Why has Enrique Pena Nieto’s, the president of Mexico, approval rating been on steady decline since 2013?
Since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been a constant in Mexico, the Partido Revolucionario Industrial (PRI) has been at the helm of Mexican politics. They held the presidency, in a somewhat authoritarian ruling, for 71 years until finally a new political party, Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), took office in 2000 and held it for 12 years, where afterwards Mexico sunk back to their old habits and elected a new PRI president by the name of Enrique Pena Nieto (EPN for short). EPN has been in office for a little less than 5 years of the 6 year term, and while he showed promise in his opening days, he has now fallen to become one of the most disliked and disapproved presidents in the history of Mexico. While there are many factors that go into his disapproval rating and his general “hate” among the Mexican population, he still manages to be kept in power. While Mexico broke the seal of being labeled as an authoritarian regime in 2000, the fact that they elected a president with many, many, scandals, controversies and questionable friendships, goes to show how perhaps the real leader of Mexico is corruption. Before Vicente Fox Quesada was elected president of Mexico in 2000, as the candidate of PAN, the presidency of Mexico was often handed down like a monarchy. What this meant was, the current president would hand pick his successor in a process called “Dedazo”. Due to the lack of competition and the media control of PRI, the elections would always favor PRI with often margins of 90% voting.
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However, as people grew tired of the constant control PRI had on the country, other political parties began to emerge, like PAN in 1939, Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) in 1989, and most recently Movimiento Regeneracion Nacional (MORENA) in 2014. While PAN came to fruition earlier than the other 2, they were drowned out by the media control PRI had in Mexico. However, when EPN came into power in 2012, the 3 main political parties, in a known three party system, were PAN, PRD and PRI. While some argue that 3 party systems are often better than a simple 2 party system, in some cases it came seem bad as in theory the votes would be split 30-30-30. However, there are cases where 2 candidates are stronger and 1 gets above 40% while the other one gets above 35%, and in these cases a three party system tends to merge towards becoming a 2 party system. However, the three party system is flawed and it often leads to mistakes being done in democracy and not really showing the true election of the people. However, when EPN took office, after winning the election between 3 strong candidates, it wasn’t just his policies that were disliked, but his previous scandals and controversies as well.
EPN is near the end of his presidential term, and most of the things he has to show for are negative. While he did do some positive things, he will most likely be remembered by the things he did to hurt the country, his party and himself. So why exactly was EPN seen as a disgrace from the beginning? His past as the governor of the State of Mexico (Edo. Mex), made him come to power with a stigma, and a stigma of being part of PRI, so he was never given a complete chance to prove his worth. His inability to be a successful president, in many ways, can bring trouble in the future. So why exactly has EPN been disliked or disapproved so much? Given the three party system in Mexico, a president who takes office usually does not have the support of more than half of the country, alongside a plethora of human right violations, suspected business with the drug cartels, bad policies and failure to correctly communicate with the public, have made Pena Nieto one of the most disapproved presidents in recent memory.
EPN as governor of Edo. Mex:
Enrique Pena Nieto was born in 1966 in Atlacomulco, a small city in Edo. Mex, where he grew up under a fairly political family. Since he was little it is said he was looking forward to one day becoming the governor of his home state. He furthered his education in Mexico City, getting his bachelor of arts degree in law from Universidad Panamericana (UP) in 1989 and completing his thesis in 1991 and then went on to get his M.BA from Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudio Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM). Both these universities are well recognized in Mexico and ITESM is a very well respected school on the international level as well. However, one of the scandals he has faced is that his thesis from UP was plagiarized and that due to his unoriginality he was not actually a viable graduate from this specific university, more on this scandal later.
EPN became affiliated with PRI in 1984, at the young age of 18, after enrolling in UP to study law. However, this was not his first exposure to politics, in fact he is the nephew of two former governors of Edo. Mex (Arturo Montiel and Alfredo del Mazo Gonzalez) so he would often attend rallies for his family members and be exposed to political events. However, as he often tells, he became introduced to politics at the age of 15, in 1981, when he would help his uncle del Mazo Gonzalez spread his campaign ideas through literature. This is said to be the time where EPN decided he would want to pursue a political career. It wasn’t until 2005, when he was elected governor of Edo. Mex, where he really became a powerful and recognized politician in Edo. Mex and in Mexico overall.
