The Democratic Transformation of Mexican Politics
Abstract and Keywords
This article discusses Mexican politics and the changes that occurred in its political process over the years. It examines the parties, municipalities, and branches of government as transformational actors within the democratic process. It then considers the changes that occurred in the national political elite, big businesses, the armed forces, and organized labor. It identifies the new actors that emerged in the democratic process and studies the changing political landscape. The final part of the article discusses policy issues and political attitudes.
Any attempt at editing a book on contemporary Mexican politics as part of Oxford's distinguished Handbook on Politics series involves significant choices. One might believe that thirty-one chapters should be more than adequate to address the most relevant topics for understanding Mexico's recent democratic transition and its attempts to craft a consolidated democracy. Given Mexico's proximity to the United States and the importance of each country to the other politically, economically, and culturally, it is essential to address the binational interactions for many of these topics. Indeed the relationship itself, in the case of topics such as immigration, explains the predominance of certain controversial policy issues.
As is the case in the previous volume, Comparative Politics, we believe that the study of Mexican politics has attracted a wide range of methodologies, from the most empirical to political-historical. It is revealing to compare the contents in Comparative Politics with the contents in the present volume. While social scientists would expect such a broad volume exploring the subdiscipline as a whole to focus on equally broad issues, a more in-depth exploration reveals that students of Mexican politics, both here and in Mexico, often are interested in institutions, actors, policies, and processes different from those selected as representative of the comparative politics field as a whole. To illustrate the significant difference in emphasis, one only needs to look at the issue of regionalism, which receives no mention in the index of Comparative Politics yet, as any Mexicanist will tell you, plays a significant role in the consolidation process in elections, leadership, and governance. Indeed an entire chapter by Joseph Klesner is devoted to this topic. The same can be said for (p. 4) recruitment or political recruitment, which also receives no mention in the index of the earlier volume yet is a topic that has attracted much recent attention in Latin American politics as a whole. Finally, the impact of the media on politics is mentioned only four times in the earlier volume, and it too deserves an entire chapter in the present Handbook. The huge gap in emphasis between the general literature and the specific literature on Mexico suggests a disconnect in the analysis of Third World and Latin American countries, including Mexico, from how generalists often see the leading questions and trends in the field. Nevertheless many topics lie squarely within those themes taken up in the comparative volume, ranging from electoral politics to public opinion.
To understand the significant changes to Mexico's political process beginning in 1988, it is essential to lay the groundwork for the historical political patterns that led to this state of affairs, beginning with the three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule, from 1500 through 1824, through the difficulties Mexico encountered as a nation-state in the nineteenth century, as well as after the 1910 Revolution for much of the twentieth century. Consequently I asked two distinguished historians who have examined political developments from a historical perspective to provide readers with a foundation in the most important contributions to understanding the democratic heritage and democratic practices in Mexico long before the benchmark 1988 election set off other influential electoral alterations leading to an opposition party victory in 2000.
Jaime Rodríguez, who more than any other historian of the nineteenth century has attempted to bring together historians and political scientists in multiple volumes examining these transitions from Mexican and American scholarly perspectives, has pioneered a revisionist approach to illustrate the level of pluralism in Mexico at the time of independence. Even before independence, as he demonstrates, twenty-one individuals from New Spain (colonial Mexico) represented the country in the Cortes of Cadíz, a legislative body of Spaniards and New World colonists who emerged during the French invasion of Spain in the decade before independence. As Rodríguez points out, these individuals were elected in cities throughout New Spain in 1810, giving local Mexicans a definite taste for democratic electoral politics. The members of this body, in which the Mexicans played a significant leadership role, promulgated a Constitution in 1812. Rodríguez makes the stunning argument:
The Constitution of 1812, the most radical charter of the nineteenth century, abolished seigniorial institutions, the Inquisition, Indian tribute, and forced labor and asserted the state's control of the Church. It created a unitary state with equal laws for all parts of the Spanish monarchy, substantially restricted the authority of the king, and entrusted the legislature with decisive power. (p. 5) The Charter of 1812 also dramatically increased the scope of political activity by establishing representative government at three levels: the city or town with a thousand or more inhabitants (constitutional ayuntamiento), the province (provincial deputation), and the monarchy (Cortes). Political power was thus transferred from the center to localities, as large numbers of people were incorporated into the political process for the first time. When it enfranchised all adult men, except those of African ancestry, without requiring either literacy or property qualifications, the Constitution of 1812 surpassed all existing representative governments, such as Great Britain, the United States, and France, in providing political rights to the vast majority of the male population.1
From 1812 to 1813 one thousand constitutional ayuntamientos were established, and in some cases multiple elections were held. Rodríguez's larger point is that even before the country achieved its independence from Spain, thousands of Mexicans were voting for elected representatives, establishing an experience and heritage that can be linked to other forward steps in pluralism and representational democracy through years of political violence, instability, civil war, and authoritarian governance, leading into the twentieth century. He believes the importance of representative governance among many Mexicans has been undervalued in the historical analysis of the nineteenth century leading up to the 1910 Revolution.
Building on these arguments, Paul Gillingham, representing a younger generation of historians, traces representative electoral practices from 1910 to what most analysts consider the first honest democratic election after 1920, that of 1994, in which the largest percentage of voters (79 percent) in history participated. Gillingham provides a natural linkage to Rodríguez's provocative, revisionist argument by suggesting that in spite of some eighty thousand elections between 1910 and 1994, most historians and political scientists have dismissed their importance, suggesting the difficulty of evaluating their significance and arguing that fraud and an electoral monopoly made them unimportant to understanding Mexican politics. He agrees with the general wisdom about elections, if one confines electoral analysis to the prominent presidential elections of 1910, 1929, 1940, 1952, and 1988. However, Gillingham argues that we should “explore what might be called the unseen elections: the tens of thousands of other, lesser elections in which voters nevertheless participated over the course of the century.” He justifies this decision with an appropriate, rationale question: “If Mexicans voted inside an electoral monoculture of top-down imposition, why did they bother going to the polls at all?”
Gillingham proceeds to analyze the multiple techniques used in these highlighted presidential elections and the overwhelming number of votes the government reported for its presidential candidate. He follows these observations with insight and evidence as to why the “unseen” elections offer a different and influential perspective of electoral evolution. His central argument is that the application of national election behavior to all other elections, based on the premise that successive presidents were all-powerful, referred to as the “hyperpresidency,” is not historically valid, and that many recent studies of local politics strongly support (p. 6) a contrary view. Instead he suggests, “It is clear that during the 1940s the party frequently lost control of local elections; that popular protests vetoed the accession of mayors and governors, or toppled them once in power; and that key presidential policies, such as conscription and literacy campaigns, were successfully flouted or reversed by massive civil disobedience.” He traces the success of autonomous local elections and legislative elections as far back as 1912. He accurately notes that a number of regional parties survived the founding of the National Revolutionary Party in 1929 (the antecedent to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for decades), remaining influential in various states. He goes on to cite copious documents revealing numerous local elections, including primaries, in the 1940s were viewed as unpredictable and flawed. Even though PRI won most elections, as early as 1962 to 1978 the National Action Party (PAN) won 26 of the 236 leading municipios (towns similar to county seats) in Mexico.
