Implications of the PRI's First Presidential Primary. A View from Ciudad Júarez

Steven Barracca

Idioma original



This article explores voters' perceptions of the PRI's first-ever presidential primary held on November 7, 1999. An exit poll conducted on election day in Ciudad Júarez, Chihuahua, indicates that the majority of voters viewed the elections as well organized, transparent, and honest, although these perceptions varied significantly according to partisan and candidate sympathies. Responses from the exit poll suggest that the PRI will benefit from the primary by strengthening its electoral support among its base and among independent voters. This is crucial for the PRI in Chihuahua, given the competitive and fluid two-party electoral environment in the state. At the national level, by helping to solidify its base, the primary was a factor that likely contributed to the PRI obtaining pluralities in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies in the July 2000 election.


Este artículo investiga las percepciones de los votantes en la primera elección del PRI para elegir candidato a la presidencia, llevada a cabo el 7 de noviembre de 1999. Una encuesta de salida realizada el día de la elección en Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, indica que la mayoría de los votantes percibían las elecciones bien organizadas, transparentes y honestas, aunque estas percepciones variaron significativamente de acuerdo a las simpatías hacia el candidato y al partido. Los resultados de la encuesta de salida sugieren que el PRI se beneficiaría con la elección al reforzar el apoyo electoral de su base y entre los votantes independientes. Esta situación era crucial para el PRI en Chihuahua dada la competitividad y el fluido ambiente bipartidista en el estado. A nivel nacional, al ayudar a solidificar su base, la elección fue un factor que posiblemente contribuyó a que el PRI obtuviera pluralidad en el Senado y en la Cámara de Diputados en las elecciones de julio del 2000.


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This article would not have been possible without the assistance of Gregory Rocha, Irasema Coronado, and Thomas Longoria. These colleagues from the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso did the bulk of the work in organizing the exit poll that this research is based on. I am also indebted to Thomas Lengona and the anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of this article. Finally, I wish to thank our student-pollsters from UTEP who actually conducted the surveys. This research was funded by a grant from the Center of Inter-American and Border Studies of the University of Texas at El Paso.

According to the rules established by the party for the primary, the winner would be the candidate receiving a simple majority of the votes in a majority of the 300 electoral districts in the country.

For complete results of the primary see

See Beatriz Magaloni, "Is the PRI Fading? Economic Performance, Electoral Accountability, and Voting Behavior in the 1994 and 1997 Elections", in Toward Mexico's Democratization: Parties, Campaigns, Elections, and Public Opinion, Jorge I. Domínguez and Alejandro Poiré (eds.), New York, Routledge, 1999, pp. 209-210. [ Links ]

Joseph L. Klesner, "The Mexican Midterm Congressional and gubernatorial Elections of 1997: End of the Hegemonic Party System", in Electoral Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 567-575. [ Links ] Also by Klesner, see "The 1994 Mexican Elections: Manifestation of a Divided Society?", in Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 1995, pp. 137-149. [ Links ]

For a discussion of the challenges presented by internal reforms in the PRI see Lorenzo Meyer, "Democratization of the PRI: Mission Impossible?", in Mexico's Alternative Political Futures, Wayne A. Cornelius et al (eds.), La Jolla, CA, Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1989, pp. 325-348. [ Links ] See also Victoria E. Rodriguez and Peter M. Ward, "The New PRI: Recasting Its Identity", in Dismantling the Mexican State, Rob Aitken et al. (eds.), London, MacMillan, 1995, pp. 92-112. [ Links ] Also see Rogelio Hernández Rodriguez, "The Partido Revolucionario Institucional", in Governing Mexico: Political Parties and Elections, Mónica Serrano (ed.), London, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1998, pp. 71-94. [ Links ]

For complete election results see

On this subject see Tonatiuh Guillén López, "Political Parties and Political Attitudes in Chihuahua", in Electoral Patterns and Perspectives in Mexico, Arturo Alvarado (ed.), Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1987, pp. 225-252; [ Links ] Alberto Aziz Nassif, "Chihuahua: de la euforia a la indiferencia", in Frontera Norte: Una década de política electoral, Tonatiuh Guillén López (ed.), El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 1992, pp. 69-95; [ Links ] Alberto Aziz Nassif, Territorios de alternancia: El primer gobierno de oposición en Chihuahua, México, Triana Editores, 1996; [ Links ] and Yemile Mizrahi, "Las Elecciones de 1995 en Chihuahua", in Las elecciones y partidos políticos en México 1994-1995, Manuel Larrosa and Leonardo Valdés (eds.), México, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, 1997. [ Links ]

XII Censo General de Población y Vivienda 2000: Resultados Preliminares. See [ Links ]

Aziz argues that the PRI's credibility crisis, stemming from its corruption and authoritarian ways, was an even greater factor accounting for its declining electoral support in Chihuahua than the economic crisis of the 1980s. See Alberto Aziz Nassif, "Electoral Practices and Democracy in Chihuahua, 1985", in Electoral Patterns and Perspectives in Mexico, Arturo Alvarado (ed.), Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1987, pp. 181-205. [ Links ]

These three scenarios are suggested by Joseph L. Klesner, The 2000 Mexican Presidential and Congressional Elections: Pre-Election Report, Western Hemisphere Election Studies Series, Vol. 18, No. 1, CSIS Americas Program, June 15, 2000. [ Links ]

The PRI lost its majority m the Chamber of Deputies for the first time ever in the midterm elections of 1997. It did, however, win 239 of the 500 seats in the Chamber, giving it a plurality.