When the elections for the governor of Edo. Mex occurred, EPN was the least favorite to win. However due to being the nephew of the previous governor (Arturo Montiel) and a historically PRI favored state, it could be said, this was a sort of “Dedazo” once again even though that seemed to have disappeared once Fox took office in 2000, breaking the PRI regime. However, it would seem EPN took office due to this. The election was fairly one sided, PRI got 47.45% of the vote, PAN got 24.79% and PRD got 24.17%, with a voter turnout of 48%. This election came with some controversy, not only PRI, but PRD and PAN. The candidate for PAN, Ruben Mendoza, was said to have made many mistakes in his campaign and at time even showing drunk to events. Mendoza would often make crude remarks and was caught on tape giving his followers “soccer balls out of a PRI vehicle” instead of from his own campaign. Mendoza was the original favorite to win over this crucial state, but due to his campaign mistakes, he lost the governorship. The PRD candidate, Yeidckol Polevnsky, was a candidate with no political experience making him unappealing to the public. With the mistakes Mendoza made, it would’ve been assumed that Polevnsky would have gotten his votes, but they went to EPN instead. PRI has a stigma of being corrupt and often buying elections to help further their agenda, and as Pamela Starr (an academic) put it eloquently “In a way it was a typical election with the PRI buying victory. But that said, the PRI didn’t win…” she argues that the PRD and PAN lost it instead, due to their mistakes on the campaign trail and on backing a candidate with no experience. EPN won the election though, and his term served from 2005-2011 and, like everything following his win, came scandals that would seem to hurt, but not enough to make him an unelectable candidate.
Once he took office, it did not take much time for the first scandal to erupt. On the 3rd day of May 2006, State and Federal forces marched into San Salvador Atenco and a violent stand-off occurred which led to “200 arrested, 50 injured, 2 dead and 26 women raped”, a very controversial and, in the eyes of many, a very unnecessary action ordered by EPN. This whole thing began in 2002 under the administration of Fox, when he wanted to build a new international airport that served Mexico City in the land surrounding San Salvador Atenco (Atenco for short). The people became mad and would often protest against their removal of their own land, the FPDT was a strong opposition of this new planned airport. The main protestors were flower vendors and other vendors of agricultural products. Once the police forces entered Atenco and violently starting arresting and beating the citizens, a 10-hour long violence infested protest began. EPN having ordered this raid was seen as the one culprit, and while he did assume the responsibility years later, he was still called a “murderer” by many citizens of Atenco and Mexico in general. When asked about the incident, instead of blatantly saying it was a terrible and disgraceful action he ordered, he would often try to blame the media for the way it was portrayed or blame the citizens of Atenco for not welcoming the police with open arms, and instead inciting the violence that followed, something that infuriated many people in Mexico and around the world. Of the 26 women that were raped, 4 were not Mexican and they were “2 españolas, una chilena y una alemana” which also caused international stir. EPN, being the one who ordered this raid is seen as the only culprit in this horrendous act of human rights violations, and while one would hope none of these would ever happen again, unfortunately for EPN he still has 2 more of these scandals coming up.
While this was the only big scandal he had as governor of Edo. Mex, it is one that should not be taken lightly. In many countries that are truly democratic, this would automatically disqualify a candidate from ever seeking a higher office, especially the office of president. However, when the time came to select candidates for the 3 main parties, EPN was at the top of the list for PRI, something that didn’t sit well with the country. Even before he was president, and due to his actions as governor, he was disliked by the Mexican public, due mostly to his role in the raid of Atenco. In 2012 during his campaign a protest group formed known today as Yo soy 132 after a campaign event in Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. This group began due to EPN’s response to a question regarding his action to raid the town of Atenco and commit several human right infractions. Even before his presidency started, he was disliked and not due to his policy proposals but for his actions. He came into the campaign trail in a disadvantage but then managed to pull up and influence the voters to his favor.