Gillingham's evidence explains why Mexico's democratic transition is born in and evolves from the municipal level, where in a ten-year period all the opposition parties combined in the 1990s increase their governance over the populace through elections from only 10 percent to more than half of all Mexicans, an extraordinary, dramatic increase. Summing up where Mexico found itself by mid-decade, Gillingham correctly argues that the “problem was that some elections, some of the time, in some places, were competitive, far more than has been traditionally appreciated. Others, presidential elections in particular, were more ritualistic, and the more important the election the less competitive it became. Yet even hollow rituals with entirely predictable results are more than mere theater. They help generate and maintain, as Frank O’Gorman reminds us, an electoral culture. And that culture was highly salient in structuring Mexico's transition to democracy.”
In the final chapter in this section, Peter H. Smith, a trained historian who practices his craft as a political scientist, examines the Mexican democratic experience in the comparative context. He constructs a comparison examining four broad political and economic characteristics among five countries, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and Colombia. His central argument is that Mexico is not an exceptional case, which many comparative social scientists have suggested, but instead shares numerous similarities with these countries in its democratic transition process. As his analysis deepens, Smith argues that Mexico's democratic transition was a gradual, incremental, and cumulative process, and that it relied heavily on electoral change, which he correctly ties to historical patterns in the nineteenth century, linking it to Jaime Rodríguez's arguments. He also suggests that those electoral changes were initiated and were most pronounced at the local level, just as Paul Gillingham demonstrates for Mexican political development up to the 1990s. Presently he believes that Mexico is still a long way from a liberal, consolidated democracy.
Describing the importance of political parties in the Mexican polity, Smith argues that it has evolved into a three-party system during the democratic transition. The results for governance, however, have been mixed: “Predictably, the Mexican party system has produced divided governments. Presidential elections (p. 7) in Mexico are one-shot affairs, without a majority runoff, which means that the winner can take office with well under half the vote, and because of the three-party system, it has been virtually impossible for chief executives to gain majorities in either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate. This has often led to stalemate on major policy issues.” On the other hand, the legislative system and the parties that populate its seats in Congress have contributed to an increased presence of women in national political office, an argument that is developed in all of its subtleties by Victoria Rodríguez in a later section.
On its economic scorecard, Mexico, according to Smith, ranks in the middle of the four Latin American countries in yearly economic growth from 1990 to 2007. Interestingly, although Mexico's income distribution pattern is strongly skewed in favor of the highest income earners, it performed better on this measure than the other four countries. One explanation, Smith argues, is its antipoverty programs, especially Opportunidades, which has attracted the attention of the World Bank, which has held it up to other countries as an ideal model for how to address educational opportunity and the link to poverty.
One of the negative trends Smith identifies during the democratic transition is the reversal in Mexico's ranking in levels of corruption by Transparency International, falling to eighty-ninth place worldwide, below Guatemala and some of the worst African regimes. Similar to William Glade's analysis in his chapter on Mexico's economic development, Smith points to the multiple negative consequences of the deeply entrenched presence of the drug trafficking organizations. Their impact on issues of political sovereignty and national security is essential for understanding broader governance and economic development issues, as well as Mexico's bilateral relationship with the United States and, more recently, Guatemala. In response to these and other significant policy issues, Smith reports on citizen support for democracy, which is divided at best, and satisfaction with democracy, which ranks even lower. It is also worrisome that Mexican support for most institutions is low. However, Smith views the development of three clearly defined parties as one of the strengths in Mexico's evolving democracy,
Institutions as Transformational Actors
This section examines municipalities, parties, and branches of government as transformational actors in the democratic process. Which of these actors was most influential in this process, what were the linkages between and among various institutions and organizations, and what is their role in the current stage of consolidation? Andrew Selee, who explores the role and impact of municipalities in a democratic Mexico, goes well beyond the electoral influence of cities, suggesting that in recent decades municipalities have taken on a significant role in policy decisions, reflecting a decentralization of decision making from the federal and state (p. 8) to the local level: “Mexico's transition from single-party dominance to multiparty democracy drove this process of change in the role of municipalities. Municipal autonomy became, at different times, a banner for both opposition political parties that hoped to establish a political foothold in local governments, and for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which sought to deflect political contestation from national to local political arenas. As a result, the period of most intense democratic transition in the late 1990s was also the period in which municipalities underwent the greatest transformation in their institutional and financial structure.”
These important transformational alterations in the allocation of decision-making authority have produced equally dramatic deficiencies during the democratic era, notably a lack of accountability and efficiency. Selee points to many explanations for these less desirable consequences, but one issue that he, Smith, and others in this collection refer to repeatedly is the obstacle to immediate reelection. This practice prevents local leadership, as well as national legislative leadership, from developing the necessary knowledge and skills to aptly manage the business of governance. Combined with the lack of a permanent bureaucracy, these conditions hamper municipalities in their efforts to improve institutional administration.
Selee emphasizes the importance of understanding the evolution of municipal governance in the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth. He notes that a number of opposition victories since 1929 did occur at the local level, recognizing aspects of Gillingham's arguments while making the point that the federal government eventually dominated most municipalities with its purse strings, maintaining control over 80 percent of revenues.
Perhaps the most interesting insights that Selee makes and which reveal what might appear to be fascinating contradictions in the democratic evolution taking place in Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s, is that “among the most important institutional innovations pursued by both sides, for different reasons, was decentralization. Opposition political parties and civic organizations saw empowering local government as a means of expanding their presence in the political process. As they gained a foothold in local governments, opposition leaders sought to increase the functions, powers, and resources that local governments had. At the same time, leaders within the official party saw decentralization as a way of deflecting growing demands for democracy from the national to the local level and forestalling greater political change.” The incumbent PRI made a serious miscalculation in pursuing this strategy, perhaps in part relying on a false premise, reinforced by their institutional preferences and behavior, that national politics was all-encompassing.
In tracing the evolution of these decentralization patterns in Mexico during these years, Selee identifies a little known but truly significant change in the distribution of resources undertaken by President Ernesto Zedillo, the last PRI incumbent in the presidency. According to Selee, “Zedillo formulated an approach known as ‘New Federalism’ to redefine the role of all three levels of government. Within this framework, the government converted most of the budget line for Pronasol, known as Ramo (budget line) 26, into block grant transfers to state and municipal (p. 9) governments. Instead of social programs being administered by Mexico City, they would now be administered by state and municipal governments.” Again, political control over economic resources, and where that control lies, becomes the fundamental anchor for decentralization and democratic change at the local level.
The dramatic changes at the local level are reflected in the fact that by 2006, 90 percent of all municipalities had experienced a change in the party in power. It is clearly demonstrated in electoral data that most Mexicans when voting locally have used their vote as a means of evaluating performance rather than as a form of persistent partisan support. Nevertheless despite this and other significant changes that reinforce the democratic process, Selee identifies a number of patterns that reflect pragmatic behavior contrary to liberal democratic conditions, of which one of the most influential is the weak development of civic organizations at the local level and the continuation of clientelistic linkages between citizens and their governors inherited from the era of PRI dominance. He also notes the damaging consequences of organized crime on the decision-making process and the sovereignty of local governance institutions.
Few scholars have examined the process of decentralization and the inherent issues of federalism and their impact on democratization in Mexico at the state level. This is particularly the case among state legislatures, which have been ignored both as decision-making institutions and as recruitment pools for state and national politicians. Caroline Beer pioneered the focus on the impact of state legislatures during the democratic transition. In her chapter she examines governors and state legislatures, thus providing insight into the differences in the impact of democratic transition on executive and legislative institutions. Beer describes Mexico's political history as more highly centralized than its regional peers, Argentina and Brazil. The degree of centralization produced numerous consequences leading up to the beginning days of democratic transformation.
