics of party competition in that country's diverse states and regions (Samuels and Mainwaring 2004). Of course, in Russia much of the antidemocratic thrust of Vladimir Putin's policies has been focused on regaining control of federal entities after the collapse of central power in 1991.

In the Mexican case, regionally concentrated assertions of independence from a de facto centralist regime contributed to democratic practice in many states and localities. The PAN's federal strategy and the defection of state-level PRI machines to the PRD have contributed to significant decentralization of the Mexican state and of public policy. That decentralization, however, does not necessarily mean a uniform democratization of Mexican politics; indeed enclaves of democracy have been matched with enclaves of authoritarianism (Cornelius et al.1999). As in Argentina in the 1990s, where politics in the states led to an unraveling of Carlos Menem's economic strategy (Wibbels 2004), so too can state-level politics in Mexico frustrate centrally directed efforts at democratization. What is key here, though, is that these features of democratization in Mexico (or Argentina or Brazil) may seem to reflect regionalism, but they operate through state-level institutions and organizations in a federal regime. Unless we can show that regional clusters of state-level opposition or democratization are due to some factor operating at the regional level, they are in fact consequences of federal structures.

Evidence

Do Mexican parties draw on regional bases of electoral support? This apparently simple question masks two deeper matters. First, is there even a demonstrable pattern of regional concentration of support for any of Mexico's three largest parties (PRI, PAN, and PRD)? Second, if there are regional concentrations of electoral support, do those regional concentrations reflect anything more than a similar concentration of the usual explanatory variables that social scientists use to explain voting behavior? That is, does the appearance of electoral regionalism simply capture regional concentrations of such explanatory factors as economic modernization so that region itself has no independent meaning? We will consider these two themes sequentially.

(p. 625) Patterns of Electoral Regionalism over Time

Given that the PRI dominated twentieth-century Mexican electoral politics to such an extent that as late as 1985 other parties won but eleven of the three hundred district races for the Chamber of Deputies, electoral regionalism may seem to be a misnomer before the 1990s. Certainly, finding bastions of PRI strength prior to the 1990s makes little sense because the PRI was not weak in some absolute sense anywhere. Because the PRD did not emerge until after the 1988 presidential contest, we also cannot expect to identify regional concentrations of support for Mexico's Left before the 1990s. However, the PAN has a longer history of electoral participation and by the 1960s contested most congressional races. Examining the PAN's experience from the 1960s to the present can yield some insights about longer term regional bases of opposition to the PRI and of regional foundations of the PAN's voter base.

Nationally the PAN has grown from a party that took 7.6 percent of votes in the 1961 congressional election to the first-place party in the 2006 race, when it won 33.7 percent. Developing a sense of regional concentrations of support over that forty-five-year period requires a measure that allows consideration of regional strength that is nevertheless comparable over nearly a half century, during which the party's vote share has grown dramatically. What we are seeking to identify is whether in each of the seventeen elections from 1961 to 2009 there are places in which the PAN has performed significantly better than its national finish and others where the performance is significantly worse than the countrywide outcome.

Table 26.1 offers a way to measure deviation from the party's national outcome by state over several electoral eras in the past half century.2 The figures presented in the table's cells are the number of standard deviations the mean PAN vote share in the state varies from the national PAN mean in that time period. Numbers close to zero indicate that the state vote share for the PAN was very close to the national average. Scores of ±1.0 indicate where the PAN performance is more than one standard deviation away from the national average. Only about one-third of the scores should be ±1.0 or greater. The states are grouped by region in Table 26.1, with regional average standard deviations indicated.

In Table 26.1 we see three distinct regional phenomena. First, as observers often note, the PAN has done distinctly better in northern states and the Center-West than in the country as a whole from the 1960s to the present. The PAN's success in the North was especially notable in the 1980s and the 1990s, but extends back in several states to the 1960s. Second, the PAN has performed well below its national norm in southern and Gulf states from the 1960s onward. The PAN's greatest weakness has come in the deep South: Campeche, Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Tabasco. Third, the advantages that the PAN once enjoyed in the greater Mexico City area have gradually disappeared as the PRD emerged into electoral competition in the 1990s and onward. While the PAN had unusually good performances in the Federal District up until the 1988 election, since then the metro area has come to be a site of relative failure. (p. 626)

