Six years ago, a crowd of outraged Mexican students protested a campaign appearance by Enrique Peña Nieto at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. The campus protest was so intense that it forced Peña Nieto, then the leading candidate, to hide in a bathroom.
When local media and spokesmen from Peña Nieto’s campaign inaccurately described the demonstration as orchestrated by outside agitators, 131 students responded with an online video explaining why they opposed Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The symbolic inclusion of an additional rebellious student, making them 132, lead to a movement called #YoSoy132.
#YoSoy132 was how my generation became active in politics. It was a passionate reaction against the old ways of doing politics. The movement failed to materialize as a coherent political alternative, and most of the members have embraced different paths: activism, organizing, journalism and independent political ventures. Nonetheless, something that was just developing then is is now fully matured: a steadfast opposition against the PRI, the authoritarian party that uninterruptedly ruled the country for 71 years, from 1929 to 2000.
According to analysis by Javier Márquez, one of the statisticians behind the Oraculus website, which aggregates 21 polls from 10 polling firms, a majority of young voters support the current leading candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. However, it is among this base that the 39-year-old runner-up, Ricardo Anaya, finds a lot of support as well.
López Obrador and Anaya stand on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum yet find in the young their most enthusiastic backers. Millennial voters show the lowest support for José Antonio Meade, the PRI’s candidate. The narrative of this year’s election in Mexico is, to a certain extent, not a class struggle but one between generations.
The demographic clash is particularly relevant because the traditional differences between left and right are hazy and convoluted in Mexico.
Anaya, a young politician from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), has formed a coalition that includes the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Citizens’ Movement, in theory two leftist parties. This alliance is blatantly incoherent and is sometimes at odds with itself on key issues, such as the regulation of cannabis and the role of foreign companies in the energy sector.
Similarly, the left-wing Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), a party created and entirely ruled by López Obrador, has joined forces with the Social Encounter Party (PES), an evangelical Christian group that stands against basic rights such as abortion and gay marriage. These ideological inconsistencies are proof of a paramount division that explains the presidential election: It’s everyone against the PRI.
Young voters are shaping this dynamic. Wikipolítica, perhaps the most direct heir to the #YoSoy132 movement, is an independent and growing coalition of young citizens running for office and trying to restore the deeply damaged relationship between represented and representatives. This new political movement symbolizes the generational fracture with the past. Its platform is a rejection of the common practices in Mexican party politics: nepotism, corruption, fraud and clientelism, tactics deployed by the PRI for most of the 20th century and the past six years — but by no means exclusive to one party.
Though still very modest in size, Wikipolítica captures the thinking of the Mexican youth. For this generation, this election is less about ideology or policies and more about the types of players that should be part of the game. Although López Obrador represents a rupture with the status quo, Wikipolítica has nevertheless pursued its own, independent path. Pedro Kumamoto, the movement’s leader, who is campaigning for a seat in the Senate, has attacked the far-fetched hope of one single person solving all national problems — an allusion to López Obrador.
In this year’s elections, young voters are likely to bring about the incumbent party’s defeat. It is less clear to what extent disenchanted young citizens will go out and vote. Even in the midst of #YoSoy132, turnout was higher among older voters in the 2012 elections. Precisely because of this pattern, it is even more important to understand the full extent of demographic behavior: Will young voters hand out a death sentence for the PRI, a party that once was dubbed “the perfect dictatorship,” or is this just a temporary reaction against a particularly dreadful administration?
In any case, we should not forget that the fight against authoritarianism demands the embrace of critical thought and courageous dissent, regardless of the party or person who holds power. After this year’s elections, once the PRI is ousted, my generation’s battle against the past should still go on.
Arturo Rocha is a political scientist from the Mexico City-based Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE). He is finishing a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago.