World Cup Overshadows Presidential Campaigns

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, June 21, 2006 | Go to article overview
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World Cup Overshadows Presidential Campaigns

The three major political parties have stepped up their barrage of negative campaign ads with just a few weeks before the presidential election, but the message may be mostly falling on deaf ears because many would-be voters are distracted by the World Cup.

Since June 9, a large share of the Mexican population has turned its attention to the international soccer tournament, considered the most popular sporting event on the planet. Fans are tuning in not only to cheer on the Mexican squad but to watch as many of the 64 games as possible, with the final game scheduled July 9, a full week after the Mexican election.

"Pollsters have confirmed the obvious: At least two-thirds of Mexico's voters are more attuned to the World Cup than to the contentious, unpredictable three-man race to succeed President Vicente Fox," said the Los Angeles Times.

"I don't like futbol [soccer], but I have to marvel at the passion that it generates, the deep interest that it attracts," said Cecilia Lavalle, a columnist for the Yucatan- based newspaper Criterios. "As if by magic, nothing else matters. Just a series of games, eleven players against another eleven."

Candidates attempt to link campaigns to soccer event

Rather than fighting against the popular event, the three major candidates are attempting to use it to their advantage. The three campaigns have spent large sums on television advertisements to be aired at halftime and before and after the most popular matches, hoping to catch would-be voters.

The candidates have also brought up the World Cup during interviews, rallies, and other campaign events. The center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) is giving out 25,000 soccer balls during campaign appearances by its candidate Felipe Calderon Hinojosa. Not to be outdone, Roberto Madrazo Pintado of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) has planned campaign rallies around big-screen telecasts of Mexico's coming matches.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, representing the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD), also brought the sports theme into a television interview. "Willpower is fundamental in politics, in sports, in everything," said the Mexico City ex-mayor, who has privately acknowledged that he is more of a baseball than a soccer fan.

Mexico's first game, a 3-1 victory against Iran on June 11, provided material for all three candidates during campaign stops. After the game, Lopez Obrador boldly predicted that he would win the election in a similar way as Mexico won against Iran.

Madrazo, after watching the game with friends and relatives at a hotel in Mexico City, offered a similarly bold prediction. The PRI candidate said that his performance in the election would mirror the Mexican team's rally in the second half of the game, thus overcoming his third-place standing in the polls.

Calderon made the best use of the media coverage while watching the match with his family at a public arena. Wearing a green jersey similar to those of the Mexican soccer team, the PAN candidate waved a huge Mexican flag after each Mexican score. "His flag-waving image was flashed in a corner of the big screens during the replay of each goal," said the Los Angeles Times.

The heavy attention that politicians are giving the World Cup is in stark contrast to the 1994 campaign, the last time an election coincided with the international soccer event. During that year, PAN candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos announced that he was stopping all campaigning during a four-week period so he could enjoy the World Cup. His rivals Ernesto Zedillo of the PRI and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the PRD continued their campaigning but did little to tie into the euphoria surrounding the World Cup.

Performance of Mexican team could affect election

Some analysts suggest Mexico's fortunes in the World Cup could play a psychological role in the presidential elections.

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