The Youth in Mexico’s Historic Election
It’s Sunday night, and Miriam is turning on her TV. She’s sitting with her baby girl, her brothers, and her parents in her small living room in Jacona, Michoacán. At the same time, in Mexico City, Carolina has both her TV and her cellphone ready for the night. She’ll be live-tweeting everything. In Cholula, Puebla, Luis is ordering a pizza to watch it with his girlfriend. Sunday nights are meant for Luis Miguel’s Netflix series and memes, but on May 20, 2018, Sunday night meant the second presidential debate—and the memes were making up for the lack of depth in the candidates’ political arguments.
Since then, we have come a long way: another presidential debate and the close of the election campaigns this Wednesday. As many journalists, political analysts, and comedians have repeatedly stated, the forthcoming Mexican elections will be the biggest in the country’s history, with 3,400 posts up for grabs, and the youth will play a key role. Representing 40 percent of the electorate, voters between the ages of 18 and 35 (or millennials, as marketers like to call us) are crucial for the presidential candidates, who have tried everything from hashtags to playing the flute in a YouTube video in desperate attempts to broaden their appeal.
Yet they know nothing about the youth.
The candidates are not the only ones who don’t understand Mexico’s youth. The media has emphasized the significance of the youth vote, but few pieces are dedicated to the importance of the youth beyond its numbers. Those writers who do attempt to understand the youth tend to rely on assumptions about our apathy or only talk to analysts about what they think that young Mexicans think. This article is a response to every candidate who is thinking about us as numbers in the ballot boxes, instead of as citizens. In no way do I assume that this piece is representative of who we are—because it is not. It is simply an attempt to talk, through interviews with The Politic, to some of those young voters who are students, teachers, parents, writers, and even analysts themselves, who are of different ages and from different states of the country, just to get a (limited) sense of what we—the more than 35 million young persons—feel about the upcoming election and about Mexico.
Miriam Ochoa (20), Carolina Torreblanca (26), and Luis Reséndiz (29) are voting on Sunday for the left-wing opposition candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Juntos Haremos Historia coalition, who has been atop the polls throughout the whole campaign period. The three are part of the 51 percent of young voters who, according to the Millennial Voters’ Poll by the public opinion researcher Alejandro Moreno, will be marking their ballots for AMLO. Each of their motives is different, but they are all related to complete disapproval of Mexico’s current state of affairs.
“This is a punishment vote. PRI and PAN [two parties that oppose AMLO] have always been governing. I am voting for a change,” stated Miriam, a part-time student and homemaker, who is excited for voting after seeing how many people came together in Zamora, a city close to her hometown, to meet AMLO.
“There’s a human rights crisis in the country. Two hundred and forty thousand people have been murdered in 11 years and 40,000 have disappeared, and the only reason we are not in the streets protesting is because those who die are the most marginalized people,” said Carolina, a data analyst, for whom AMLO’s security strategy was enough for her to make up her mind.
Luis, an editor and writer, summed up a common opinion, saying that AMLO represents “a rupture with the continuity of two things: the open PRI and PAN’s neoliberalism and the militarization of the country.”
None of these young voters are surprised that AMLO is winning, and none of them are doubting their choice.
This is the third time that AMLO has participated in a presidential election, and Luis interprets his likely success as a sign that Mexico has reached a breaking point. According to Luis, the precarious labor and living conditions “create fractures in capitalism as a global system, and every time there are fractures like these ones, it is normal for a leader who represents a rupture with the system, whether rightist or leftist, to come into power. Our generation looks for something that breaks with the continuity, which is perceived as a mafia, and AMLO is that option. It is like Bernie Sanders or even Trump in the U.S., they are all symbols of being fed up.”
The second most popular candidate among the youth (and in the country) is Ricardo Anaya from the coalition Por México al Frente. According to Rubén Aguilar, a professor of politics and communication at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, the vote of the youth will be for either AMLO or Anaya. At 39, Anaya is the youngest candidate, and he usually presents himself as a graphs- and facts-lover in Steve Jobs-like presentations. Ximena Bailón (19), an international relations student from Mexico City; Sebastián Vila (21), a medical student from Oaxaca; and Gabriela Coronado (25), a graphic designer from Monterrey, are all voting for him. Ximena and Sebastián say they like his campaign proposals, Gabriela says she is trying to avoid AMLO’s victory. “Anaya’s the one who’s closest [in the polls] to AMLO,” she said. According to Ximena, “[Anaya’s] proposals are looking into the future. Education, energy, economy, minimum wage. Everything is a long-term plan, and I feel young people should pay attention to the future instead of immediate actions like receiving free money.”