Beer presents a balanced view of the role of governors in the political process, arguing convincingly, and supported by several leading Mexican scholars, that the relationship between presidents and governors, in spite of the admitted control exercised by presidents, has been exaggerated. This is an important conclusion because it supports the argument presented by Rodríguez, Gillingham, and Selee that state and local actors played a more significant role, and operated more independently, than generally recognized. These patterns explain why democratization processes in Mexico often find their origins at the subnational level.
Beer also reveals that state legislatures, similar to their national counterparts and for similar reasons, including a lack of resources, no immediate reelection, and executive branch dominance, share many similarities with the Mexican Congress, contributing significantly to their weakness as policymaking bodies. Yet local institutions played a critical role in the democratic transition. As Beer argues, “Opposition-governed local and state governments emerged as central focal points in the struggle for democracy because they pushed for greater autonomy and democratic reform. The process of democratization was driven by the interplay between national and local movements for democracy. National forces weakened the center, while local (p. 10) movements slowly chipped away at the base of the PRI's power from the periphery. The opposition parties were major actors in this process of democratization. Up until the late 1990s, the Partido Acción Nacional employed a strategy of winning local elections, whereas the Partido de la Revolución Democrática put more effort into winning the presidency.” This argument may well explain why PAN, not PRD, created the underlying conditions and support necessary for winning the landmark 2000 presidential elections.
Beer concludes, “As opposition leaders gained control over these institutions they breathed new life into them, creating new forms of democratic practice. State governments served as training grounds for opposition leaders. Opposition mayors became opposition governors. An opposition governor became the first president to take power from the PRI in over seventy years. With multiparty democracy governors have became key power brokers in national policymaking. State legislatures have produced innovative new policies that have stimulated policy change across the country and introduced new issues into national public discourse.” Her multiple examples of these new roles suggest that analysts and social scientists alike need to direct their focus on state institutions to understand the current pattern of democratic consolidation.
Similar to Beer, Joy Langston examines the impact of state governors on recent political developments, but from an entirely different perspective: through the eyes of Mexico's long dominant incumbent party, the PRI. Unlike most scholars who focus their research on the past two decades, Langston has provided students of Mexican politics with rich insights into the PRI, which in some respects has been affected deeply by the very changes it fostered, many of them unintentionally. The PRI deserves this level of attention for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that since 2000 it has held, and continues to hold, more than half of all gubernatorial positions, which, as Langston successfully demonstrates, provides the party with an extensive regional base of supporters, far exceeding that of the other two major parties. It used this strength, and the rising influence of governors, to win back its dominant plurality in the legislative branch in 2009, and as of 2011 has taken an early lead in favored presidential candidates for the 2012 race.
Langston demonstrates the dependent relationship between PRI governors and the National Executive Committee (CEN) of the party, shedding fresh light on how one of Mexico's leading political parties has altered its organizational structure to cope with a democratic electoral setting. As she deftly suggests, “Although the growing strength of Mexican governors has been recognized, what has been somewhat overlooked is the growing ability of the CEN to act as a middleman, using its resources—candidacies and money—to become a power broker in its own right. An important aspect of the changes experienced (and caused) by the PRI during the 1990s was the 1996 electoral reform, which placed millions of assured federal pesos into the hands of the national party leaders every year in the form of public party financing.”
Langston presents another argument which I believe is essential to understanding many of the consequences of democratic governance since 2000, including (p. 11) legislative stalemates, and which also applies to both the PRD and the PAN. As she correctly concludes, “The PRI has decentralized candidate selection for some elected offices, but did not democratize it, leaving the CEN in control of most of the proportional representation (PR) slots and the single-member-district (SMD) candidacies from non-PRI states, while the governors control access to the party ballot for the SMD spots in their states.” In other words, central party organizations and governors are exercising a decisive role in selecting 40 percent (200 out of 500 seats) of Mexico's federal Congress. Not only is this process contrary to democratic expectations, but surprisingly the candidates selected for these plurinominal seats by all three major parties are quite different in composition from those who win single-member districts.
Langston goes on to examine in great detail the comparative selection processes used under PRI hegemony with those that have emerged during the democratic era. She provides original data since 1995 on the democratic characteristics of the gubernatorial selection process in PRI-controlled states compared to those controlled by other parties, and discovers that “in those states without a PRI governor, the party is more willing to use either a primary or a fair convention of delegates: 58 percent of the selections were competitive in opposition states versus 48 percent in PRI-governed states. In opposition states, the CEN uses competitive selection methods 58 percent of the time and imposes a candidate in only 42 percent of the cases.” These figures suggest the importance of a competitive state arena in determining candidate selection processes. Langston's research strongly supports her conclusion that “the CEN of the PRI (and the other parties as well) controls resources that enable its leader to restrain some of the power of copartisan state executives.”
Langston is describing a party that began a strong comeback in 2009 from its distant third-place finish in the 2006 presidential race. In contrast, Kathleen Bruhn examines the role of the Party of the Democratic Revolution and the Left in the transition, and its significant decline since 2006, after nearly winning the election. She provides an insightful analysis of the evolution of the PRD, and an equally perceptive yet lesser known perspective on the Left, and how the amalgam of leftist parties during the 1980s and 1990s increasingly moved to the ideological center. In analyzing the outcome of the fraudulent 1988 election, she explains how the PRI skillfully favored the interests of PAN as a counterpoint to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and the Left. Nevertheless, although PAN was the primary beneficiary of the changes in 1994, increased electoral democracy favoring all political parties was the long-term consequence: “Thus the emergence of a strong partisan Left played a vital part in prizing open the PRI's hold on the mechanisms of the electoral system. After the public debacle of the 1988 election, and facing a serious legitimacy crisis, Salinas badly needed to convince people that the PRI was still a legitimate majority party. By adopting reforms to make elections more credible, the ruling party gradually diminished its own ability to repeat the fraud of 1988.”
One of the serious internal problems the PRD faced, according to Bruhn, was its willingness to openly recruit former members of other parties, particularly those from PRI, many of whom were practitioners of the corrupt practices pursued by (p. 12) their former party. Because the various factions within the PRD relied too heavily on Cárdenas to solve their internal disputes, the party remained institutionally weak and fractured. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who succeeded Cárdenas as the dominant party leader and then presidential candidate in 2006, reinforced these divisions and the lack of institutionalization by his unwillingness to recognize the victory of his opponent. His intransigence quickly damaged the party's reputation and reduced its supporters to a small minority of citizens, a pattern Bruhn carefully documents in her essay. She argues that the party's reliance on a charismatic leader explains its rapid decline. She also credits a broader characteristic for the PRD's limited success, noting, “One must also look at the potential mismatch between the Mexican electorate and the PRD's ideological profile. Mexican voters, in most polls, place themselves to the right of center.” In the final analysis Bruhn believes Mexico needs a functioning party on the Left to retain a stable democracy, and concludes, “The PRD has played an important role in the democratization of Mexico. It has the potential to contribute further to the health of Mexican democracy if it can transform itself into a more consistent and institutionalized voice for those left out by market reforms. However, if its current trajectory holds true, it will remain an inconsistently democratic, frequently dysfunctional, but critically important piece of the Mexican political system.”