Table 26.1 Evidence of Long-Term Regional Concentration of PAN Electoral Support

States by Region

PAN Performance, standard deviations from mean

1961–67

1970–76

1979–85

1988–94

1997–2000

2003–9

Baja California

2.20

2.05

1.78

1.58

1.23

1.02

Chihuahua

1.73

0.50

2.07

1.37

1.08

0.42

Nuevo León

0.63

1.20

1.38

1.13

1.44

0.81

Sonora

0.00

–0.42

1.73

0.67

0.51

1.11

Coahuila

–0.35

–0.27

1.45

0.27

0.48

0.00

Tamaulipas

–0.61

–0.49

0.14

–0.36

–0.11

0.24

San Luis Potosí

0.17

–0.02

0.34

0.55

0.71

1.04

Zacatecas

0.15

–0.40

0.35

–0.54

–0.62

–1.01

Durango

–0.20

–0.28

1.28

0.14

0.00

–0.05

Sinaloa

–0.65

–0.48

0.72

0.80

–0.39

0.16

Baja California Sur

–0.98

–0.79

0.80

0.62

–0.79

–1.00

Total North

0.19

0.06

1.09

0.57

0.32

0.25

Border only

0.60

0.43

1.42

0.78

0.77

0.60

Michoacán

0.74

0.01

0.64

–0.78

–0.85

–0.51

Guanajuato

0.66

0.16

1.12

1.13

1.55

1.57

Jalisco

0.53

1.39

1.43

1.28

1.33

0.87

Colima

0.47

–0.26

0.25

–0.13

0.71

1.07

Aguascalientes

0.42

0.73

0.87

0.90

1.09

0.75

Querétaro

–0.18

–0.05

0.78

0.43

1.33

1.18

Nayarit

–0.54

–0.76

–0.14

–1.07

–0.55

–0.82

Total Center-West

0.30

0.18

0.71

0.25

0.66

0.59

Distrito Federal

2.83

2.82

1.44

0.44

–0.31

–0.58

Estado de México

–0.17

1.34

1.15

0.07

–0.11

–0.37

Total Metro area

1.33

2.08

1.30

0.26

–0.21

–0.47

Morelos

0.34

0.75

0.41

–0.70

–0.07

–0.29

Puebla

–0.22

1.16

0.56

–0.09

0.10

0.12

Tlaxcala

–0.79

–0.46

0.25

–0.70

–0.75

–0.09

Hidalgo

–0.81

–0.58

0.16

–0.95

–0.78

–0.89

Total Center

–0.37

0.22

0.35

–0.61

–0.38

–0.29

Yucatán

0.03

–0.14

0.78

1.60

0.87

0.98

Campeche

–0.49

–1.00

–0.01

–0.88

–0.91

0.67

Oaxaca

–0.57

–0.74

0.03

–1.19

–1.12

–1.19

Guerrero

–0.62

–0.82

–0.06

–1.45

–1.92

–1.86

Veracruz

–0.74

–0.41

0.02

–1.02

–0.33

0.30

Chiapas

–0.93

–1.01

–0.10

–1.27

–1.13

–0.87

Tabasco

–1.00

–0.74

–0.12

–1.50

–1.71

–2.18

Quintana Roo

–1.03

–0.93

–0.16

–0.34

0.05

–0.60

Total South and Gulf

–0.67

–0.72

0.05

–0.76

–0.78

–0.59

South without Yucatan

–0.77

–0.81

–0.06

–1.09

–1.01

–0.82

Source: Author's calculations, based on data provided by González Casanova (1970), Gómez Tagle (1997), and the Instituto Federal Electoral (www.ife.org.mx).

(p. 627) The main lessons of Table 26.1 are not out of keeping with the usual interpretation that electoral analysts offer about partisan regional concentration. However, if we look within the regional groupings, we see more distinct state-level concentrations of PAN support. For example, among the northern states, we see that in those states closest to the U.S. border—especially Baja California, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, and Sonora—the PAN has performed much better than in the region as a whole. Again, in certain states of the Center-West—Jalisco, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, and more recently Querétaro—the PAN has been unusually strong. Conversely, although the PAN has been weak electorally in the South, it has nevertheless done very well in Yucatán. This evidence suggests that the PAN's support base has been concentrated by state more than by region. We will return to this theme later in the chapter.

When we examine similar evidence for the PRD for the elections since it first ran candidates under its own banner in 1991,3 we see a comparable pattern, only the converse of the PAN's. Table 26.2 shows that the PRD's votes have come disproportionately from the Mexico City metro area and the southern and Gulf states since the party was founded. In contrast, its performance in the northern states and the Center-West has been relatively weak. Again, however, the regional patterns mask the greater variability that appears at the state level. For instance, within the North, the PRD does especially well in Baja California Sur and Zacatecas. It likewise has a strong record of winning votes in Michoacán and Nayarit in the Center-West. In the Gulf region, the PRD does poorly on the Yucatán peninsula in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán.

In contrast to the PAN and the PRD, which show some regional concentration of electoral support (or state-level concentrations clustered in some regions), the PRI has not found its voters so regionally distributed (see Table 26.3). The exception is PRI weakness over the past half century in greater Mexico City, and the propensity of the PRI's opponents to find supporters in a few key states in critical elections. As Camp (1991) noted in analyzing the 1988 election some two decades ago, the states in which the PRI's opposition did well in that critical election were the ones where opponents to the PRI had strong finishes in the elections of 1946 and 1952. Overall, as many commentators have noted, the PRI has done especially well in the South. It has overcome its weakness in several northern border states from the 1990s onward. However, the PRI remains modestly weak in the Center-West.

