The Mexico Panel Study is a major survey research project on Mexico's election campaigns (2000, 2006, 2012, 2015, 2018). It is intended to be a resource for scholars working on campaigns, public opinion, voting behavior, and political communication, whether they focus on Mexico or not. Senior Project Personnel for the Mexico 2012 Panel Study include (in alphabetical order): Jorge Domínguez, Kenneth Greene, Chappell Lawson, and Alejandro Moreno. Funding for the study was provided by the Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública de la Cámara de Diputados (CESOP) and the Secretaría de Gobernación; fieldwork was conducted by DATA OPM, under the direction of Pablo Parás.
Our project examines democratic consolidation in Mexico through the lens of electoral politics. Who sets the agenda in Mexican elections? To what extent does this agenda respond to, engage, or ignore ordinary citizens? And what do the dynamics of “issue emergence” mean for democratic representation?
These questions go to the heart of Mexico’s new political system. Modern democracy consists of a chain of delegations from citizens to leaders, through which popular preferences are theoretically translated into public policy. Although this process of translation involves much more than elections alone, elections do constitute a key mechanism of democratic accountability and representation. If “the people” cannot make themselves heard in the electoral arena, either directly of indirectly, they are unlikely to exercise much control over public policy.
How electoral campaigns come to focus on a particular set of issues – out of an almost infinite possible set – thus matters crucially for the operation of democracy. The role of elections may be especially important in many new democracies, where democratic norms and institutions outside of the electoral sphere are often less developed. In such a context, campaigns probably constitute citizens’ best chance to influence political debate.
The type of issues that receive emphasis in electoral contests also matters for the nature of democratic governance. Campaigns dominated by specific policy debates cast leaders in the role of “delegates”, giving them clearer mandates on at least some topics. By contrast, if voters are too ignorant to know where parties and candidates stand on particular issues, or to punish elected leaders for changing their stances once in office, then the scope of leaders’ discretion will be correspondingly broader. At best, campaigns would give leaders broad mandates on government performance, allowing them to act as “trustees” for the population. Electoral contests that focused primarily on candidate image and personality presumably promise even less in the way of effective representation.
Our project examines the types of issues that emerge as salient over the course of Mexico’s campaigns. We document how the mass public, candidates, political parties, and the media interact to shape the subjects of electoral contestation – taking into account the possibility that political elites may anticipate the preferences of ordinary citizens and of other elites. In particular, we address the extent to which campaigns remain a “top-down” process in Mexico’s new democracy. Ultimately, we hope to understand why electoral campaigns highlight or downplay certain issues, and to assess the implications of these dynamics for democratic governance. Combined with past research on Mexico’s 2000 presidential campaign, data from this project helps to shed light on key issues in democratic consolidation.