Sunday, April 29, 2012

The end of the first third

Mexico is at the end of the first third of the presidential campaign. It is time to measure what the candidates and their parties have done so far.

The worst performance of the electoral season comes from Josefina Vazquez Mota, the right-to-center candidate of the incumbent party. Her campaign has been marred since day one with the failed inauguration of her campaign at the Estadio Azul in Mexico City. Ms. Vázquez Mota campaign has been a string of errors without some counterweight suggesting that things will get better from here on. Something that would have allowed her to hint where she wanted to go was to distance herself from Fernando Larrazábal, the former mayor of Monterrey, Mexico’s third largest metropolitan area. Far from it, Ms. Vázquez Mota kept Mr. Larrázabal close during a campaign drive in Monterrey.

In doing so, she protected and endorsed Mr. Larrazábal. Keeping Larrázabal away was important for Ms. Vázquez Mota because she has been pushing to eliminate the full-blanket immunity protecting all Mexican top-level officials. Far from breaking with Larrázabal, the conservative candidate endorsed him as a candidate for the House. Moreover, Ms. Vázquez Mota has failed to understand how to operate and work around the social networks.

This was clear, for example in the episode at Tres Marias, which quickly spread through social networks, while her team tried to counter with an “old media” approach, including carefully edited videos aimed at discrediting what had been published in Twitter already. More recently, it was noteworthy how she added more than 87,000 new followers on Twitter, on a single night!  Most of these new followers, however, were newly created accounts, publishing nothing but information related to Vázquez Mota, nothing but BOTS.

The remainder of Ms. Vázquez Mota campaign has been a regrettable string of errors and mishaps coming out of her campaign manager, Roberto Gil Zuarth. The have been some snapshots of what her campaign could have been: the removal of the full-blanket immunity. These flashes, however, give no hope of a consistent performance in the immediate future.

 The PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, has hardly had a setback and, most of them do not go beyond some minor exchanges in either Twitter or Facebook. He has been severely criticized for his unwillingness to grant interviews with impartial journalists and he avoids going deep to explain some of his proposals. The only exception was the interview with Ciro Murayama for the National University TV channel.

Overall, Peña Nieto appears as an unsinkable battleship. The latest accusation seems to come out of a 1978 film by Arturo Ripstein, The Hell with No Limits, inspired by a José Donoso novel. The film broke several taboos at its time for Roberto Cobo’s performance as a transvestite. In real life, Enrique Peña is accused of having sustained a homosexual relationship with a teacher in his native State of Mexico and of ordering or consenting a severe attack on the professor, who now lives as a refugee in the U.S.

 It is not clear what will happen with this accusation, and as Guadalupe Lizárraga tells in her account of the story, several Mexican and US media dismissed the story. There is an ongoing judiciary process, but it is not clear what will come out it. What is clear is that, until now, is that the Peña Nieto battleship remains unsinkable. All the available surveys tell a story in which Peña keeps a comfortable lead and the changes happen among people who originally were on the Vázquez Mota camp now moving to Mr. López Obrador side.

Apparently, the Vázquez Mota campaign acknowledges this and that is way now she throws punches at both Peña Nieto and López Obrador. Peña is sticking to his “I will not divide Mexico” plea and there seems to be little or no reason for him to change. However, despite all this advantages the PRI campaign also has trouble figuring out how to behave in the social networks.

It is possible to see among Mr. Peña Nieto supporters a certain attempt at crushing their opponents. One possible reason for this is the PRI interest in winning both the presidential and the congress elections, by locking at least the 42.2% of the congressional votes. However, even if this is the case, it hard to understand why the PRI is acting the way they do.

The most pessimistic available estimates give the PRI-Greens coalition 266 out of 500 seats in the House. The most optimistic scenario gives them up to 303 seats in the House. In any of both scenarios, the PRI-Greens coalition will have enough votes to pass any bill, provided it does not involve amending the Constitution, since they will also control the Senate.

Finally, Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador had a very good performance during the first month of campaigning. The most important is to eradicate the perception that Mr. López Obrador is a radical. Even the polls of the Reforma group of newspapers, that frequently punish leftist candidates, acknowledge a remarkable improvement in Mr. López Obrador performance. In the Covarrubias y Asociados poll, a pollster close to the Mexican left, he appears in a tie with Ms. Vázquez Mota.

However, there are also some problems. As with the other candidates, Lopez Obrador has troubles figuring out how to manage his presence in the social networks. If one wants to find reasons not to believe the argument of the “Republic of Love” all one needs to do is to follow some Twitter and Facebook die-hard accounts to see how they attack and insult anyone who dares to criticize their presidential candidate, revealing intolerance.

It is hard to think that a presidential candidate will get a free pass on each of their proposals. The most loyal to Mr. López Obrador would do well to acknowledge what reveals clearly. This Web site is part of an academic project to understand the role of social networks. They use the Twitter feed to provide a living picture of the campaigns in that social network. The most interesting fact is in its page “If Mexico was Twitter”, as it tells us that as far as Twitter is concerned Mr. López Obrador is king.

The Website has devised an algorithm allowing to measure actual, real, activity on Twitter, i.e. the activity resulting from discounting BOTS accounts. In doing so, Mr. López Obrador has a 40.24% of the activity, Peña Nieto has 36.08%, and Vazquez Mota gets 23.68%

These numbers obviously do not correspond to those of most of the surveys available in Mexico that place, all of them, Peña as the leader of the pack, with Vázquez Mota and López Obrador struggling for the second position. The numbers coming out of about the activity on Twitter reveal how effective has been the López Obrador campaign to attract sympathizers, but also reveals that there is a huge gap between the activity at Twitter and what happens outside of Twitter.

Internet access in Mexico, including the so-called smart phones, is heavily biased due to income. Another aspect that talks about the intolerance of some of the most faithful to AMLO can be seen in the way they whip unfavorable polls, while they happily cheer at the surveys giving an overwhelming advantage to their candidate in the Mexico City mayoral race, Mr. Miguel Mancera.

One key flaw is that none of the candidates has presented a glimpse of how they expect to have the moneys to keep their promises for better and new services. None of the candidates has told how they will fund such promises. López Obrador keeps telling that he will reduce the salaries of top officials of the executive branch, but there is no way such cuts will be enough, especially since he is promising lower prices of electricity and gasoline. Lower wages of public officials is positive, necessary and possible, but these economies are not enough to fund his proposals. All candidates must explain how they will finance their proposals.

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