Regionalism as an Independent Factor

The limitation of analyses such as those illustrated in Tables 26.1 through 26.3 is that they do not take into account the probability that some of the key independent variables that predict voting behavior may themselves be concentrated regionally. For example, if economic modernization predicts support for opposition parties, as repeated studies have suggested for the Mexican case (e.g., Ames 1970; Walton and Table 26.2 Evidence of Regional Concentration of PRD Electoral Support PRD Performance, standard deviations from mean States by Region 1991–94 1997–2000 2003–9 Aguascalientes −0.68 −0.88 −0.72 Baja California −0.72 −0.82 −0.64 Baja California Sur −0.95 0.55 1.81 Coahuila −0.19 −0.77 −0.77 Chihuahua −0.87 −1.03 −0.87 Durango −0.42 −0.77 −0.80 Nuevo León −1.13 −1.38 −1.13 San Luis Potosí −1.79 −0.69 −0.19 Sinaloa −3.59 −1.47 −1.94 Sonora −0.37 0.11 −0.68 Tamaulipas −0.24 −0.26 −0.63 Zacatecas −0.30 0.35 1.62 Total North −0.94 −0.59 −0.41 Colima −0.03 −0.38 −0.78 Guanajuato −0.54 −0.90 −0.62 Jalisco −0.73 −0.95 −0.82 Michoacán 2.88 1.72 1.23 Nayarit 0.49 −0.04 0.49 Querétaro −0.90 −1.07 −0.73 Total Center-West 0.20 −0.27 −0.21 Distrito Federal 0.16 1.56 1.69 Estado de México 0.44 0.60 0.52 Total Metro area 0.30 1.08 1.10 Hidalgo 0.07 0.20 0.17 Morelos 0.63 0.82 0.37 Puebla −0.26 −0.45 −0.46 Tlaxcala −0.09 0.47 0.65 Total Center 0.09 0.26 0.18 Campeche 0.11 0.43 −0.83 Chiapas 1.19 1.48 1.23 Guerrero 2.33 1.79 1.56 Oaxaca 0.82 0.65 0.53 Quintana Roo −0.26 0.15 −0.25 Tabasco 1.80 1.62 1.88 Veracruz 0.35 0.37 −0.26 Yucatán −1.19 −1.32 −0.99 Total South and Gulf 0.64 0.65 0.36 Source: Author's calculations, based on data provided by Gómez Tagle (1997) and the Instituto Federal Electoral (www.ife.org.mx). Table 26.3 Evidence of Long-Term Regional Concentration of PRI Support PRI Performance, standard deviations from mean States by Region 1961–67 1970–76 1979–85 1988–94 1997–2000 2003–9 Baja California −2.14 −1.90 −1.96 −1.33 −0.70 −0.67 Baja California Sur 0.54 0.49 −0.33 0.33 −0.12 −1.51 Coahuila 0.50 0.49 −0.84 −0.20 0.75 1.34 Chihuahua −1.30 −0.74 −1.22 0.05 0.07 0.58 Durango −0.63 0.18 0.00 −0.18 0.07 1.33 Nuevo León −0.41 −1.05 −0.43 0.24 −0.10 0.75 San Luis Potosí −0.01 0.48 0.61 0.67 0.24 −0.55 Sinaloa 0.35 0.17 −0.04 0.22 1.16 1.05 Sonora −0.43 0.51 −0.49 0.15 −0.51 0.21 Tamaulipas 0.61 0.02 −0.22 −0.11 0.84 0.96 Zacatecas 0.01 0.87 0.83 1.17 0.47 −1.19 Total North −0.26 −0.04 −0.37 0.09 0.20 0.21 Aguascalientes −0.29 −0.07 −0.23 −0.46 −0.44 −0.57 Colima −0.11 0.75 0.66 0.04 −0.40 0.40 Guanajuato −0.55 −0.29 −0.69 −0.74 −1.33 −1.24 Jalisco −0.35 −0.81 −1.44 −0.99 −0.79 0.21 Michoacán −0.57 −0.18 0.23 −1.75 −1.14 −1.03 Nayarit 0.16 −0.76 0.35 0.60 1.36 0.80 Querétaro 0.37 0.43 0.38 0.71 −0.85 −0.46 Total Center-West −0.19 −0.13 −0.10 −0.37 −0.51 −0.27 Distrito Federal −2.79 −3.02 −2.47 −2.27 −2.69 −2.46 Mexico 0.23 −0.99 −1.43 −1.61 −1.08 −0.58 Total Metro area −1.28 −2.01 −1.95 −1.94 −1.89 −1.52 Hidalgo 1.04 0.64 0.87 0.93 1.01 0.57 Morelos −0.92 −0.47 −0.22 −0.47 −1.22 −0.86 Puebla 0.16 −0.79 0.14 0.12 0.57 0.30 Tlaxcala 0.79 0.86 0.56 0.56 0.02 −1.13 Total Center 0.27 0.06 0.34 0.29 0.10 −0.28 Campeche 0.66 1.37 1.12 0.95 0.61 0.25 Chiapas 1.02 1.07 1.38 0.78 0.82 0.08 Guerrero 0.62 0.81 0.85 −0.29 0.66 0.06 Oaxaca 0.53 0.17 0.59 0.45 0.76 0.59 Quintana Roo 0.89 0.61 1.36 0.84 −0.05 0.90 Tabasco 1.16 0.78 1.09 0.93 0.78 0.88 Veracruz 0.76 0.12 0.21 0.49 0.04 0.21 Yucatán 0.13 0.25 0.77 0.20 1.21 0.78 Total South and Gulf 0.72 0.65 0.92 0.54 0.60 0.47 Source: Author's calculations, based on data provided by González Casanova (1970), Gómez Tagle (1997), and the Instituto Federal Electoral (www.ife.org.mx). Sween 1971; Molinar and Weldon 1990; Klesner 1993), and economic modernization is concentrated regionally, as it is in Mexico, then perhaps regional patterns of support for particular parties may be simply picking up the impact of economic modernization, not some other regional factor. Some early sociological analyses of Mexican electoral behavior (e.g., Walton and Sween 1971; Reyna 1971) opted to entirely ignore region as a factor predicting vote choice, focusing instead on economic, social, and demographic predictors of the vote.