Campaign and 2012 election:
EPN was pegged to represent PRI in the elections in 2012. This was first hinted at in several announcements and spots on TV in 2011 when he was still governor of Edo. Mex. However, when it came time for el PRI to nominate a candidate to lead them to retake back the presidency it was EPN who took this opportunity, and eventually came out victorious. While on campaign, EPN had some questionable and, while some were hilarious, lamentable moments. One of the most important ones came in May of 2012, under 2 months from the general election. When the Department of Justice of the USA, alongside the DEA, identified a close personal friend of EPN with ties to narcotics trafficking. This person was none other than the ex-governor of the northern state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington. The DEA took back 2 properties owned by Yarrington worth over US$9million. This was an important accusation as it in some way “proved” the long assumed relationship between EPN and the narcotics trafficking. Other blunders included the inability to name 3 of the books he’s read at an international book fair, failure to respond to a question regarding the price of “tortillas” and saying she was not the lady of the house so he did not know, or in an interview when asked what his ex-wife died from, he seemed to not particularly know exactly what it was (this made people angry and it started conspiracy theories that EPN killed his wife because after all he was a murderer as seen in Atenco) and seemed nervous to respond. These all minor things caused the public to really dislike him, but his lead in the polls was still by a big margin.
EPN has also been said to have received “el respaldo de diversos medios de comunicación, destacadamente Televisa… la de mayor audiencia en México” help in building his image due to many television spots, and also negative spots on his opponents, especially Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. This was further denied by Televisa and by the candidate himself, but anyone who actually watched the spots and knows about the history of Televisa knows that, EPN was their candidate of choice. This shows how el PRI has in reality not changed, and they still in some way control the flow of information and the media. Leading up to the election, EPN was held in a very attractive way, physically and politically, compared to his opponents.
The election of 2012 was between 3 major candidates, EPN for PRI, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) for PRD and Josefina Vazquez Mota (JVM) for PAN. With EPN being the favorite to win, the result came as expected, EPN won the presidency after earning 38.2% of the votes, AMLO came in second with a 31.6% and JVM came in third with 25.4%, showing how more than 60% of the voters do not wish to see EPN as president, a flaw with a three party system and an already hard hole to climb out of if one wishes to have his approval ratings kept high. So after a 12 year hiatus of PRI rule, in 2012 Mexico once again welcomed into office a PRI president, yet even the election was subject to controversy.
The elections of 2012, came with 2 controversies, one fairly irrelevant compared to one that is huge. When poor people went out to vote in 2012, PRI “officials” or supporters, would offer a pre-paid card to a grocery store if they would vote for EPN. Since the poor people in Mexico often don’t have enough disposable money to afford many groceries, these cards came as life savers and they would then vote for PRI. This type of vote buying, or bribes, is an electoral fraud fueled by corruption, something the PRI has been historically linked with in previous elections when they controlled the political scope of Mexico. Women who were indecisive on who to vote, would often vote for EPN due to his good looks, “Pena Nieto proved an effective campaigner who appealed especially to women”.
The second and bigger controversy came to light in 2016, when it was reported that a Colombian hacker named Andres Sepulveda told Bloomberg Businessweek that he was hired by EPN to hack an election and help him secure victory. While EPN and his team denied these allegations, Sepulveda has had a nearly decade long experience hacking and influence other elections in Latin America. However, his previous hacking jobs did not include hacking and tapping phones of political opponents, but simply defacing candidates’ websites and pages. When he was approached by a middle man to work for PRI and their money resources, “$600,000, the Peña Nieto job was by far his most complex” and it came costly at the expense of not only PRI but Mexico. This hacking job was mainly to get the upper hand on the opponents of EPN, AMLO and JVM and he did so by “tap[ping] the phones and computers of anyone using the network, including the candidate” allowing him to see everything the candidate and their team were doing in real time.
