Sunday, 3 January 2016

Challenges in Mexican elections

by Miguel Angel Lara Otaola
University of Sussex (

The issue of integrity has long been of concern in Mexico, given many decades when clientelism and corruption were widely used to influence elections and their outcomes. In recent years, reforms have been introduced and have managed to strengthen significantly the transparency of the electoral process and stamp out malpractices. Nevertheless, some concerns still remain about these issues. For example, following the July 2012 presidential elections, the losing candidate for PRD, López Obrador, claimed there had been widespread irregularities by PRI, involving the distribution of store credit cards to buy votes. These claims were dismissed by the country’s Electoral Tribunal as no significant evidence was presented but nevertheless a shadow of doubt remained amongst certain sectors of the population.
To explore the integrity of elections, the Electoral Integrity Project coordinated the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Mexico Study (PEI-Mexico 1.0). This was conducted after June 7 2015, when Mexico held federal and local level elections in 17 out of 32 states in the country[1]. The study was organized by researchers at the Universities of Sydney and Harvard, in association with Nicolás Loza and Irma Méndez, both professors and researchers in FLACSO México.
This study gathered expert perceptions about whether elections meet internationally recognised standards. The survey asked national and international election experts to monitor the quality of the elections based on 49 indicators grouped into eleven stages, ranging from electoral laws to the impartiality of electoral authorities. The survey was sent one month after the elections and covers the 17 contests in the following states: Baja California Sur, Campeche, Chiapas, Colima, Distrito Federal, Estado de Mexico, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Nuevo León, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, Tabasco and Yucatan.  In total 734 expert respondents were contacted, generating 292 completed replies. The average response rate was 37.5% overall.

Moderate integrity and varied state performance
The results show that experts rated the quality of state elections in Mexico as moderate (53 points out of 100). This is lower than the Mexican presidential elections in July 2012 (scoring 62 points) but identical to the score in the June 2015 Congressional elections. Figure 1 shows the absolute PEI index results for the 2015 state elections in Mexico.
Yet significant differences are found amongst the states. While Queretaro, Jalisco and Baja California obtain scores close to 60, Estado de Mexico, Morelos, San Luis Potosi and Tabasco score under 50, with Chiapas obtaining only 37. Figure 2 shows the ranking of PEI scores for all 17 states.  This variation may be explained by the many political, economic and social differences between states.

Figure 1. Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Mexico subnational election (absolute values)

Figure 2. PEI Ranking in 17 Mexican states.

Note: Scores on the PEI 100-point index by state in the 7 June 2015 elections. Source: PEI-Mexico 1.0 N.292.

Threats from violence and organized crime
One issue of concern in Mexico is the increase of violence associated with drug related activities in the country (Aguirre and Herrera, 2013; Shirk and Wallman, 2015). The general issue was monitored by the statement “Some voters were threatened with violence.” The results in Figure 3 show that the perceived threat of violence was indeed correlated with the overall quality of the state elections.

Figure 3.  Perceived threat of violence and electoral integrity in 17 Mexican states.
Source: PEI-Mexico 1.0 N.281.

But violence can arise from multiple causes and actors. To monitor the issue in more detail, the PEI-Mexico survey included a battery of 6 items on the topic. These questions ask in particular about the influence of organised crime on a number of issues such as candidate selection, threats to candidates, campaign finance, voter turnout, voter’s choice and on its role defining results in cities that concentrate half or more of the state’s population.

In general, out of the six issues, Table 1 shows that organised crime’s greatest influence was seen to lie in financing political candidates. In addition, the states of Distrito Federal, Estado de Mexico, Guerrero, and Michoacán are seen to be slightly more affected by the influence of organised crime. In comparison, we can see that organised crime is thought to have no influence in elections states like  Campeche, Yucatan and Queretaro.

Table 1.  PEI survey – influence of organised crime in 17 states

Note: Respondents were asked to give their opinion on a five point scale ranging from 1 or “strongly disagree” to 5 or “strongly agree”.  Higher marks mean that organised crime is believed to have a greater influence on elections.
Source: PEI-Mexico 1.0 N.281.

The PEI-Mexico subnational index compares the integrity of the 2015 elections in Mexico across 17 states and allows systematic research on issues such as voter registration, vote count, electoral procedures, campaign finance and campaign media, amongst others. All the data is free and can be downloaded from


Aguirre, J., & Herrera, H. (2013). Institutional weakness and organized crime in Mexico: The case of Michoacán. Trends in Organized Crime, 16(2), 221-238.

Eisenstadt, T.A. 2004. Courting democracy in Mexico: party strategies and electoral institutions. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Greene, Kenneth F. 2007. Why Dominant Parties Lose: Mexico's Democratization in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press

Instituto Nacional Electoral- INE, (2015) “Numeralia Proceso Electoral 2014-2015” Available from: (Accessed 9 December 2015)

Norris, Pippa; Martinez i Coma, Ferran; Gromping, Max; Nai, Alessandro, 2015, "Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Version 3.5",, Harvard Dataverse, V1

Norris, Pippa; Martinez i Coma, Ferran; Nai, Alessandro, 2015; Gromping, Max "Perceptions of Electoral Integrity-Mexico, (PEI-Mexico 1.0)”,, Harvard Dataverse, V1

Shirk, David, Wallman, & Joel. (2015). Understanding Mexico’s Drug Violence.59(8), 1348-1376.

Simpser, Alberto. 2012. ‘Does electoral manipulation discourage voter turnout? Evidence from Mexico.’ Journal of Politics 74(3): 782–795.

Zamudio, Pedro (2015) “La casilla única: reto para las instituciones” Available from: (Accessed 9 December 2015)

[1] Elections for 16 states were held on 7 June, 2015 while local elections for Chiapas were held on 19 July, 2015.