Political scientists and historians studying Mexican politics during the years of PRI hegemony, in contrast, tended to place emphasis on two themes touching on regionalism: the PRI's goal of national integration to overcome regional parochialisms (e.g., Scott 1964, 37–39; Brandenburg 1964, 14–15) and the regional origins of Mexico's postrevolutionary elite (e.g., Drake 1970; Smith 1979; Camp 1995). Perhaps reflecting the disciplinary emphasis on region, early studies of Mexican voting behavior by political scientists also included regional variables. In his early ecological analysis, Ames (1970) included proximity to the U.S. border and historical nonintegration as explanatory variables, with historical nonintegration proving a highly significant predictor of non-PRI voting. While Ramos Oranday (1985) tended to treat regional concentrations of PRI and non-PRI voting as resulting from differential socioeconomic modernization across the Mexican states, multivariate analyses of state- and district-level aggregate data by Klesner (1987, 1993, 1994, 1995) and Molinar and Weldon (1990) indicated that region remained a strong predictor of the partisan division of the vote even after controlling for socioeconomic modernization variables. Domínguez and McCann's (1996) pathbreaking individual-level analysis of Mexican electoral behavior found regional variables to be significant predictors of electoral choice for PRI, PAN, and PRD voters after controlling for both socioeconomic attributes and political attitudes. Also using survey data, Poiré (1999) and Magaloni (1999) found region to be an important predictor of PRI and opposition voting in the 1990s. Moreno and Méndez (2007) used regional variables valuable to explain partisan identity as well. Many studies of the 2000 election (e.g., Moreno 2003; Klesner 2004; McCann 2004) and that of 2006 (e.g., Abundis Luna and Ley Gutiérrez 2009; Camp 2009; Flores-Macias 2009; Klesner 2009) incorporate regional variables as predictors of electoral behavior, suggesting that electoral analysts have accepted that regionalism is a key variable explaining vote choice in Mexico.

Each of the studies mentioned in the previous paragraph turns to regional variables to explain the variance in the dependent variable (for studies with aggregate data, the partisan division of the ballots in states, electoral districts, or counties; for survey-based studies, the propensity of an individual to vote for one of the major parties) not accounted for by other explanatory factors. Frequently the share of the variance in the dependent variable explained by region is relatively great; that is, region has great efficacy as a predictor of electoral behavior. Not surprisingly, the major polling organizations operating in Mexico always include region as a category of explanation when they report the results of their pre- or postelection surveys.

Table 26.4 provides a sense of the efficacy of region as a predictor of Mexican electoral outcomes. Here we see a simple model based on county-level aggregate data (p. 631) (p. 632) that predicts the division of the vote among the three parties based on socioeconomic modernization (the urbanization, industrialization, and education variables), religion, and region. The coefficients for the regional dichotomous variables provide a clear indication of the strength of region in predicting party vote share. For example, in 2006 in counties in the northern states the PAN achieved an average vote share 9 percent greater than we would have expected based on socioeconomic modernization and share of the population that declares itself Catholic in those counties. The PRD, in contrast, averaged about 15 percent below what would have been predicted for it in the North given the degree of modernization and Catholicism in those counties. Similar findings, perhaps even more dramatic, emerge from individual-level analysis of survey data. In an earlier analysis of the Mexico 2006 Panel Study, the author derived the following predicted probabilities of typical voters choosing among the two major presidential candidates (Klesner 2009, 65):

A typical PAN voter—a white complexioned, Catholic woman under 30 years of age living in an urban area—would have a 49.5 percent probability of voting for Calderón if she lived in the north, 51.5 percent if she made her home in the center-west, 41.9 percent in the south, but only 29.1 percent in the Mexico City area… In contrast, a man aged 50 and above would have a 34.6 percent chance of voting for the PAN nominee in the north, 33.3 percent in the center-west, 22.2 percent in the south, and 14.3 percent in Mexico City. A man with the same characteristics would only have a 13.3 percent probability of choosing López Obrador if he lived in the north, but a 57.6 percent likelihood of voting PRD if greater Mexico City were his home.

Table 26.4 Federal Deputy Elections, 1991–2006 (multiple regression analysis)

PAN

PRI

PRD

Variable

1991

1994

1997

2000

2003

2006

1991

1994

1997

2000

2003

2006

1991

1994

1997

2000

2003

2006

Constant

−0.12

−0.24

−0.28

−0.32

−0.13

−0.19

0.80

0.55

0.93

0.92

0.65

0.42

0.17

0.52

0.30

0.40

0.27

0.67

population in towns 〉 20,000 (%)

0.13

0.11

0.12

0.16

0.10

0.10

−0.13

−0.12

−0.12

−0.13

−0.10

−0.03

−0.02

−0.01

−0.02

−0.05

−0.04

−0.08

Population employed in manufacturing (%)

0.18

0.17

0.26

0.31

0.16

0.18

−0.13

−0.01

0.04

0.01

0.17

−0.26

−0.10

−0.15

−0.29

−0.30

−0.27

0.06

Catholic %

0.12

0.25

0.27

0.20

0.13

0.37

−0.04

0.09

−0.17

−0.13

−0.17

−0.12

−0.02

−0.37

−0.16

−0.09

0.06

−0.26

Literate %

0.08

0.33

0.15

0.42

0.23

0.14

−0.04

−0.10

−0.36

−0.41

−0.13

0.17

−0.06

−0.04

0.21

−0.04

−0.06

−0.26

North

0.09

0.03

0.11

−0.02

0.03

0.09

0.02

0.05

0.03

0.08

0.05

−0.15

−0.04

−0.07

−0.13

−0.04

−0.05

0.07

South

−0.01

−0.02

0.03

−0.01

0.01

−0.01

0.03

−0.01

−0.01

−0.01

−0.02

−0.01

−0.01

0.04

−0.01

0.03

−0.01

0.04

Mexico City area

−0.02

−0.07

−0.08

−0.08

−0.06

−0.10

−0.11

−0.03

−0.09

−0.06

−0.16

0.15

0.05

0.07

0.14

0.12

0.22

−0.04

Center-West

0.07

0.05

0.14

0.04

0.06

0.10

−0.03

−0.02

−0.05

−0.02

−0.04

−0.13

0.02

−0.01

−0.08

−0.01

−0.02

0.03

R2

0.45

0.60

0.48

0.54

0.27

0.53

0.49

0.41

0.62

0.63

0.50

0.54

0.15

0.34

0.40

0.32

0.40

0.62

N (number of municipios)

2,412

2,407

2,411

2,426

2,417

2,426

2,412

2,407

2,411

2,424

2,426

2,426

2,412

2,407

2,411

2,426

2,417

2,426

Sources: Electoral data: IFE; demographic and socioeconomic data: INEGI.