This story broke out in 2016, 4 years removed from the election, and during a time where EPN was already suffering in the approval polls due to his policies and other scandals that came to light. What goes to show during this election and the events leading up the election of EPN is that Mexico is not a complete democracy and corruption will always have the upper hand. The election, while EPN did win by a large enough margin, is plagued to be invalid or tampered with, making it in a sense a pseudo-democracy. While the public did vote EPN into power, there are many other factors and evidence that could prove that the election was illegitimate, making EPN an illegitimate president.
EPN as president and relevance today:
Scandals as president that have brought his approval rating down:
Right now the approval rating of EPN is at a historically low 12% which is something that is very unheard of in democratic countries. This can be attributed to the numerous scandals and controversies that have occurred during his first 5 years in office, and also some of the policies he has implemented. Some of the controversies are smaller and the details are not too many and are scarce so their description and analysis will not be as complete as the previous section of this paper. However, these scandals and controversies have led to a historically unpopular president and the potential rise of an extreme president which could be worse for Mexico. Tracking approval ratings, might seem like a useless statistic, but they go to show many things about a country. A disapproved president will often lead to a rising of a politically dangerous character which threatens to go to the extreme to fix the country in a way the current president is unable to do so. The approval ratings can also go to show how democratic a country is, a president with an approval rating of less than 50% or less than what he won the election by (38.2%) goes to show how flawed a country might be democratically. EPN has never been a very popular candidate, yet he won the presidency, he has been surrounded by multiple scandals, yet he has not been removed or investigated. Once in power in Latin America, and Mexico, it is hard to remove said power and this often leads to crises, as one can see with the Venezuelan economic crisis as well as Argentina with Christina Kirchner. Latin America, Mexico and PRI in particular are often characterized with corruption and it can be one of the factors why EPN is still in power even after many of the scandals presented below.
The most damaging scandal by EPN and his administration is without a doubt the case of Ayotzinapa and the 43 missing students. This scandal is a huge human rights violation and it has negatively grappled the administration of EPN. On 26 September 2014, students from Ayotzinapa were on their way to Mexico City for a commemoration of the events of October 2, 1968 on many buses. They were intercepted and attacked by police, army and a militia group known as Guerreros Unidos in the community of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. During the shootout, 8 people were killed, 25 of them were injured and 43 remain missing to this day. One of the suspects in this is the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife Maria de los Angeles. Maria de los Angeles is relative of many members of the drug cartel Beltran-Leyva, so the evidence is against them. Right after this shootout, they escaped from Iguala and went to Mexico City to hide, furthering their guilty stigma. EPN is also said to have played a part in this, similar to the Atenco case, and EPN also left the country on a visit to China when this happened. A crisis of this magnitude would normally keep the president in the country and try and solve it. Not only did he “flee” to China, but he did not even acknowledge the event until after a few weeks, “hasta el día 11 que Peña por primera vez hablaría del caso”. His failure to appreciate the magnitude of this crisis alongside, how he spoke about the event itself made the public angry and they blamed him for doing this, which is not the first time he would’ve approved a police/military intervention on protests. When he spoke about the crisis, instead of showing a strong, sad, and ashamed tone, he would often just say “superemos esta etapa” which means “let’s move on from this phase”. This whole speech and his way of expressing it made people curious as to whether or not he actually cared about the disappearing of 43 students, and the death of 8. After this horrific event, it would be the first time people would disapprove EPN more than they would approve of him, and with good reason. This event still has no solid culprits and it is still a very sore subject for the administration of EPN. This killing and kidnapping of innocent protesters also comes on the heels of a different massacre that occurred on June 30, 2014.