The incumbent party, PAN, and the longest lived opponent of PRI, has followed a significantly different trajectory in its battles for electoral democracy since the 1940s. Steve Wuhs lays the critically important groundwork for its evolution by describing the preeminent features of PRI and its electoral monopoly, features that in numerous respects structured the characteristics of all opposition parties, but especially PAN, given its longevity. One of the most unique features of PAN is its development of an internal, democratic party structure and institutionalized processes for selecting its candidates for office, including the presidency. At the same time, it pursued a recruitment strategy entirely different from the PRD's, limiting militant membership severely in an attempt to maintain a strong, ideologically cohesive party. A serious consequence of this strategy, according to Wuhs, is that the party did not collaborate with civic organizations, believing such linkages were inappropriate.
Wuhs analyzes the two presidential elections, 2000 and 2006, that brought PAN into power, as well as the problems that both Vicente Fox and his successor, Felipe Calderón, have encountered in governance. Most interestingly, however, he uses the 2009 congressional elections as a case study for understanding the performance of PAN and how the electorate viewed the party then and potentially into the future, as we approach the 2012 presidential election. In a statistical analysis of election results, he finds that “at the very least there are panista districts out there, though it does not account for their origin.” He argues further that his findings “may also suggest that the PAN is indeed using its control of state power and resources to prolong its stay in power at the local level.” Perhaps the most interesting and unusual finding in his analysis, however, which again raises the impact of the drug war's violence on numerous political trends in Mexico, is that “districts in growing states (p. 13) were less likely to support the PAN in 2009. Confounding as these findings are, they are likely a function of the drug war, whereby factors that normally would have supported incumbents were trumped by violence associated with the drug war. The 2009 outcome is thus consistent with stability, but in that moment Mexican voters were likely more concerned about overall political stability than the economy,” a question that William Glade examines in great detail in his chapter.
The role of the three leading parties in Mexico's democratic evolution is essential in understanding how those patterns occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. It is equally important to examine critical institutions that have provided the legal reforms that promoted electoral competition and reinforced Mexico's movement toward a consolidated democratic model. Two of those institutions are the judicial system and the legislative branch of government. Todd Eisenstadt, one of the few scholars who has examined the rule of law and judicial institutions in Mexico, and Jennifer Yelle offer fascinating insights into these neglected topics, with a special focus on judicial electoral institutions, which have exercised a critical role in the transition and in legitimizing Mexico's democratic model since 2000. In providing a comprehensive historical setting for understanding the weakness of judicial institutions, Eisenstadt and Yelle document the repeated use of negotiated settlements of election disputes rather than relying on established judicial institutions to review and rule on such conflicts. As they point out, “At a time when electoral courts were still widely viewed with suspicion, informal agreements provided politicians with temporary solutions, flexible enough to accommodate national and local circumstances. More than a thousand postelectoral conflicts occurred between 1989 and 2000, although they have diminished markedly in the twenty-first century.”
In their analysis they pay close attention to the 2006 presidential election, whose results were aggressively disputed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They note, “The electoral court did re-count some 9 percent of the ballot boxes by a previously codified standard of ‘evident arithmetic errors,’ annulling nearly 235,000 votes. The recounts revealed no widespread pattern of electoral fraud that was deliberate and ‘determinant’ in the outcome.” Whereas Eisenstadt and Yelle give favorable marks to the Federal Electoral Court, they point to numerous weaknesses of the Supreme Court, especially in relation to repeated human rights abuses that rarely have led to any prosecutions, using the local conflict in Oaxaca in 2006–7 and the subsequent repression as a case in point.
On the other hand, they identify important changes in the court's independence, beginning with the reforms introduce by President Zedillo. Citing another study, they demonstrate that the “probability of the court's ruling against the PRI increased from 4 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 1997 (the year the PRI lost the absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies for the first time ever) to 52 percent in 2000.” They also confirm that other scholars have demonstrated empirically that in the cases the Supreme Court has reviewed since 2000 it has ignored those issues that are the most significant. They also reveal that an examination of compliance to court decisions clearly appears to depend on the relevant actors. Finally, Eisenstadt and Yelle cite numerous recent public opinion surveys that reflect the level of citizen (p. 14) confidence in the judiciary and the significant variations in citizen opinions based on whether or not they have had actual experiences in the judicial process. Citizen views and scholarly analysis suggest that to date the Supreme Court has a mixed record of success.
Whereas the judicial branch has always been viewed by scholars as the weakest of the three branches, the legislative branch has played a fundamental role in the democratic transition, as important as the dismantling of the dominant party's seven-decade monopoly and the decentralization of presidential power. Benito Nacif, one of the first scholars to recognize and analyze the importance of the legislative branch, offers the central argument that the democratic transition produced a divided Congress, resulting in the autonomy of this body from the executive branch. Compared to other major Latin American countries, the Mexican presidency, constitutionally speaking, was relatively weak. It gained power through other features of the Mexican model, most notably the PRI's hegemonic control.
One of the most significant changes Nacif identifies in both houses of the Congress is the increased role that the incumbent party in the executive branch has played in initiating new legislation, rather than just passing legislation introduced by the executive branch, a long-standing pattern. After examining the Mexican case comparatively through other legislative models, Nacif concludes, “With the coming of divided government, this metaconstitutional practice ceased to exist. The dispersion of power that the process of democratization ensured put an end to the dominant presidency. The contribution of the executive-initiated bills to the total volume of legislation has diminished substantially. At the same time, the parliamentary groups of the political parties represented in the Congress have come to the fore. In fact, with divided government opposition parties have become the main source of legislative change.”
Mexico's democratic transition and its attempt to consolidate its electoral competition into a functioning democracy have led to changes in four important groups: the armed forces, big business, organized labor, and the national political elite. Jordi Díez, one of only a handful of scholars who studies the Mexican military, makes the general argument that democratic transition and consolidation both have led to changes in the civil-military relationship. He provides a lengthy analysis of the evolution of this relationship prior to the 1990s, identifying a number of important features that explain the stability of the relationship in Mexico as well as those characteristics that have contributed to armed forces autonomy from civilian intervention.
Based on his own original research, Díez provides examples of the changing attitudes of the legislative branch, as well as the PRD, in implementing greater (p. 15) accountability between the leadership of the army and navy and Congress. He also correctly suggests the importance of the new Transparency Law in 2003 in forcing the two cabinet agencies representing the armed forces to release information previously closed to outside examination, ranging from desertion rates to active duty military on assignment in civilian public security positions at the local, state, and national levels. Despite important changes, Díez argues, certain areas of autonomous behavior remain largely untouched. One of those patterns continued from the past is the lack of civilian oversight of internal budget expenditures versus their control of overall federal funds assigned to the armed forces. A second area, and much more controversial, provoking extensive criticism of the Calderón administration in Mexico and in the United States, focuses on dramatic increases in alleged human rights abuses by the military since 2006, most of which remain unprosecuted. As Díez points out, the major reason that these human rights abuses have not been investigated and prosecuted is that the armed forces have not undergone internal reforms, including in the military legal system, a subject Mariclaire Acosta examines in great detail in her chapter.
Díez's overall assessment of the civil-military relationship is that Mexico fails to meet the test of democratic control: “Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the fact that the country does not yet have a unified commanding structure for the armed forces headed by a civilian minister of defense and that there is an almost complete absence of civilians in the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Navy.” Díez devotes much of his chapter to analyzing the impact of the military's new antidrug missions, given Calderón's aggressive, mobile strategy. He expresses concern that the depth of this assignment, and therefore its increasing impact on national security policymaking and receipt of increased financial resources, appears to have politicized some leading officers as well as securing their immunity from human rights prosecution.