Notes: Unstandardized ordinary least squares estimates. Cases have been weighted by population. All coefficients are statistically significant at the .05 level except those that are italicized.

The evidence offered in this section suggests that place, typically rendered as region in electoral analyses, plays a major role in shaping Mexican vote choices. The three major political parties vary significantly in their electoral success from place to place, and their strongholds seem to cluster by region. Controlling for other explanatory factors, as the many analysts cited above have over the past forty years of electoral analysis, does not eliminate the power of region to predict voting outcomes. These observations only beg the question, however: Why does region play such an apparently important role in Mexican electoral politics?

Explaining Electoral Regionalism

If region is as important in predicting electoral behavior as the foregoing analysis suggests, what exactly are we explaining with the regional variable? As Baker (2009, 76) argues, the “regional dummy variables are…acting as a theoretical fixed effects variables, or proper nouns, that are merely identifying important unexplained group-level behavioral differences. Regional effects variables merely indicate that these remaining differences exist; they do not explain why they exist.” Why, then, do they exist?

(p. 633) Three distinct possibilities suggest themselves. First, we could be tapping deep historical and cultural differences among Mexico's regions. Second, the current regional variation in voting could be a reflection of the differential impacts of socioeconomic modernization and economic integration on the regions. Finally, regionalism could be an artifact of the temporally different emergence of opposition party competition to the former ruling party, which became an early advantage in the formation of regional party systems.

Political Culture Explanations

Following the first line of argument, for over a century a distinct northern regionalist way of thinking has stressed that the North, unlike the South or the population living in the central valley around Mexico City, has a frontier mentality, a can-do spirit, a much more individualist orientation, and a work ethic not shared by the Mexico City–dominated center (which serves a grasping central government) and the South (which is often seen by northerners in racist terms as the domain of lazy or incompetent Indians). Writing a half century ago about the PRI's effort to achieve national economic integration, Brandenburg (1964, 14) repeated the stereotypes he heard from his Mexican informants, the depiction of “the industrious northerner and the indolent southerner.” The center-west region, the heart of which is the Bajío, Mexico's breadbasket and its most orthodox Catholic region, has been associated with the nation's charro or ranch culture—a culture some identify as the uniquely Mexican culture. The South is identified by yet other observers as the heart of “deep Mexico” (Bonfíl Batalla 1996), the region where most of its culturally Indigenous people still live, but also where poverty rates are by far the highest, education extends the least far, people are the most tied to their local villages, and local bosses (caciques) associated with the former ruling party exercise most sway.

To the extent that the PAN has always had a more individualist, democratic political philosophy, it may be especially attractive to voters in the North, if these characterizations hold. In contrast, to the extent that PRD candidates tend to appeal to voters with statist philosophies, the greater Mexico City area is the location most likely to yield those with statist orientations (Davis 1994). In addition to its focus on democracy, the PAN has also long flirted with Christian Democracy (Mabry 1974; Middlebrook 2001; Magaloni and Moreno 2003), which may be especially appealing to the Catholics who are reputed to dominate in the center-west states. The heritage of the Cristero Rebellion of the 1920s—in which Catholic peasants took up arms against a rabidly secular state—may have left the Bajío region with a stronger religious identity than other parts of the country, which may have led voters there to punish the PRI and PRD (whose predecessors prosecuted that war).

Do these broad characterizations of Mexican regions fit the evidence? Survey data from the 2005 World Values Survey (WVS) show that values such as the virtues of self-reliance and hard work do vary somewhat by region. For example, while only 29 percent of Mexicans from both the North and the Center-West disagree with the statement “It´s humiliating to receive money without having to work for it,” (p. 634) 46 percent of those from the Center (including Mexico City, which is not split out from the rest of the Center in the WVS) and 48 percent of southerners disagree with it. Fully 23 percent of northerners strongly agree that “work should always come first even if it means less spare time,” but only 9 percent of southerners strongly agree with that statement. Almost 60 percent of northerners give the most favorable response on a 10-point scale to the assertion that “competition is good,” whereas only 48 percent of those from the Center and 46 percent of those from the South do so. When asked who should have the most responsibility for people's well-being, the government or individuals themselves, 27 percent of northerners chose the most favorable response (on a 10-point scale) to the notion that “people themselves should be responsible,” compared to 20 percent of southerners and 14 percent of those in the Center (including Mexico City). The North does seem more individualistic than the Center and the South and less inclined to an interventionist state.

However, WVS data do not suggest that the adherents of the parties actually differ so much on these fundamental values. If anything, PRI supporters are both more individualistic and more state-centric than the supporters of the other two parties, which is to say, within the PRI it has been possible to hold relatively extreme values in either direction on the fundamental ideological question of the role of the state in the economy and still be a PRI voter. PAN voters are not fundamentally more pro-individual than PRD voters, according to WVS data. PAN voters are relatively moderate compared to the adherents of either of the other two parties on fundamental values questions, perhaps reflecting their relatively greater education.

In terms of religious values, regional variations are not great except that the Center (again, including Mexico City) is more secularist and less religious. Those in the Center-West are not, however, the most inclined to say that religion is important in their lives, that churches give the answers to moral questions, or even that they attend religious services the most frequently. Northerners are far more likely to report that they see themselves as belonging to broader political communities—Latin America or North America—than southerners, but nearly all Mexicans see themselves as having strong ties to their local communities and to the Mexican nation.