There are two other candidates: Jaime Rodríguez, also known as “El Bronco,” who’s running as an independent candidate and, according to the polls, has between two and three percent voting intention; and José Antonio Meade, whose coalition Todos por México includes the current ruling party, PRI. Edgar Monsiváis (20), a political science student from Ramos Aripe, Coahuila, is voting for Meade and volunteering on his campaign. He chose to do this, he said, because “[Meade’s] career is faultless, and he has worked with different governments, which is something not everyone would be able to do. His campaign proposals have been clear, fundamental, and feasible.”
None of the people who I talked to seemed surprised that AMLO is the youth’s favorite candidate. Raúl Zepeda (28), a college professor from Estado de México who is voting for AMLO, believes that AMLO is the candidate who has paid the most attention to the youth. “AMLO has made much more radical proposals to the young people,” Raúl said. “Unlike Anaya and Meade, who have made careful, some people would say conservative, proposals to them.” The candidate is proposing free college tuition, monthly economic support for low-income high school and college students, and apprenticeships for young people who are not studying or working. Anaya is proposing tax incentives for businesses to hire recent college graduates, support for young entrepreneurs, and compulsory culture and sports classes in high school. Meade proposes a dual program to make it easier for students to work while studying so that they can more easily join the labor market when they graduate. “For better or worse, [AMLO’s] is the more leftist campaign, and young people like that,” said Carolina.
“The youth has lived in a very disappointing, very deteriorated Mexico,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a historian and journalist, in an interview with The Politic. “The only candidate who has been able to talk about that experience and appeal to those who have lived it is AMLO. AMLO is a candidate that has managed to represent, to give voice to, the grievances, disappointments, and disenchantment of the democratic promise. He knows how to talk to the wound. And because the youth have that wound very fresh and have experienced it firsthand, it does not surprise me that he is the most popular candidate amongst them.”
Beyond campaign proposals, AMLO is perceived as an alternative to what we already know doesn’t work. “We grew up in Calderón’s term and it was PAN, then in Peña Nieto’s term and it was PRI, and most people didn’t like either, so the youth sees AMLO as an alternative. They think, ‘It might work,’” said Sebastián, who is voting for Anaya but isn’t bothered that AMLO might win. “Whoever wins, it’s okay, as long as they do things right.”
This is actually a common feeling. Despite the panic of most of the older political analysts, who have written an endless number of articles in an effort to convince the population that AMLO is dangerous for democracy, the youth seem mostly fine with an AMLO victory, even if they are not supporting him. “It makes me a little disappointed that commonly people don’t look into other options because of resentment, but I think the candidates are not candidates just because,” said Meade supporter Edgar. “They represent something. AMLO is proving that there are things that are wrong, and he presented a platform that I don’t like, but many young people find attractive, and I respect that.”
There are young people worried about AMLO’s possible victory, but most of their fears are related not to an economic or authoritarian crisis but to the lack of criticism of the candidate. “We don’t agree with AMLO, at least most of the people in my social circle, which is young, middle-class college students in Monterrey, but I do have friends who are supporting him. I don’t think he represents them, but he is [mystifying]. If you like him that means you are young and progressive and against the system and cool,” said Gabriela. Both Gabriela and Ximena, who are voting for Anaya, think that AMLO’s proposals have been vague and focused on “magically” eliminating corruption. “I don’t think he’s a terrible candidate, but I am worried that a lot of people protect him too much as if he were a messiah; the young people who lack critical reasoning, that is what worries me,” said Ximena.
It is true that AMLO has received a lot of blind support on social media (especially with the popular hashtag, #AMLOve), but that is also true for the other candidates. More importantly, that blind support, largely made up of jokes, wasn’t present when his voters spoke about him in person. Luis and Raúl talked about AMLO’s economic policies and said he should have more concrete plans to fund his proposed social programs.
“There are many things that, as civil society, we should demand from him, like the creation and strengthening of institutions instead of having all the power concentrated in him,” said Carolina. Miriam and Luis mentioned that he should focus more on developing alternative, clean fuels rather than expanding oil refineries. Everyone mentioned being worried about his alliance with an ultra-conservative evangelical party, PES, and said they didn’t want that party to become powerful. Luis even added that though he is not excited to vote for AMLO, “[AMLO] seems like the lesser evil, and I think in this election we chose whom do we prefer to be critics towards.” Carolina and Raúl were a little more hopeful. “It seems crazy that AMLO might actually win…in that sense, I am excited at the prospect that the state of things might actually change,” said Carolina.