Unquestionably, the most influential nongovernmental actor in Mexico has been the business community, especially those businessmen who control the majority of the country's leading firms. Strom Thacker, who has studied both small and large business communities, explores the interactions between capitalists, economic competition, and democracy. The lack of economic competition in Mexico is a central issue raised by members of Congress, who view increased competition as essential to achieving greater economic growth and cheaper products and services. One of Thacker's most significant findings is that “the distribution of the gains from economic reforms has largely paralleled the political coalitions that brought them to fruition: large firms with access to power have reaped a disproportionate share of the benefits of reforms… Big business has been able to preserve and even extend its political influence to capture more rents since the transition to democracy.”
Thacker also raises numerous relevant questions about the role of business in the democratic transition; he argues that, like so many other organizations that underwent change in the 1980s and 1990s, this was the case for business as well. In addition to contributing to the political transformation, some of the changes it underwent were a product of electoral democracy. As is true of other actors (p. 16) and institutions, he finds, business has both sustained continuity and undergone change.
One of the most dramatic changes is the private sector's willingness to invest in party politics, supporting parties and candidates of their choice and increasingly becoming successful candidates themselves, especially from the PAN, followed by significant numbers from the PRI. Thacker argues that “business and other financing of political campaigns merits closer scrutiny going forward,” as businessmen participated indirectly but also intensely in local and national campaigns, especially in 2000. He also supports the view that the business community is in an advantageous position to lobby Congress given their resources and the weak staff structure among nonrepeating officeholders. Thus, although consolidating democracy has introduced additional changes that affect the private sector, “through the use of concentrated market power, legal maneuvering, political participation and access, and effective deployment of its material resources, big business has succeeded in protecting itself from democratic incursions while maximizing its own freedom to maneuver.”
In all capitalist economies, governments mediate between labor and the private sector. Mexico is no exception, but until 2000 the vast majority of organized labor was inextricably tied to the government and to PRI. Graciela Bensusán and Kevin J. Middlebrook, who have followed organized labor for many years, argue that by the 1990s unions “were distinguished by their relative autonomy from the state, their effectiveness in negotiating with employers to secure favorable contract terms, their comparatively strong commitment to internal democracy and meaningful ties between union leaders and their members, and, in some instances, their willingness to mobilize against employers and the government.” They provide empirical evidence from electoral politics to demonstrate how democratization significantly curtailed the influence of the Confederation of Mexican Labor over candidate selection within the PRI. In the current session of the Chamber of Deputies (2009–12) organized labor accounts for only one out of every fourteen members. Interestingly, in the 2000 presidential election union-affiliated voters still voted in larger percentages for PRI, but by the 2006 race two-thirds of the union voters split between Calderón and López Obrador, with Calderón actually receiving a slightly higher percentage of support.
Bensusán and Middlebrook develop the argument that economic restructuring and the neoliberal economic changes introduced in the 1980s and 1990s adversely affected organized labor, reducing its overall political and policy influence, but what is surprising in their analysis of labor is the much lesser impact of democratization in altering state-labor relations. They use several detailed case studies to demonstrate that in many respects the leadership after 2000 used approaches developed by their nondemocratic predecessors in interacting with organized labor.
As I argue in my own chapter, national politicians themselves were subject to democratic changes, and naturally were responsible for those changes. When the composition of national leadership is broken down into three periods, the pre-democratic era from 1935 to 1988, the democratic transition period from 1988 to (p. 17) 2000, and the democratic consolidation period since 2000, dozens of fascinating patterns emerge, some of which began in the nondemocratic era, many of which emerge during the democratic transition, and others that reflect the possible new patterns of leadership projecting into the future.
Three broad conclusions out of many deserve mention: First, even while Mexico remained a semi-authoritarian political model a number of these changes and trends were well under way. Second, many patterns of political behavior among politicians are determined by informal rather than institutional or structural influences and therefore are much more impervious to change and more difficult to ascertain. Third, informal characteristics can have a significant impact on institutional patterns of behavior or internal processes, but both institutional and informal characteristics produced a decisive impact on the democratic transition and Mexican leadership.
One of the major findings I highlight in my chapter is the rise of women political figures, which also corresponds with the democratic transition and the post-2000 period. Not only has women's presence in national politics increased, but equally important, other than gender alone, they introduced diversity within the national political leadership, regardless of party, which ranges from their educational backgrounds to their far different career experience in Mexican politics, including careers in the state legislature and in Congress. A complementary pattern, also corresponding to democratic change, is the rise in importance of governors, as Langston demonstrates in her chapter. But these new governors, especially since 2000, are a product of an entirely different career emphasis, reflecting the changes that democracy has wrought in its candidates. Within a short period, more than half of all recent governors count having been a mayor in their backgrounds, and two out of five served in their state legislature, suggesting just how important grassroots politics have become since the democratic transition. Perhaps the most unique conclusion that can be reached about national politicians is that the changes in their composition from 2000 to 2009, introduced by peaceful change (democratic electoral change), have been as broad and deep, involving different characteristics, as those introduced by violent change from 1910 to 1920 for those in national positions from 1920 to 1928.
Much of the democratic literature incorporates an independent media in their conceptualization of a functioning democracy. Sallie Hughes explores the professionalization and role of the media in bringing about the democratic transition, as well as its contributions to consolidating the democratic model. In her detailed exploration of the evolution of the media in the pre-democratic period, incorporating numerous interviews with journalists, she determines that most journalists identify themselves with the civic opening in the 1990s. Since 2000 the media, she (p. 18) discovered, is viewed in different ways by society and political actors. Politicians believed that media exercised too much power in influencing the public's view of specific candidates. After the 2006 elections, Hughes reports, members of Congress hoped to reform legislation regarding political advertising. She argues that the concentration of broadcasting ownership in Mexico has serious potential consequences: “Media owners can systematically silence topics and voices that do not serve their interests or that fall outside of their worldview. Broadcast ownership concentration also means that assertiveness in reporting about public affairs will respond to a company's corporate interests rather than those of the public.”
Hughes addresses a recent phenomenon having a serious impact on media freedom: the insidious influence of drug cartels on the investigative capacity of television and print media to write about their ties to corrupt politicians and the police and military; in particular she notes the deaths of forty-six journalists in 2000–2009. All aspects of media's contribution to democratic development, ranging from how issues are framed to the diversity of ideas presented, affect Mexico's ability to consolidate its democratic process and the way citizens participate. Hughes presents overwhelming evidence that the media has not yet fulfilled its democratic potential.
As the media began to exercise increased civic responsibilities in the 1980s, citizens joined and formed nongovernmental organizations to influence the direction of Mexican politics. Shannan Mattiace explores the importance of social movements, including contributions from Indigenous communities, based on her research of five of the most influential movements since 1985. Overall, she argues, “beginning in the mid-1980s, the number of social movement organizations independent of the PRI increased significantly in virtually every social sphere and around dozens of different interests, such as the environment, housing, antipoverty, indigenous rights, consumer and producer debt, land reform, development, gay rights, and women's rights.”