It may be that those in the North differ from their southern compatriots about some fundamental values about the place of the individual in society and in relation to the state. However, it appears that these values differences do not make a critical difference in how Mexicans vote. Major studies of the determinants of vote choice using survey data have not found fundamental political values to be significant predictors of how Mexicans cast their ballots.

Modernization Explanations and Differential Consequences of Economic Integration

The region variable may tap differential impacts of modernization and economic integration. Already relatively better off than the rest of their countrymen before the advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, (p. 635) Mexicans living in northern states have benefited more from economic integration with Canada and the United States than those living in other regions, especially the South, where competition with large grain growers from the midwestern U.S. states and the Canadian plains have pushed many peasant producers off the land or into penury. Those from the northern states also tend to have been migrants from other parts of Mexico. They travel much more frequently to the United States than those from other parts of the country. The Center-West has also benefited from globalization as multinational firms made significant industrial investments (Graizbord and Aguilar 2006), and they have extended their production chains more deeply into Mexico, particularly to regional cities such as León in Guanajuato (Rothstein 2005). The Center, particularly the metro area, is the most densely populated zone in Mexico, including the nation's capital, the surrounding state of Mexico, and the nearby state of Puebla. These regions benefited the most from the capital's centralist control of the development process during import-substituting industrialization (Davis 1994). Heavy manufacturing in the Center may be the industrial sector most threatened by economic integration. On the other hand, much investment growth has come to the greater Mexico City area since the advent of NAFTA through investment in communications and the financial sectors (Graizbord and Aguilar 2006). Of course, Mexico has been ruled from this region, and many state bureaucrats and the political class, those most directly associated with the national state, live in Mexico City and surrounding suburbs.

Table 26.5 offers evidence about the level of economic modernization of Mexican states, grouped by region, both just before NAFTA began and after it had been in place eight years. The first two columns display an index of the ratio between the state income (gross domestic product) per capita and the national income per capita. The third column shows the economic growth rate by state over that eight-year period. With some exceptions (oil-rich Campeche and the tourist destination of Quintana Roo), the states with the highest income levels are in the North and the Center-West, plus the Federal District—by far the highest income location. Again with a few exceptions, the states experiencing the highest growth rates with the onset of NAFTA were in the North and Center-West.

In terms of preferences about trade relations with the United States, which in part may reflect voters’ evaluations of the impact of trade on their pocketbooks and on the national economy, those from the North and the Center-West rather more enthusiastically support improving trade relations with the United States (see Table 26.6). Those in the North and Center-West were also far more likely to positively evaluate the performance of the economy, in terms of both sociotropic and pocketbook evaluations, better than those from the Mexico City area or the South. Indeed those from the North and the Center-West are considerably more optimistic about the nation's and their own economic future than persons from other regions. In the postelection wave of the Mexico 2006 Panel Study, 47 percent of northerners and 43 percent of those from the Center-West expected the nation's economy to improve over the next year, while 43 and 39 percent from those two regions, respectively, saw their household's economy in brighter terms. In contrast, only 24 percent of greater (p. 636) (p. 637) Mexico City residents and 26 percent of southerners were optimistic about Mexico's economic future, although they were more sanguine about their personal economic situations—28 percent from the metro area and 34 percent from the South offered positive prospective pocketbook evaluations.

Table 26.5 Modernization and Economic Growth by State, 1993–2002

State GDP/capita Index 1993

State GDP/capita Index 2002

Growth Rate 1993–2002

NATIONAL

100.0

100.0

2.6

North

Baja California

148.4

120.9

0.3

Baja California Sur

136.2

124.8

1.6

Coahuila

125.6

141.1

3.9

Chihuahua

132.4

137.7

3.0

Durango

82.1

85.7

3.1

Nuevo León

169.3

180.8

3.3

San Luis Potosí

74.6

75.1

2.7

Sinaloa

86.0

78.9

1.6

Sonora

119.0

116.5

2.3

Tamaulipas

102.0

104.9

2.9

Zacatecas

56.0

61.7

3.7

Center-West

Aguascalientes

108.8

128.3

4.5

Colima

101.6

99.1

2.3

Guanajuato

68.9

78.1

4.0

Jalisco

100.7

100.2

2.5

Michoacán

54.5

56.3

3.0

Nayarit

66.6

59.2

1.3

Querétaro

103.4

120.3

4.3

Metro Area

Distrito Federal

246.2

257.8

3.1

Estado de México

81.1

77.1

2.0

Center

Hidalgo

66.2

60.7

1.6

Morelos

94.3

86.0

1.5

Puebla

63.0

66.4

3.2

Tlaxcala

53.7

54.5

2.8

South and Gulf

Campeche

176.1

158.3

1.4

Chiapas

45.2

43.2

2.1

Guerrero

56.9

51.7

1.5

Oaxaca

45.6

41.6

1.6

Quintana Roo

174.8

148.5

0.8

Tabasco

67.5

59.3

1.1

Veracruz

61.0

58.1

2.0

Yucatán

77.7

80.6

3.0

Source: Graizbord and Aguilar 2006, 95.

Table 26.6 Preferences about Economic Integration by Region

Would you prefer that trade between Mexico and the United States increase, decrease, or remain about the same?

North

Center-West

Metro

Center

South

Total

Increase

60

55

42

49

38

48

Stay the same

25

25

34

28

34

29

Decrease

10

13

21

18

15

15

DK/NA

6

7

3

5

12

7

Total *

101

100

100

100

99

99

Source: Lawson et al. (2007) Mexico 2006 Panel Study, Second Wave (May 2006).

(*) Errors due to rounding.

