May 31, 2012
OPINION polling is a tricky business, and politicians are always quick to cry bias or inaccuracy when a survey shows them doing badly. Nonetheless, the poll published today in Reforma, a daily newspaper, got everyone’s attention. According to the survey, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), is now only four percentage points shy of Enrique Peña Nieto, the long-time frontrunner from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The poll marked the beginning of the “deflation” of the Peña bubble, Mr López Obrador claimed on hearing the news.
The handy poll of polls at ADN Politico provides some useful context: most other surveys suggest that the gap between the PRI and the PRD is still between 10 and 20 points. (If these numbers don’t tally with what you see, it could be the difference between polls that include undecided voters and those that factor them out.) A further caveat: thoughReforma’s polls have a decent reputation, a recent attempt by Nexos magazine to rate Mexico’s pollsters according to their accuracy gave Reforma a low-ish score.
Still, something is definitely stirring on the left. Virtually all polls now show that Mr López Obrador is in second place, and one or two others have suggested that the difference is down to single digits. That is not bad going for a candidate who until the beginning of this month was reckoned by nearly everyone to be in third. Where have the new votes come from?
As I mentioned in a blog a couple of days ago on a new student protest movement, most supporters of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) say that their second choice is Mr Peña rather than Mr López Obrador. So it seems unlikely that the slide in the polls of Josefina Vázquez Mota, the PAN’s candidate, can fully explain Mr López Obrador’s surge. It may be that the hard right in the PAN—those who would never vote for the leftist PRD in a million years—is sticking with Ms Vázquez, whereas those who support the PAN more for its reputation for (comparatively) clean and honest administration are peeling off to join Mr López Obrador. It is also likely that Mr Peña has shed a few votes to the PRD, though the PRI’s vote seems to have held up reasonably well so far.
The other explanation, perhaps more likely, is that undecided voters are starting to make their minds up. Most polls reckon that between 20 and 25% of the electorate is still uncommitted, a higher proportion than in years gone by. (The indecision is not all that surprising: many people I speak to seem to be sick of the PAN, suspicious of the PRI, and still sceptical about Mr López Obrador.) But with a month to go, it’s make-your-mind-up time, and many floating voters seem to be settling on the PRD.
Mr López Obrador’s numbers could yet grow further. Rather than benefiting from the student protests, it seems that he has in fact won much of his new support from older voters. According to research by Inteligencia Pública, a political consultancy, and Defoe, a pollster, the PRD has received a jump in support over the past five weeks from the middle classes and from those over 40 years old. This is doubly good news for Mr López Obrador: it implies that should the student campaign get off the ground, he could benefit from a second surge. With a month to go until the election, things are becoming very interesting.