Exercising Political Influence, Religion, Democracy, and the Mexican 2006 Presidential Race
Camp, Roderic Ai, Journal of Church and State
In the last six years, Mexico has witnessed the growing influence of campaigns on the outcome of its presidential elections. Vincente Fox's campaign determined his July 2000 victory over his nearest opponent, the PRI's Francisco Labastida, who, according to polling, was 20 percentage points ahead of the National Action Party (PAN) candidate six months before the election. That race produced an extraordinary change in the political model, indicating an end to a semi-authoritarian system in place since the 1920s. Six years later, an opposition candidate, Andres Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), held more than a 10 percentage point lead over the incumbent PAN candidate, Felipe Calderon, for much of the campaign. But, in a surprising election day finale on 2 July 2006, Calderon edged out his opponent with less than .05 percent of the votes cast.
There are many explanations as to what variables determined the changing posture of voters during those two campaigns. Voter behavior shares a number of commonalities in both races.1 It is equally important, however, to understand whether non-traditional and nonpolitical actors influenced the outcome of these races. If so, who were those actors, and what role did they exercise in the presidential campaigns? In the 2000 presidential race, analysts universally agree that four actors played a crucial role: the media; a newly organized, semi-informal organization, the Friends of Fox; the private sector; and the Catholic Church.2 Six years later, to what extent have similar actors, specifically the Catholic Church, played a role in Calderon's narrow victory?
The most important variable to generate a fertile ground for such influences is the voter's consistent lack of interest in politics, and in electoral campaigns, specifically. Well into the early stages of the election, in February 2006, Reforma, one of Mexico s leading newspapers, reported that over one-half of voters shared little or no interest in the campaign.3 One can conclude from the Mexican voter's persistent lack of interest in politics and in presidential elections since 1994, that any political actor who could generate increased participation, depending on its composition, could potentially affect the election's outcome.
Interestingly, the Catholic Church is the only actor that has been linked to such a broad influence during the 1994 and 2000 elections. As has been argued previously, it played a fundamental role in negating citizen resistance to change, thus reducing the "fear factor" in replacing the PRI,4 in condemning advocacy of the "fear vote" as a sin in the 2000 election, and in increasing voter participation to historic levels in 1994, urging voting as a Christian duty.5 A version of the fear factor also influenced the campaign this time around, illustrated by PAN's attempt to paint Lopez Obrador as the Hugo Chávez of Mexico, thus generating concerns among the middle class.6 The media also has exercised a similar role, but it is much more difficult to attribute such an influence directly to it, except during the presidential campaign.7
Whereas the lack of voter interest in politics and presidential campaigns creates the potential for other actors to influence their views of the candidates, voters' positive views of such actors also reinforce those actors increased potential for exercising just such an influence. What are societal attitudes toward the religion that might enhance the ability of religious actors to exert political influence in campaigns?
VOTER CONFIDENCE IN NON-POLITICALACTORS-MEXICO'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
Partisan voters among each of the three leading parties, PAN, PRI and PRD, and independent voters, rank the Catholic Church at the top when specifying their level of confidence in all Mexican institutions. PANistas and PRIistas give it the strongest positive ratings, with the PRD partisans and independents slightly lower. When asked to grade the Church, using the same grading scale in Mexican public education, it scores 8. …