(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)
Mexico has recently elected as president Governor Enrique Peña Nieto. The handsome new president won 38.2% of the vote, 6.6% over Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Peña Nieto’s vote was also 12.8% over Josefina Vázquez Mota, from the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).
Here’s what happened:
Mexico’s North-South Divide
The map above indicates the states which each candidate won during the election. There’s a fairly strong characteristic for Peña Nieto to do worse as one goes south. The southern parts of Mexico are generally poorer, and left-wing candidate López Obrador thus wins most of the southern states. The blue states are those which remained loyal to third-place Vázquez Mota of the conservative PAN. The PAN is stronger in northern Mexico; for a better look a right-wing PAN coalition, take a look at the 2006 election.
Yet there are some major exceptions to this North-South divide. Some of the poorest states in southern Mexico actually voted for Peña Nieto. These include Chiapas and Yucatán. Chiapas is famous for a 1994 uprising by indigenous Mexicans; Yucatán is famous for its Mayan culture.
In fact, López Obrador got 43.4% in Oaxaca but only 16.9% in Yucatán. Both states are poor and more populated by indigenous Mexicans, albeit culturally very different. Still, one would expect López Obrador to have run up the margins in places such as Yucatán and Chiapas.
Cities and the Countryside
On the macro-scale, Peña Nieto did better in northern Mexico. On the micro-scale, within each state, he generally did better in the countryside.
Mexico’s three largest metropolitan areas are Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.
Here’s how Peña Nieto did in Monterrey (located in the state Nuevo León).
This map paints a fairly clear picture. Peña Nieto wins the rural areas outside of the main city, whereas Vázquez Mota sweeps the city itself.
Monterrey is located in northern Mexico, and the state-level results reflect that. Vázquez Mota ended up getting 39.8% of the state Nuevo León, compared to Peña Nieto’s 33.2%. López Obrador polled a poor 22.0%.
Let’s take a look at Guadalajara (located in the state Jalisco).
Peña Nieto does better in here, winning large parts of the city. Still, he loses some urbanized areas of Guadalajara.
Here’s a look at the overall state.
Peña Nieto’s rural strength is clearer here. He wins everywhere outside the main city. It’s also apparent that Peña Nieto dominated the state. He ended up taking 40.0% of the vote, to Vázquez Mota’s 32.2% and López Obrador’s 22.6%.
How Mexico City Voted
20% of all the votes in the entire country were cast in Mexico City. Mexico City is divided into a Federal District and a state (named the State of Mexico). The Federal District takes in the downtown area, whereas the State of Mexico composes the northern suburbs.
As it turns out, Peña Nieto was Governor of the State of Mexico from 2005 to 2011. On the other hand, López Obrador was Head of the Government of the Federal District from 2000 to 2005. Obviously, this produced two very strong and opposing home-town effects.
It appears that López Obrador’s home-town effect was stronger. He took a thumping 52.9% in the Federal District, winning every district within.
This is actually somewhat surprising. A lot of Mexicans complained when López Obrador blocked the main avenue of Mexico City for months after losing the 2006 election, alleging fraud. Nevertheless, López Obrador still won the Districts Miguel Hidalgo and Cuauhtémoc, the main sites of his protest, by double-digits. The PRD candidate did do somewhat worse in these areas than in the rest of the Federal District.
Peña Nieto’s performance in his home state wasn’t as impressive. He only took 43.2% of the vote in the State of Mexico and lost the places neighboring the Federal District.
Overall, López Obrador won 41.2% to Peña Nieto’s 36.1%. Vázquez Mota lagged behind with only 17.9% of the vote.
Most pre-election polls placed Peña Nieto with big double-digit leads over his opponents. He generally polled a good deal above 40% of the vote.
Peña Nieto’s actual margin of 6.6% was a lot less impressive than these predictions. He underperformed the polls by quite a bit.
It’s very possible that the pollsters deceived themselves with the conventional wisdom (which was that Peña Nieto was crushing the opposition). On the other hand, perhaps a lot of voters genuinely changed their minds, taking a second look at a person who doesn’t read books. They might have been wary of giving back power to the PRI, which used to be a very corrupt party that stole elections.
If millions of Mexicans did in fact change their minds about Peña Nieto during the final days of the campaign, tens of millions more stayed faithful. Those mainly northern, mainly rural votes propelled him to the presidency.
P.S. Here are two good sources of data about the 2012 Mexican Presidential Election:
The Official Results – Note that Enrique Peña Nieto and Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran under multiple party banneres.
To get Peña Nieto’s total vote, add the votes in three columns: the column under the PRI flag; the column under the VERDE flag; and the column under the PRI and VERDE flags together.
To get López Obrador’s total vote, add together seven columns: the column under the PRD flag; the column under the PT flag; the column under the Movimiento Ciudadano flag; the column under the PRD, PT, and Movimiento Ciudadano flags together; the column under the PRD and PT flags together; the column under the PRD and Movimiento Ciudadano flags together; and finally the column under the PT and Movimiento Ciudadano flags together.
To get Vázquez Mota’s vote, just look at the numbers under the PAN column.
Google Elections – This provides very interactive and detailed results. Unfortunately, the data is not fully updated. For instance, Google Elections shows Peña Nieto winning the state Veracruz with 98.94% reporting. He actually lost the state.