After examining each of these movements Mattiace reaches several significant, broad conclusions. First, although social movements have declined in intensity and quantity since 2000 as political parties have absorbed some of their responsibilities, they remain active and involved in many civic sectors, such as continued control by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation of some communities in Chiapas. Second, electoral competition can also produce a contrary pattern, which she found to be true in Mexico, where movements are strengthened by greater freedom of action and emerge in response to local versus national alterations in the distribution of political power. Third, Mattiace presents a convincing argument that one should not ignore the moral and expressive dimensions of democracy, and that “social movements are well-suited to creating and fostering a sense of community among their members; indeed community building is often a central goal.”
One of the catalysts among many social movements in Mexico is human rights abuses. Human rights organizations have played a central role in the democratic transition, and Mariclaire Acosta, who was an active participant in that process, argues that it is essential to keep in mind that Mexico's nonviolent transition to democracy affects the role of these and other institutions: “Democracy brought about some (p. 19) significant changes and created a more favorable climate for human rights, while simultaneously posing great challenges to the human rights movement.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the human rights organization today in Mexico is the allegation of human rights abuses produced by the Calderón administration's war against drugs. Allegations against the armed forces alone have increased dramatically since 2006. Most of these allegations have not produced prosecutions or convictions. As Acosta argues, the extent of these abuses, and the unwillingness of the government to take these allegations seriously, has led to widespread international attention and condemnation from the United Nations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Ironically, Acosta concludes, “whistleblowers and human rights defenders in many areas of the country are still at very serious risk, perhaps even more than before. In fact, several of them have actually lost their lives.” One of the fundamental issues that remains unaddressed is the military's immunity from civil prosecution.
Acosta describes many state representatives to the government's human rights organization as highly politicized, often representing the interests of local elites rather than their constituencies as a whole. She argues correctly (see Shirk's chapter for an extensive commentary) that for the human rights organizations to be effective, the Mexican judiciary needs to undergo serious reforms. She also notes that most allegations are formally filed by NGOs representing individual victims. Among her conclusions, Acosta views human rights organizations as having achieved only an incrementally improved position in an electoral democracy and finds that “the legacy of Mexico's authoritarian past is very much present, not only in political and social institutions, but also in people's hearts and minds. Civil society organizations are not immune to this authoritarian legacy.”
Within Mexican political leadership and as leaders and participants in social movements, women have reached new levels, and therefore deserve attention as an important new actor on Mexico's democratic stage. The scholar who has most analyzed women in Mexican politics on either side of the border is Victoria Rodríguez, who assesses new patterns in national politics since 2000. In her analysis of the three branches of government Rodríguez demonstrates that women have been most successful in the legislative branch. Yet a quota law that called for women to be candidates for 30 percent of the congressional seats, which went into effect shortly after Vicente Fox took office, has been terribly abused by party leadership. In the 2009 congressional elections, fifteen victorious candidates for plurinominal seats other than PRD resigned their positions, to be replaced by husbands, relatives, and even boyfriends who were elected as their alternates, thus reducing their percentages in Congress and defying the purpose of the law.
In the executive branch, women's presence is much lower. Indeed little progress has been made since the 1980s. Rodríguez specifically underscores the inability of women to be elected to executive positions and the local, state, and national levels. She points out that while more women have become mayors, typically they win elections in smaller, less influential communities. Only a handful of women have achieved the governorship, and as Camp and Langston argue in their chapters, this position has become much more influential since 2000 and has become critical to (p. 20) politicians harboring presidential ambitions. While Chile, Argentina, and Brazil have elected a female president, as Rodríguez points out, women have not even become candidates of any major party. Her overall conclusion is not optimistic about women increasing their political presence or influence in the immediate future.
The other new actors evaluated in this section existed for some time prior to 2000. But an actor that would not have even been considered as belonging in this category is drug cartels, or what John Bailey refers to as drug trafficking organizations. As Glade, Smith, Acosta, Díez, Hughes, and Wuhs argue, in so many ways drug traffickers are influencing political behavior and potentially democracy's survival in Mexico. Bailey provides an analysis of the organization itself and the multiplicity of political consequences it has generated for a democratic society. As he convincingly argues, the inability of the three leading political parties to agree on an overall drug-fighting strategy has led to the most serious threat to democratic governance: “whether the government can deliver minimally acceptable public safety throughout the national territory.” According to Bailey, “Mexico in the early twenty-first century is mired in a ‘security trap,’ a low-equilibrium situation of relatively high levels of crime, violence, and corruption in which government and civil society are unable to generate sufficient corrective measures over a long enough period of time to shift toward a higher equilibrium.”
Bailey collects detailed evidence to support his fundamental argument that it isn’t the level of crime that is disastrous for Mexico's democratic future, but rather the violent nature of the crimes and the systemic infiltration of drug-related corruption in all institutional aspects of public agencies. As he notes, “When we compare Mexico with other Latin American countries, what stands out is its relatively low level of voluntary compliance with the law and high level of distrust of the police.” Even more discouraging is the fact that “even if some drugs are decriminalized, as advocated by many, criminal organizations have diversified significantly and would focus on other illicit activities.” Among the potentially compromised institutions Bailey examines are the army, police, public prosecutors, political candidates, city officials, and, most unsettling, terrorist organizations. Bailey also considers the direct impact of drug sales and employment on Mexico's informal economy, as does William Glade in his chapter. Overall he is concerned about Mexico's future, arguing in conclusion that if loyalty to the state is weak, or if government is seen as unresponsive or inefficacious, leaving Mexico will be viewed as a more reasonable option.
Electoral Politics and the Changing Political Landscape
Mexico's incremental shift to a democratic model has occurred largely in the electoral arena. What changed in this process to introduce truly competitive elections? In his chapter, James McCann provides a broad overview of the democratic (p. 21) electoral transition, noting that at the beginning of the decade in which this transition began a minuscule 4 percent of Mexicans expressed great interest in politics. But from 1958 to 2009 the percentage of Mexicans who paid no attention to national political campaigns dropped from 45 to only 13 percent. As McCann discovers from his analysis of numerous polls containing information about the electoral process, by 2000 large numbers of Mexicans wanted to have an opportunity to choose their party's candidate and to expand the boundaries of the electorate to those living abroad. He also reveals a counterintuitive finding, that “between 1964 and 1982 the turnout rate averaged 61 percent. Leaving out the somewhat anomalous case of 1988, turnout averaged 63 percent between 1994 and 2006, a relatively small gain when put alongside the changes in public attitudes toward campaigns and elections since the 1950s.” One explanation is the extent of fraud in the earlier period, resulting in inaccurate totals. Another is the level of mobilization engaged in by PRI.
One of the dramatic changes in electoral politics in the past two decades that McCann emphasizes is the judicial oversight exercised by electoral institutions. He also expresses doubts about the potential enforcement and impact of the 2007 campaign reforms, including granting political parties free airtime during campaigns, limiting presidential communication and activities during the election, and requiring greater transparency in partisan fundraising. “Electoral authorities will also monitor campaign advertising and speeches, punishing candidates and parties that ‘denigrate’ or ‘slander’ opponents.” Yet in contrast to the previous era, there is little doubt in McCann's mind that large numbers of Mexicans actually are interested in and participate in national elections and are committed to mass-based democratic politics.