To some extent, the region variable is probably capturing this aspect of contemporary Mexican reality. The PAN and the PRI are the parties most identified with the economic integration project. The PRI's neoliberal wing pushed through NAFTA with the legislative support of the PAN. The PAN governed several of the states with relatively high growth rates (Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Nuevo León, Querétaro) or that were relatively well-off to begin with (Baja California and Chihuahua). More recently, the PAN is the major party that has most clearly articulated the need to continue economic openness.

While the 1997 and 2000 elections were fought mainly about regime issues (Klesner 2005), economic voting has returned in races held since the democratic transition in 2000. Moreno (2009) argues that in 2006, a time when the economy was relatively stable, Calderón and the PAN disproportionately won over economically satisfied voters by actively campaigning for their particular support with messages that emphasized that the PAN would deliver further economic stability. The PRD, in contrast, tends to focus on the deficiencies of the economic model, particularly that it does not alleviate poverty. The PRD's support in poorer southern states may owe much to the salience of this message in that region.

Yet there are state-level exceptions to the generalizations made in the previous paragraphs that suggest that the economic explanation of partisan regionalism is insufficient. A glaring case is the PRD's dominance in the Federal District, the nation's richest entity. The PRD has made inroads into the relatively rich Baja California Sur and the relatively high-growth Zacatecas, both outside its regional bastions in the South and the metro region. The PAN does very well in relatively poor Yucatán and has done so for many years. The economic explanation also does not effectively account for the success of multiparty candidacies that incorporate both the PRD and the PAN. In recent years such coalitions have taken key political positions, including the governor's seat, in Oaxaca and Chiapas in the far South. (p. 638)

Explanations Related to the Timing of the Entry of Alternatives to the PRI

A third line of explanation for patterns of partisan regionalism argues that contemporary regional patterns of party competition are built on past patterns of opposition party development. This path-dependent argument essentially states that, outside of Mexico City, in those places where electoral opposition emerged early, particularly before 1988, the PAN tended to establish a presence that has been difficult to dislodge. More recently, since the PRD came onto the scene after 1988, and especially where opposition has developed as a result of local PRI organizations defecting from the party, the PRD has established its own advantages. The emergence of these patterns of competition between the PRI and either the PAN or the PRD may appear to cluster regionally, but they are actually situated at the state level.

This line of explanation begins with the observation that opposition to the PRI emerged in different regions at different times. Outside of Mexico City, electoral opposition emerged first in several northern states, some center-west states, and the Yucatán. In the 1983–86 period, intense opposition was channeled by the PAN in northern states—Baja California, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, and Sonora—where middle-class Mexicans felt the brunt of the 1982 bank nationalization and controls on foreign exchange that followed. The PAN established party organizations and won control of local governments in those areas first, some in 1983 (see the case studies in Rodríguez and Ward 1995). The experience of governing important cities in the border states created a cohort of nationally known leaders and a reputation for striving to govern well and not corruptly for the PAN. Moreover as the PAN (and later the PRD) won localities, its prospects of winning neighboring municipalities improved in a diffusion effect within states (Hiskey and Canache 2005). As Hiskey and Bowler (2005) have shown, citizen perceptions of the local context strongly shape individual propensities to participate politically, including how to participate.

Electoral opposition made little headway in the Center and South until well into the 1990s. When it did, the PRD was already on the scene and prepared to compete for office, sometimes by opportunistically taking over the PRI's clientelistic local machines (Bruhn 1997; Wuhs 2008). However, except in Mexico City, under the glare of the national and international media, the PRI did not easily yield to opposition competition, so that in most states the pattern of competition that emerged, even after three parties shared the national stage, tended to be two-party competition, the PRI versus either the PAN or the PRD, whichever arrived to compete for power first. The competition that then developed had an ins-versus-outs character to it, more so than an ideological struggle. As Wilson (2008) characterizes it, voters are faced with consideration sets that are not homogeneous across the nation. Almost everywhere voters find the PRI presenting competitive candidates. In some states they find the PAN putting forward strong alternatives to the PRI. In some other places, it is the PRD. In a very few places (especially Mexico City) it is both the PAN (p. 639) and the PRD. In yet other places the PAN and the PRD have chosen to run coalition candidates in order to defeat the PRI. The consequence is that voters in particular places across Mexico come to be familiar with some parties and not others and that the parties that have been successful in those places build party organizations so that they can continue to contend in the future (Wilson 2008).

As it happened, in the North and the Center-West the PAN was the first opposition party into electoral arena because significant local-level opposition emerged there as early as 1983, or in some states (Baja California and San Luis Potosí, for example) well before that—long before the PRD existed (Rodríguez and Ward 1995). Within the northern and center-west regions, in the smaller states of Baja California Sur, Nayarit, and Zacatecas, the PAN made little headway during the 1980s, but the PRD successfully challenged the PRI in the late 1990s (Klesner 1999). The PRD continues to have a strong presence in those three states, and López Obrador won them in 2006. In contrast, by the time the opposition was able to compete electorally in the South—only effectively after 1988—the PRD had come into existence, and in many cases it accepted into its ranks former priístas who had failed to win party nominations for important state-level offices, and those defectors often brought along their portion of the PRI party machinery. The PAN has been less effective at breaking into the competition for power in those southern states. As Fernández-Durán et al. conclude (2004, 547), “The apparent alignment of blocks of voters with political parties in Mexico has little to do with underlying socioeconomic cleavages, and much to do with the parties’ abilities to gear up their strategy and organization within coherent economic units.”