June 30, 2014 is another day that the administration of EPN has wanting to ignore or forget, known as the Tlataya Massacre. This came in the very early morning of said day when a group of military men saw an armed person protecting a warehouse. The military decided to check it out and a stand-off occurred with the military shooting first to draw the people inside the warehouse out. The people inside the warehouse came out and surrendered. However, the military did not stop there and they executed the people in the warehouse one by one. This is a gross violation of human rights and it ultimately caused the death of 22 people. While the executed people were doing illegal activities by having women kidnapped in the warehouse, and some other criminal activity, the fact that the military executed them goes to show the lack of control the president has on his own military force. As of now 8 of the military members involved in this shooting were put on trial, with only 1 of them sentenced for a minimum sentence of 1 year in prison. Another interesting fact of this massacre was that the crime scene was tampered with to make it seem the deaths of the executed people was due to a standoff, but multiple witnesses and a report from the CNDH shows it was in fact an execution of the Mexican military, in control by EPN. This massacre and Ayotzinapa are two terrible events that the president has not addressed or seemed to care too much about. These have made him look like a murderer or complicit with the murderers of the innocent people, which is why his approval rating have sunk since these 2 events at a drastic pace.
One of the most pathetic things to ever happen to EPN was when Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped in 2015 from a maximum security prison. EPN and his administration did manage to capture him twice, once in 2014 and the other in 2016, but the simple fact he managed to escape in the first place is one of the things that EPN whished he would’ve done more to avoid. The escape of “El Chapo” is seen as a lack of security around, arguably, the most wanted man on earth, and the escape came at a time when EPN was already on “thin ice” in regards to his approval rating. This was seen as a laughing stock on the global scene and EPN suffered from it. While this was not his fault, the fact that it happened caused EPN to become very disliked by the Mexican community and the global community.
Other smaller, yet relevant, scandals and controversies have plagued EPN and in turn made him a very disapproved president. The most recent scandal was the capture of the ex-governor of Veracruz and close friend of EPN, Javier Duarte for money laundering and embezzlement. This comes as no shock, as there are many ties between EPN and criminal activities and corruption. In 2016 it was found that EPN’s thesis from school showed that of his 200 page written document “28.9 percent, [was] found to be plagiarized” which may be shown that he is in fact not a real graduate or a real lawyer. A scandal known as La Casa Blanca shows that TV star Angelica Rivera, and wife to EPN, purchased a house valued at $US7.5million from Grupo Higa, a construction group which was a favorite of EPN. This house was purchased at preferential price by Rivera, and this is shady as Grupo Higa had just won the rights to build a train from Mexico City-Queretaro. This came just weeks after the Ayotzinapa scandal in 2014. The visit by Donald Trump in October 2016 was also seen as a weak move by the president. His coffin, in terms of approval ratings, comes at the beginning of 2017 with a scandal known as “gazolinazo”, when to attract investment and save government funds, the government got rid of the subsidies it has on fuel and it eventually led to a 20% increase in gasoline prices. The country revolted and protested this. This is the backlash of the energy reform EPN passed in 2013 that allowed international competition in a monopolistic market of gasoline controlled by PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos). This energy reform was a great thing and it was received with many applauses and approval by almost everyone. The “gasolinazo” is part of the energy reform and it was part of the backlash, this is what drove EPN to have an approval rating of 12%.
EPN has seen a steady decline in his approval ratings since 2013, and most of it is related to the scandals he has surrounded himself in, most of which would damage any president. EPN in some ways brought these scandals upon himself and it is no shock that he is a very disliked president. This tracking of approval ratings is relevant, in the eyes of society, to see how exactly a person that has committed so many violations and scandals could’ve possibly been elected to office, and even kept in office after discovering. This disapproval has given rise to the extreme-left in Mexico with a possible president like AMLO (now a candidate for MORENA), and he might be more dangerous than EPN could ever be. Disapproved and disliked presidents usually lead to extremes rising out, and in the previous years Latin America has been bound by a “Left-turn” causing countries to go towards more left leaning candidates.