An example of such a poll was conducted by the newspaper El Diario (Júarez, México) and published by that paper on October 31, 1999. [ Links ] The survey asked 1,000 registered voters in Chihuahua the following question: "If the election where held today, of the following candidates mentioned, which would you vote for?" The results were: 45 per cent for Labastida (PRI), 33 per cent for Fox (PAN), and 7 per cent for Cardenas (PRD).

The New York Times reports a poll published by Reforma (Mexico City) on June 22, 2000 showing Labastida favored by 34 per cent. [ Links ] Fox with 32, and the PRD's candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, with 13. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. See Sam Dillon, "Polls Show a Virtual Tie in the Crucial Presidential Race in Mexico", New York Times, June, 24, 2000. [ Links ]

Other strong showings for opposition presidential candidates were Juan Almazán in 1940, Miguel Henriquez Guzmán in 1952, and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1988. It is widely held that Cárdenas actually won the 1988 election, but was denied victory through widespread electoral fraud.

Jorge I. Domínguez and James A. McCann, "Shaping Mexico's Electoral Arena: The Construction of Partisan Cleavages in the 1988 and 1991 National Elections", in American Political Science Review, Vol. 89, No. 1, 1995, pp. 34-48. [ Links ]

Domínguez and McCann, 1995, p. 34.

Dominguez and McCann, 1995, p. 34.

For an argument about the salience of retrospective voting behavior see Alejandro Poiré, "Retrospective Voting, Partisanship, and Loyalty in Mexican Elections: 1994", in Toward Mexico's Democratization: Parties, Campaigns, Elections, and Public Opinion, Jorge I. Domínguez and Alejandro Poiré (eds.), New York, Routledge, 1999, p. 45. [ Links ] For a study confirming the importance of prospective voting see Magalom, 1999, p. 233.

See footnote number 1.

The exit poll was conducted on the day of the primary, November 7, 1999. The survey consisted of 28 questions. Thirty bilingual students from University of Texas at El Paso conducted the interviews. These students broke up into teams of two or more, who were assigned to one of 14 randomly selected mesas receptoras (polling booths). It was our initial goal to survey 600 voters, however, due to an unexpectedly low turnout, our student-pollsters were only able to obtain the responses of 309 persons. Nationwide, turnout for the primary was only 16.9 per cent, dramatically lower than the almost 78 per cent turnout in the 1994 presidential election and 58 per cent in the 1997 midterm elections. In the state of Chihuahua, a stronghold for the opposition pan, turnout for the primary was even lower at 10.8 per cent.

Juárez is divided up into three federal congressional districts: numbers II, III, and IV. The 14 mesas receptoras where we conducted surveys were fairly evenly distributed among the three districts, such that, of the 309 responses, 103 (33.3%) were from District II, 127 (41.1%) were from District III, and 79 (25.6%) were from District IV. The complete data set for the survey can be obtained by requesting it from the author. The poll has a margin of error of ± 6 per cent.

Prior to the 1994 presidential elections, the electoral dynamics in Chihuahua for national elections has been distinct from that of state and local elections. The two-party system emerged for state and local elections in 1983, but did not come to characterize national elections in Chihuahua until 1994.

Here I follow the party system typology set out by Cornelius. His scheme has five categories: (1) PRI monopoly = PRI vote > 95 per cent; (2) strong PRI hegemony = PRI vote < 95 per cent but > 70 per cent (3) weak PRI hegemony = PRI vote < 70 per cent, but the difference between the PRI and the second party is > 40 percentage points; (4) two-party competition = PRI vote < 70 per cent, difference between PRI and second party is < 40 percentage points, second party vote > 25 per cent, and third party vote < 10 percent (5) multiparty competition = PRI vote < 70, difference between PRI and second party is < 40 percentage points, and second party < 25 per cent or third-party vote > 10 per cent. See Wayne A. Cornelius, Mexican Politics in Transition: The Breakdonm of a One-Party Dominant Regime, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1996.

See Alberto Aziz Nassif, "Chihuahua: de la euforia a la indiferencia", in Frontera norte: una década de política electoral, Tonatiuh Guillén López (ed.), México, El Colegio de México and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 1992. [ Links ]

Due to electoral fraud, voting statistics prior to 1992 are not really an accurate indicator of voter preferences.

Aziz, 1992, p. 74.

