Polls suggest that Mexico’s once dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party will again claim the presidency in July. The party’s candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, has a comfortable lead of roughly 20 percent over his closest competitors. Several hiccups and gaffs haven’t significantly damaged his reputation. A possible scandal involving his family could have a negative impact on his popularity yet however.
Last month, the candidate’s daughter took to Twitter to denounce her father’s critics as “a bunch of morons from the proletariat.” He had been made fun of on social media when he apparently failed to remember any books beyond the Bible that had shaped his thinking and couldn’t mention the prices of basic commodities like tortillas nor the country’s minimum wage.
If there is a drop in Peña’s approval rating, it will likely recover in the upcoming months as the incidents are forgotten and the elections move closer. Mass online criticism of the candidate has already winded down. So long as Peña and his family refrain from committing more public mistakes, the next polls, which will be conducted in February, could be encouraging for him.
The media exposure that Peña and his family enjoy, and have helped him propel to frontrunner status, could ultimately work against him if the people grow weary of what the French call the peoplisation of politics. President Nicolas Sarkozy and his celebrity wife Carla Bruni have avoided the spotlights in more recent years after French voters came to perceive their leader’s presence in the headlines and tabloids as unpresidential.
Peña could suffer the same fate before there are even elections, especially if Mexico’s other political parties exploit this vulnerability and manage to portray him as an unserious candidate who may seem glamorous but lacks the intellectual depth to lead.
For the conservative National Action Party to mount an effective campaign against Peña, it will soon have to nominate a candidate to succeed incumbent president Felipe Calderón. Former businesswoman Josefina Vázquez Mota is the party’s best option according the polls but it is losing precious time to challenge Peña as long as it fails to nominate her.
Another potential obstacle to PAN winning the presidency again is the socialist Party of the Democratic Revolution which may be tempted to focus its attacks on the incumbent party, thus splitting the non-PRI vote. If rather they prioritize undermining Peña’s popularity, they may regain competitiveness in the polls ahead of the vote this summer but given PDR’s history of battling the right, a coordinated anti-Peña campaign seems unlikely.