Mexico is far from being a perfect democracy, and it could be argued that no country is. The case of EPN is a very interesting and clear one, his approval ratings were down since he took office due to his previous entanglements with social unrest, and the fact that over 60% of the voters did not want him. Tracking approval ratings seems to be a useless and unheard of practice, but these may determine the future of a country. Extreme candidates are the biggest threat to low approval ratings and with presidents who have been synonymous with the word scandal. In Mexico AMLO (an extreme left-Chavez loving-candidate) is gaining more and more steam ahead of the 2018 elections and this could be dangerous. In France as well, Marine Le Pen (a far-right candidate) was favorite to win the presidency due to the 4% approval rating of Hollande. Approval ratings in some way also show how effectively a democracy is working, high approval rating usually mean the public is content with their elected leader (in this case the government is of the people), the opposite is true of low approval ratings, they are usually only in power due to themselves controlling the power and unwilling to let it go. EPN has been surrounded by corruption his whole career, it comes as no surprise that he may be in power due to this as well, something very common in Latin American countries. If a person is this disliked, why not get rid of him or at least seriously investigate him? I guess power and corruption are the true leaders of Latin America and Mexico.
- #YoSoy132. “Manifesto of #YoSoy132 to the Peoples of Mexico.” 23 May 2012.
- Kraul, Chris, and Cecilia Sanchez. “PRI Wins Governorship of Mexico’s Most Populous State.” Los Angeles Times. The World, 04 July 2005.
- Aguayo Quezada, Sergio. Remolino: El Mexico de la Sociedad Organizada, los poderes facticos y Enrique Pena Nieto. 2014
- Candon-Mena, Jose Ignacio. “Movimientos por la democratización de la comunicación : los casos del 15M y #YOSOY132.” Razon y Palabra 82 (2013).
- Conn, Clayton . “Mexico Remembers 2006 Atenco Tragedy When Police Raped, Killed.” Telesur. 3 May 2016.
- Emequis. “Peña Nieto: ¿Por qué y cómo ganó la Presidencia?” Vanguardia. 11 July 2012.
- Gomez, Magdalena. “Ayotzinapa: de la crisis humanitaria a la crisis de Estado.” El Cotidiano 30.189 (2015): 50-59
- Negrete-Cárdenas, Sergio. “La brújula perdida de Enrique Peña Nieto.” Analisis Plural (2016): 45-58.
- Okeowo, Alexis. “THE GAS-PRICE PROTESTS GRIPPING MEXICO.” The New Yorker. 24 Jan. 2017
- Politico, Animal. “Así ocurrió la matanza del Ejército en Tlatlaya, según la CNDH.” Vanguardia.22 Oct. 2014.
- Robertson, Jordan, Michael Riley, and Andrew Willis. “How to Hack an Election.” Bloomberg. Bloomberg Businessweek, 31 Mar. 2016.
- Stargardter, Gabriel. “Los 8 escándalos que han marcado el sexenio de Peña Nieto.” Reuters. 21 Aug. 2016
- “Tlatlaya, a un año de la masacre.” El Economista. 30 June 2015.
- “A 8 años del conflicto y abusos en San Salvador Atenco.” Terra. Redaccion Mexico, 2 May 2014
 This means that “by pointing a finger” to someone the president chose as the next president
 This was the case in the 2000 election when PAN (Vicente Fox) got 42.52% and PRI (Francisco Labastida) got 36.11%
 The voter turnout was unusually low, due to the candidates not being the optimal choices of the public
 Chris Kraul and Cecilia Sanchez in the LA Times
 A quote given to the LA Times
 Conn. A violent and unnecessary intervention
 Community Front in Defense of Land
 2 Spanish girls, a Chilean girl and a German girl. Terra
 I am 132. A group of 131 student formed this protest group, with a manifesto, to stand up against EPN and his actions in Atenco claiming he is not a viable presidential candidate to represent them
 He named the Bible and a book by an author which was not the correct author of the book
 Endorsement from the biggest television communication company in Mexico. Vanguardia
 There was a 63% voter turnout
 Chris Kraul and Cecilia Sanchez in the LA Times
 Bloomberg Businessweek story on Andres Sepulveda
 As of January 2017
 Known as the Tlatelolco Massacre were police attacked citizens protesting
 United Warriors
 Until day 11 when EPN talked about the case. It is unclear if this means 11 days after the event or the day 11 of October
 Human Rights National Commission report on the massacre
 Reuters by Stargardter
 The White House scandal
 The elections that took place on April 23, 2017 put her in second place behind a centrist Emmanuel Macron, which is good news
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