Non-AMLO supporters talked about their candidates in the same tone. “I won’t vote for Anaya 100 percent convinced, but I feel, as many Mexicans feel, that he is the ‘less-worse’ candidate,” said Ximena. Gabriela shared her feelings. Edgar, who is supporting Meade, feels more excited about his decision, even though he would like his candidate to talk more about minorities’ rights. “He hasn’t talked a lot about same-sex marriage, adoption, and abortion, and I think [Meade] should take a stand on these because they shouldn’t depend on referendums, they should be guaranteed,” he said. Still, Edgar maintained, “We always complain because we don’t have prepared candidates, but for the first time we don’t have to vote for the ‘less-worse candidate,’ we get to vote for the best.”
Everyone showed an interest in remaining critical no matter the election result. “Not criticizing, but being [a] critic and making sure that the person who wins fulfills his promises. We [young people] shouldn’t let this small fire of political interest burn out,” said Anaya supporter Ximena. Everyone agreed, too, that Peña Nieto’s administration has been a tragedy for Mexico’s people, full of human rights abuses and corruption. “I cannot vote for PRI, for me they are not a party, but a criminal group,” said Luis after reflecting on what it has meant to live under the current government. This is probably the reason why skills and qualifications do not seem to be priorities when choosing a candidate. Both AMLO and Anaya voters said that another candidate might be more qualified, but they are voting for the ones who they trust better. Meade is in third place, probably because “trust” is not something citizens feel towards anything PRI-related.
All of these people will vote very soon, and all of them, I could tell, have thought a lot about what they are doing. Yet they are aware that the presidential election is not everything, and they seemed excited, even more hopeful, about local politics. Gabriela talked about her grandmother’s small town in Nuevo León and the record 10 people who are running for mayor there. Luis talked about his friends running for local congress. Miriam talked about the likely election of the first female mayor of Jacona. “Organizing your community is politics too,” said Gabriela with an optimistic tone.
When I asked people I spoke with what their “ideal Mexico” would look like, the answer was unanimous: there would be no inequality. Of course, everyone’s version of their ideal country had different nuances. Sebastián imagined a country that pays more attention to the states in the south, to the lack of resources assigned to health and education in Oaxaca, a country where the education and health services he had access to are “a right and not a privilege.” Carolina wanted a country with actual political representation, redistribution, and social justice. Edgar imagined one in which “where you are born doesn’t determine where will you get to.” Ximena wanted a better administration of resources, especially water—“there should be water for everyone.” Raúl wanted a state in which “no one is left out.” Gabriela wanted a Mexico without sexism, without femicides. Miriam wanted a country where there’s no indifference to those who suffer, a country where no one is murdered two blocks away from her house, a country in which no one is murdered at all. Luis said he wants a country where dignity is respected. The candidates talk about inequality, but their plans to change it are, at best, vague and disconnected from reality.
Thinking that tweets on their own will change the youth’s perspective is naïve. “It doesn’t matter how many tweets I read, I won’t wake up tomorrow and change my vote,” said Gabriela. Offering smartphones as solutions is insulting to every young person who is aware of the very serious problems of inequality and violence that Mexico experiences. These types of strategies “show a false conception of the young person, as if we were frivolous, as if we were simply apps, internet…[as if we were] only high-income youth,” said Raúl.
The youth’s problems are not superficial, and their political views should not be discredited, as they usually are, for “not having lived enough.” This generation, 35 and under, “has first-hand experience with labor precariousness, we have never had healthcare, we have been working for ten years and we cannot buy a house, we do not have pension…I don’t think those are selfish problems,” explained Luis. This generation has grown up experiencing the violence of the so-called war against narco.
“We live in Jacona, which is small, and it is inside Michoacán, it is just like a grain of salt. I feel like things are going to remain the same; violence is going to remain the same because from up there, the president, doesn’t have the capacity to end with the violence in small towns,” said Miriam. She is excited for AMLO, but not enough to believe that he will actually be able to stop the violence and bring hope to Michoacán.
If all of this is not enough to understand the severity of the youth’s situation in Mexico, I would like to add that young, poor people are the ones killed most often in this country. I haven’t heard a single candidate talking about it. Candidates and politicians should care about the youth as human beings whose lives are worth something, something more than votes.