Whereas McCann examines the larger picture of electoral politics, Jon Hiskey explores the importance of local electoral politics, a theme developed by Paul Gillingham historically, and a geographic focus that I believe played a central role in Mexico's democratic evolution. As Hiskey accurately points out, “Research also revealed to observers of Mexico during this period [the transition years] how fiercely local and state-level agents of the PRI would fight to protect the status quo. Indeed it was this striking disconnect between the advances in local democracy in some areas of the country and the heightened repression occurring in other parts that this research brought most clearly to the surface.” Hiskey commends Mexican scholars in particular for focusing on the local patterns while most analysts were examining national electoral changes. He argues convincingly that local patterns were providing an accurate and predictive road map of what was to come politically.
In exploring the relationship between government development policies and electoral politics, Hiskey argues that most studies failed to examine the potential for these programs to backfire on the PRI-controlled federal government, stimulating opposition rather than support. As he points out, under both Zedillo and Fox, more specific antipoverty programs were successful in reducing the level of Mexican poverty and produced significant electoral support for presidential candidates representing the incumbent party. One of the most interesting findings of (p. 22) Hiskey and others, including Beer and Selee, is that the decentralization of decision making and electoral competition at the local level alters voters’ views of national politics, and can either exacerbate or reduce social and economic divisions at the local and regional levels.
Jorge I. Domínguez and Chappell Lawson have dramatically increased our knowledge of voter behavior in national elections through their creative survey research projects focused on the 2000 and 2006 presidential races. Many of the contributors to this volume participated in these two projects, which were funded by the National Science Foundation. Domínguez uses some of the original findings from these and other studies to identify significant patterns in voter behavior in these races. He identifies numerous variables that impacted both of these elections. One of the most important, which produced multiple consequences extending well beyond the electoral playing field itself, was the 1996 electoral reform, which altered political party funding and increased the independence of Mexico's electoral agency, the Federal Electoral Institute. Domínguez carefully explains why PRI introduced these changes when intuitively one would have thought that they would lead to the party's own decline. Domínguez clearly and painstakingly describes the pre-democratic setting, from all relevant directions, for understanding these two presidential races.
In his analysis of the actual elections, Domínguez argues that the candidates themselves, rather than their parties, become decisive in determining the electoral outcome. He introduces the little known fact that in the 2006 elections, compared to PAN's negative advertising campaign focused on López Obrador, the PRD candidate, PRD senators and deputies used far more negative advertising than the other two parties for their races, which ultimately backfired on them. The broadest conclusion Domínguez reaches in his analysis of the two presidential campaigns is that the winning candidate was not in the lead at the beginning of the race, and therefore the campaigns themselves proved decisive in both Fox's and Calderón's victory, despite the fact that partisan support became more substantial in the past decade. Most important, he suggests, was the role of the media and the debates in enhancing the image of the two winning candidates, and the ability of candidates to learn from and alter their campaign strategies as the race unfolded.
Demographics and Political Attitudes
No scholar has devoted more of his career to understanding voter behavior and the demographic variables that influence that behavior than Alejandro Moreno, a political scientist and pollster for Reforma, a leading daily in Mexico. Not surprisingly, therefore, he views the Mexican voter as the central protagonist in Mexican democratization, and in his chapter attempts to define who this individual is. Among the many variables Moreno identifies as characteristic of individual voters, he suggests (p. 23) that partisanship on an individual level is stable, but that during presidential campaigns, for example, partisan voters can become attracted to other candidates, again suggesting the importance of the campaign itself. Perhaps even more important, Moreno shows that chronologically, the number of independent voters, who account for more than a third of all Mexican voters, has increased in the past thirteen years, indicating the decisive importance they can exert in electoral outcomes. Whether this pattern will continue, however, remains to be seen.
In underlining the importance of local variables, comparable to several of the other chapters in this volume, Moreno concludes that although one can view Mexico's political arena as a three- or possibly a two-party system nationally, at the local or regional level the party combinations vary considerably from one locale to the next. Moreno believes the differences in social, economic, and political development at the local level needs to be much better understood in order to interpret their impact on voting behavior, especially when voters are electing local officials such as mayors and governors. He concludes that “generally the Mexican voter is convinced that, despite many years of not counting, his vote now counts, especially in national elections, and that electoral processes can be considered free and fair. Nonetheless suspicion and distrust of political parties is widespread.”
One of the most influential variables in Mexican politics is regionalism, historically and in the present. Joseph L. Klesner, who for more than two decades has analyzed voter behavior, focuses specifically on this demographic variable, which proved to be crucial in the 2006 presidential race: “Whether region operates as an independent factor explaining Mexican voting behavior, or whether…regionalism…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 2006 election results reflect a resurgence of regionally based partisanship, what about those regions that have encouraged the political parties to capitalize on the parochialism of some character?”
Klesner analyzes numerous studies, including his own pioneering work since the 1980s, to convincingly demonstrate that “controlling for other explanatory factors…does not eliminate the power of region to predict voting outcomes.” In further analyzing explanatory variables that enhance regionalism's influence, he finds that differences in political values are not significant, that economic explanations are insufficient, and that economic differences alone do not explain the success of certain parties. Instead he emphasizes the need to better understand another argument offered by his sources: “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.” He also believes that parties with advantages in certain locales are likely to continue having those advantages for some time.
Pablo Parás and Miguel Basáñez are two of Mexico's leading public opinion pollsters. In their essay they provide a scholarly and personal look at the history of polling in Mexico, and how survey research itself influenced the democratic transition. They report Basáñez's personal experience in repeated attempts to (p. 24) conduct a national poll during the controversial 1988 presidential election, and the government's efforts to censor independent pollsters. As they point out, the publication of Basáñez's and other leading firms’ polls, and the discussion it provoked in the media, introduced a new era of public interest in polling and their results. They argue that in the transitional period, 1994 to 2000, independent polls were critical in demonstrating that opposition candidates, in this case governors, were leading the PRI candidate in preelection surveys, thus generating greater interest in electoral participation and in casting one's vote for an opposition candidate. Pollsters introduced accountability to electoral institutions, making it much more difficult to commit fraud and post results that differed significantly from the pre-electoral polls and ultimately the exit polls.
A second phase of polling as a contributor to democracy has been as a tool for informing Mexicans about many aspects of how citizens view numerous policy issues and their general level of knowledge about various topics. They argue that this more recent phase goes beyond electoral education to play a role in civic education generally. In spite of their view that Mexico developed its polling capabilities in one short decade after being inhibited by PRI control for the second half of the twentieth century, they argue provocatively that “practically 100 percent of survey research depends on private firms; there aren’t any university centers that study and produce data, something very common in North America and Europe; polling firms with clear commercial interests provide most media surveys. It is in this sense, in the control of production of data and the influence of the agenda, that we believe that pollsters have too much power.”
Politics and Policy Issues
In the public's mind, and that of Mexican politicians, no issue or its solution is more important in this decade than the country's national security, specifically the level of drug-related violence and how to defeat the drug cartels. David Shirk carefully wends his way through numerous interrelated aspects of this topic, describing the degree to which Mexico's very own state sovereignty is under siege. One of the important linkages that Shirk draws in his chapter, and which is tied significantly to the essays by William P. Glade and Mark Williams in this section, is what he labels “the political economy of insecurity.” Mexico's poverty and economic inequality should be viewed as the most important underlying security issue. As he points out, there may be as many as 450,000 Mexicans employed by the cartels.