The foregoing paragraph begs a final question: Why was the earlier existing PAN able to get a foot in the door in the North and Center-West in the 1980s and before, but not in the South? To a considerable extent, different regional political cultures and the differential impact of economic integration (which affected the North already in the 1980s) on regions, the first two arguments discussed above, provide the answer. Those factors were operative two decades and more ago, which allowed the PAN access to government in the northern and center-west states in some cases in the mid-1980s, in other cases in the early 1990s, before the PRD was fully ready to compete for power at the state and local level. The PAN and the PRI have kept the PRD out of the contest for state and local positions in many of those places, even today.

 Regionalism in Mexican Electoral PoliticsClick to view larger

Figure 26.2 A more nuanced perspective on regional patterns of party competition in the 2006 presidential election

Source: Instituto Federal Electoral (www.ife.org.mx).

Overall this pattern of two-party competition produces a regionally based party system of the type illustrated in Figure 26.2. Where a party won by a margin of greater than 15 percent, I placed the state in a one-party dominance category. Where no more than 15 points separate the first and the third parties, I put the entity in the three-way competition classification. Otherwise I categorized the states by the two parties that competed for first and second places. Here we still see regionalism, but a much more variegated one. The PAN dominates the center-west region, and it competes against the PRI in the northern states, with many of the margins very close even in this year in which the PRI standard-bearer had very short coattails. (p. 640) The PRD dominates the Federal District and Michoacán and competes hard with the PRI in the southern states of Guerrero, Chiapas, and Tabasco.

Conclusions: Will Regionalism Persist?

The analysis of the literature on Mexican electoral regionalism and the evidence offered above suggest that what is often taken as regionalism understood in broad swaths of national territory may be state-level party advantages promoted by a federal system that in some situations cluster regionally. What analysts have not explored in sufficient depth is how the federal structure of Mexico, including its unsynchronized electoral calendars, interacts with larger social and cultural forces to cause the appearance of regionalism. The beginnings of the understanding of the dynamics of geographic concentration of party growth have been laid by Fernández-Durán et al. (2004), Hiskey and Canache (2005), Klesner (2005), Wilson (2008), and Baker (2009). They have not, however, sufficiently linked those party system and electoral dynamics to regional forces such as economic integration and historical nonintegration.

However much impact we accord to each of the three lines of argument introduced above, it is important to underscore the central argument made by Baker (2009) about regionalism: once the regional division is set in place, patterns of intercourse in people's day-to-day lives will limit their interaction to individuals who mostly share their perspectives, which will only reinforce the partisan consequences of regionalism. Wilson (2008, 180) argues, “As parties’ machinery and campaigning institutions vary, so do voters’ information about the parties, constraining the choice set from which they vote. This highlights the importance of local party institutions and grassroots campaign efforts as effective mechanisms for electoral victory.” Moreover parties once in place are difficult to displace, as the opposition's long struggle to oust the PRI should indicate. As Fernández-Durán et al. (2004, 547) put it, “Geographic contiguity makes electoral organization more efficient, reducing the costs paid by parties in fine-tuning their message and driving out the vote.” These constraints on voters’ choices will continue to operate mostly at the state level, but clustered geographically by region.

Given these considerations, we should expect regionalism to persist in Mexican politics. The PRI's recent electoral successes suggest it will retain a national presence. With time, the PAN may develop a more effective national organization and appeal. If it does not implode, the PRD may make some inroads in the North and Center-West beyond the states where it made gains in the late 1990s. Diffusion is a slow process (Hiskey and Canache 2005), however. Thus, absent some political explosion, we should expect to continue to see the parties that have advantages in the states to retain them in the medium-term future.

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                                                                                                                Notes:

                                                                                                                (1.) The early multivariate study by Ames (1970) includes regional variables for historical nonintegration and proximity to the U.S. border.

                                                                                                                (2.) The logic of the selection of the electoral periods in Table 26.1 is as follows: (1) 1961, 1964, and 1967 are the three elections for which reliable state-level election data exist before 1968, the critical year in which student strikes in Mexico City unveiled the regime's willingness to resort to authoritarian tactics; (2) 1970, 1973, and 1976 are the three elections between 1968 and the 1977 electoral reform that significantly reshaped the party system; (3) 1979, 1982, and 1985 are the three elections under the new electoral system before the contested 1988 presidential election; (4) 1988, 1991, and 1994 are the three elections between the rise of a consolidated party on the Left in 1988 and the profound electoral reforms of 1996; (5) 1997 and 2000 are Mexico's transition elections in which the main cleavage in society revolved around a pro-regime/anti-regime division; and (6) 2003, 2006, and 2009 are postdemocratic transition elections.

                                                                                                                The regional distribution of the states used in this paper is as follows:

                                                                                                                North: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas. These are states in the first or second tier south of the U.S. border.

                                                                                                                Center-West: Aguascalientes, Colima, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Querétaro. The heart of the Center-West is the Bajío, an important area of agricultural production and the site of the last major armed rebellion against the post-revolutionary regime, the Cristero Rebellion of the late 1920s.

                                                                                                                Center: Hidalgo, Morelos, Puebla, Tlaxcala.

                                                                                                                Metro area: Federal District, Estado de México. The bulk of the population of these two federal entities is in greater Mexico City.

                                                                                                                South: Campeche, Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz, Yucatán.

                                                                                                                The states that compose each region allow for contiguous regions. Although other studies analyzing other dimensions of Mexican social and political life have used a larger number of regions (e.g., Wilkie 1970; Smith 1979), if region is to capture more than state-level phenomena, we must keep the number of regions small. Public opinion pollsters typically publish polling results using just three or four regions: North, Center, South, and sometimes Mexico City as a separate category.

                                                                                                                (3.) Much of the coalition of politicians and parties that became the PRD supported Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1988 under the banner of the National Democratic Front, which united several small parties of Mexico's once fragmented Left.