For a discussion of the reasons for the rise of the PAN in Chihuahua see Alberto Aziz Nassif, "Elections in Chihuahua, 1985", in Electoral Patterns and Perspectives in Mexico, Arturo Alvarado (ed.), Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1987. [ Links ] Also on this topic see Rubén Lau et al., Sistema político y democracia en Chihuahua, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, 1995. [ Links ]

See Juan Molinar Horcasitas, "Regreso a Chihuahua", in Nexos, No. 111, March, 1987. [ Links ]

In contrast to the official statistics, a June 1986 survey of Juárez voters by Guillén found that 41.9 per cent preferred the PAN and 31.7 per cent preferred the PRI. See Tonatiuh Guillén López, "Political Parties and Political Attitudes in Chihuahua", in Electoral Patterns and Perspectives in Mexico, ed. Arturo Alvarado. Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1987, p. 232. [ Links ]

Until 1988 the Chihuahua legislature consisted of 14 single-member district seats (aka. majority seats). In 1989 the number of majority seats was increased to 18, and 10 proportional representation seats (aka., plurinominal seats) were added.

Aziz, 1992, p. 75.

For an analysis of the results in the 1995 election see Aziz, 1996. Also see Yemile Mizrahi, "Dilemmas of the Opposition in Government Chihuahua and Baja California", Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 151-189. [ Links ]

Aziz, 1996, p. 177.

This exit poll was conducted by the Political Science Department at the University of Texas at El Paso at randomly selected casillas in Juárez on July 2, 2000. There were 631 respondents and the poll has a margin of error of ± 4 per cent.

On the dedazo see Jorge G. Castañeda, La herencia: Arqueología de la sucesión presidencial en México, México, Extra Alfaguara, 1999. [ Links ] On the historical evolution of the PRl's methods of candidate selection see Jeffrey Weldon, "The Political Sources of Presidencialismo in Mexico", in Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America, Scott Mainwaring and Matthew Soberg Shugart (eds.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 225-258. [ Links ]

687 municipalities represent 28.3 per cent of the 2,427 in the country. Not counted in the total of opposition-controlled municipalities were the 418 municipalities governed by usos y costumbres and the 10 municipalities governed by municipal councils. The data on opposition controlled municipalities comes from the Centro Nacional de Desarrollo Municipal (Cedemun), "Radiografía de filiación política de los municipios de México: Cuadro histórico 1994-Enero 2001". Retreived from the World Wide Web at [ Links ]

Sam Dillon, "Mexico opens up elections", Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX), 26 July 1998, pp. A15 and A19. [ Links ]

Dillon, 1998, p. A19.

Opinion polls showing a significant advantage for Labastida in the 2000 election led many to believe that the only way the opposition could win the presidency would be for the PAN and PRD to form an alliance. These two parties met for months trying to forge a unified front, however the effort failed in the end due to an inability to agree on a method for choosing the coalitions presidential candidate.

Sam Dillon, "Zedillo Suggests US-Style System to Pick Mexico's Presidential Nominees", New York Times, 5 March 1999, A1 and A6. [ Links ] Since the late 1970s, the major rift in the PRI has been between the so-called politicos and técnicos. Políticos tend to be the old-guard career politicians who have moved up in the party by holding elective office; they typically have received their university educations in Mexico; they tend to be critical of the governments neoliberal economic policies, favoring a return to the more populist approaches of the past; and they tend to take a more hard-line position about opening up the political system to the opposition. In contrast, técnicos is a term that refers to the mostly US-educated bureaucrats with advanced degrees whose careers have been made exclusively within the bureaucracy. The técnicos are the group that initiated and continue to support Mexico's shift to a neoliberal economic strategy, and they tend to be more willing to concede space to the opposition.

For a description of this process see Robert E. Scott, Mexican Government in Transition, rev. ed. Urbana, IL, University of Illinois Press, 1964, pp. 197-223. [ Links ] Beginning with the 1988 presidential succession, the president's ability to unity the various wings of the party behind his candidate became much more difficult. On this topic see Peter H. Smith, "The 1988 Presidential Succession in Historical Perspective", in Mexico's Alternative Political Futures, Wayne A. Cornelius et al. (eds.), La Jolla, CA, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1989, pp. 391-415. [ Links ]

Susan Ferriss, "PRI 'dinosaur' is early favorite in Mexico race", Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX), 14 March 1999, pp. A21;A31. [ Links ]

Todd A. Eisenstadt, "Electoral Federalism or Abdication of Presidential Authority? Gubernatorial Elections in Tabasco", in Subnational Politics and Democratization in Mexico, Wayne A. Cornelius et al (eds.), La Jolla, CA, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1999, pp. 269-293. [ Links ]

Conclusions regarding the opinions of Bartlett and Roque supporters cannot be made with any confidence given the small number of their supporters in the sample.

Julia Preston, "La política antigua sigue viva". El Diario (Juárez, México), 8 November 1999, p. 3A. [ Links ]

Preston, 1999, p. 3A.

Preston, 1999, p. 3A.

Preston, 1999, p. 3A.

Sam Dillon, "Mexican Pollsters Challenge Size of Turnout m the Primary", New York Times, 17 November 1999, A12. [ Links ]

SUN, "Surgen inconformidades entre 'madracistas'", El Diario (Juárez, México), 9 November 1999, p. 4A. [ Links ]

Negotiations among the parties resulted in a solution, whereby the PRI candidate, Enrique Priego Oropeza will serve as interim-governor until new elections are held in November 2001.

The PRI is currendy challenging this election in the federal electoral courts.

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