In addition to the economic variables that are intertwined with the extent of the drug cartels’ penetration into Mexican society, Shirk appropriately focuses on democratic change and the “unrule” of law, a subject he has explored extensively in his own work. As he argues, “With regard to organized crime…Mexico's gradual democratization disrupted a once stable and predictable system of official corruption (p. 25) that operated at disturbingly high levels. The nature of institutional arrangements can have a significant effect on the structure of organized crime, since such groups depend critically on their ability to corrupt state actors in order to function.” He explores fully the numerous weaknesses found in the judicial process and provides alternate scenarios Mexico might pursue in the future. But he believes strongly that a more successful option is “for Mexico to make real progress in improving domestic law enforcement, and to seriously undermine the threat posed by transnational organized crime groups through effective cooperation with the United States.”
William Glade, who helped to pioneer American scholarship on Mexico's economy, offers a unique portrait of Mexico's current economic situation, in which the economic impact of drug cartels becomes a central focus of his analysis. Glade, who sees drug cartels as an industrial success story, suggests that ingrained corruption has propelled this industry and been a major cost to Mexico's economic development. In his truly original and imaginative economic analysis of the drug cartels, he incorporates every aspect covered in the chapters by Shirk and Bailey, but with an economic twist to it. He argues, for example, that “whatever doubts scholars of international business once entertained about entrepreneurial capacity in less developed economies, the skill of Mexican entrepreneurs in building organizational capacity in the far-flung multiproduct firms associated with narcotrafficking has been impressive by any standard of reckoning.” At the same time, he emphasizes the significant growth in the number of legal exports and the level of diversity achieved by Mexico, placing it first in the region among the major economies in breadth of exports, relying very little on commodities.
Glade points to numerous social costs of violence and criminality, one of which is the increase in legal migration of higher income Mexicans to the United States, whose children increasingly are more likely to remain abroad. He cites a study of the Inter-American Development Bank in the late 1990s, long before the level of violence reached its current peak, which estimated that it was costing the region as a whole 14 percent of its GDP. Glade views many aspects of Mexico's integration into the global economy as having produced significant changes in industrial sophistication and the differentiation in a multiplicity of products, citing Mexico's book fair as an example of a growing publishing sector. Despite these and other important changes, growth in Mexico has lagged behind other countries, including Chile, as noted by Peter Smith in his essay, and equally important, Mexico has not kept pace with Chile in reducing poverty and redistributing wealth. Glade identifies other serious obstacles to economic growth, including low levels of productivity and competition, concluding that Mexican leadership must introduce major reforms for the country to achieve significant growth and compete in the global market.
To understand where Mexico is today economically, it is essential to have a grasp on how and why its political leaders opened up the country to a neoliberal economic strategy after pursuing a protectionist course for many decades. Mark Williams carefully takes us through a clear chronology of the decisions since the early 1950s, and especially since the 1980s, which explains how Mexico arrived at its current economic state. As he suggests, “By any measure, the Salinas era represents (p. 26) the high-water mark of Mexico's neoliberal embrace. Subsequent governments led by Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000), Vicente Fox (2000–2006), and Felipe Calderón (2006–2012) retained fidelity to market reforms, but compared to the Salinas administration their capacity to formulate new liberal policies and implement them successfully was quite diminished.” Throughout his analysis he provides numerous insightful examples of comparative cases of economic opening, explaining in lucid fashion the resistance of many political actors to implementing reforms in the face of traditional institutional structures. He demonstrates how President Salinas used Pronasol, a social development program, to counterbalance the economic and political costs of liberalization.
Williams convincingly argues, as do other analysts, that the architects of the neoliberal strategy unintentionally contributed to the democratic transition. He uses the example of a media opening as the result of privatization, which in part contributed to the success of opposition victories in the 1997 congressional elections. In spite of these contributions to Mexico's democratic developments, Williams, similar to Glade, finds the social welfare achievements of economic liberalism disappointing. Indeed he argues, “The reforms also aggravated an already unequal distribution of wealth. Mexico's rich got richer still, and between 1988 and 1994 the number of Mexican billionaires jumped from one to twenty-four, more than Britain, Italy, and France together, with a combined asset base representing 12 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product. The pattern of privatization actually helped concentrate wealth.” He too argues for major reforms in multiple sectors, and actually demonstrates that under a democratic model many of the vested interests have actually increased rather than decreased their clout.
As Shirk, Glade, and Williams demonstrate repeatedly throughout their essays, security and economic issues loom large in the Mexican-U.S. relationship, and especially so if one views Mexico's high level of poverty as a bilateral as well as a national security issue. The most durable of these economic issues, and unresolved in the first decades of this century, is immigration. Marc Rosenblum explores the persistence of this issue, noting that its political, economic, and cultural consequences can be attributed to the fact that one in ten Mexicans now lives in the United States. He outlines the lengthy history of Mexican immigration to the United States, laying the groundwork for the bilateral setting of this issue after 2000. Rosenblum posits that since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, bilateral cooperation “has generally been limited to collaborative approaches to border enforcement.”
He argues that the most important developments in relation to immigration policy have actually occurred outside of Washington, D.C., citing the controversial case of the 2010 Arizona law, requiring local police to examine immigration and identity documentation. Interestingly, as he analyzes what happens in Mexico, he finds that most of what has occurred there since the Fox administration is also happening at the local level. Calderón has been openly critical of American policies toward Mexican migrants. As Rosenblum concludes, “The history of Mexico-U.S. migration policy has been characterized far more often by unilateralism than by bilateral management of migration flows.” Given the complexity of the issues and (p. 27) the polarized political attitudes on both sides of the border, he is not optimistic about the future of comprehensive immigration reform being placed on the bilateral agenda. Of the many complicating issues, “no issues are more daunting for the prospects of migration collaboration than the bundle of challenges at the intersection of Mexico's war on drugs, criminality, and other security concerns, including terrorism.”
Drawing all of these issues together, including others that are less salient, Pamela Starr provides a cogent overview of the broader trends affecting the bilateral relationship generally. She identifies a series of “drivers” that are essential to understanding the relationship historically and in the present, including geography, the powerful position of the United States versus Mexico, and the double-edged sword of U.S.-Mexican interdependence economically and culturally, represented by the multiple consequences of NAFTA, the increasing assimilation of shared ideas, and pressure emanating from the U.S. Congress. Starr skillfully analyzes the interwoven consequences of these drivers, how they interact with each other and their impact on the relationship. She highlights the fact that “the increasingly ‘intermestic’ quality of the bilateral relationship—creating policy challenges that are at once both international and domestic—has brought into the foreign policy debate actors who have traditionally focused more on domestic matters.”
She incorporates all of these influences in analyzing individual case studies to demonstrate more specifically how they shape actual policy decisions. Among the cases she examines are the responses of the two countries to September 11 and the global economic integration signaled by NAFTA. She offers a convincing contrast to the relatively mild interest, mostly from the U.S. Congress, in Mexico's pace toward democracy, lagging well behind most countries in the region. As she correctly points out in her evaluation of President Zedillo's political reforms supportive of democracy, “While there is some disagreement over why Zedillo took this policy path—whether to strengthen his political position, to protect market reforms, or because he was a democrat at heart—there is no disagreement that the U.S. role was not significant.” The counterexample she develops is U.S. influence over Mexico's drug strategy. Her most provocative and surprising conclusion is that “with the very important exception of when the United States perceives a direct threat to its political survival originating from Mexican territory, the huge asymmetry of hard power in the relationship tends to protect Mexican autonomy rather than threaten it.”
(1.) He goes on to report, “An analysis of the 1813 election census in Mexico City, for example, concludes that 93 percent of the adult male population of the capital possessed the right to vote.”