Former SRE Undersecretary: Next Election Hinges on Middle Class

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The results of Mexico’s 2024 presidential election will be determined by the country’s middle class, a former Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) said this week.

Writing in the April 11 edition of the newsletter of the U.S.-based trimonthly magazine Americas Quarterly, former SRE Undersecretary and current professor of public policy at the London School of Economics (LSE) Vanessa Rubio Márquez said that Mexico’s next presidential election will almost certainly hinge on middle-class voters hit hard by inflation, lack of economic growth and covid-19. 

“Any candidate looking to succeed will need to offer a credible and concrete plan to help reduce the strains on (middle-class) families,” she wrote.

“To gain their support, candidates should propose viable policies to ensure social mobility through access to education and by reducing vulnerabilities caused by a lack of health services.”

Rubio Márquez went on to say that “whoever is able to show how they will create opportunities for close to these 30 million potential voters — 60 percent of the 47 million men and women in the middle class who are 18 and over — will most probably define the next election.”

She explained that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) “is a master of playing to his base,” the lower classes.

“To rally public support for the second half of his term — and amid heated debate over priorities like electricity reform and a new oil refinery — López Obrador orchestrated a recall referendum against himself on April 10,” she noted.

“Not surprisingly, more than 90 percent of the 16 million voters (17.5 percent of the electorate) who participated said they wanted López Obrador to stay on board.”

But Rubio Márquez warned that “in continuing to curry favor among his most ardent supporters, López Obrador may be sidelining a group that will be even more important in the run-up to presidential elections in 2024.”

“With key figures from the president’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena)  party already jockeying to take up the mantle when his term expires, López Obrador could lose support from the middle class in the wake of the pandemic, opening a door for Mexico’s scattered opposition,” she said.

Rubio Márquez said that while many people believe that AMLO hasn’t enjoyed much support from Mexico’s middle class, that is a “misconception.”

According to a recent study be Aleister Monfort and Sergio Barcena using electoral sections to build a “wellbeing index” that classifies Mexico’s population within 10 groups according to the socioeconomic stratums defined in the 2020 census, with 1 being the poorest segment and 10 representing the richest, Rubio Márquez pointed out that In both 2018 and in the 2021 mid-terms, Morena obtained more votes than any other party in every socio-economic group except the country’s top 10 percent.

“López Obrador has nonetheless referred to the middle class pejoratively as ‘aspirers and individualists’ and as being ‘without any moral scruples whatsoever.’ He frequently attacks institutions such as universities, where most employees and beneficiaries are firmly in the middle of the socio-economic spectrum,” she said.

“While these attacks may be baffling to some voters, more concerning is the lack of effective policies to improve living standards among this group, especially in the wake of the global health — and economic — crisis.”

Rubio Márquez said that, in general terms, “middle class” in Mexico refers to citizens whose basic needs in food, housing, health and education are broadly met.

“But while most Latin American countries spent big to respond to covid-19, López Obrador’s administration spent just 0.7 percent of the GDP to help Mexicans during the crisis.,” she said.

“There was no money to support families or to keep small businesses afloat. As the health crisis spread, a massive, but incomplete overhaul of the public health system, initiated by the government, meant that many Mexicans were cut off from support that could have come from the recently discontinued Seguro Popular. The change affected government purchases, leading to shortages in vital medications for lower- and middle-class families dealing with cancer and other long-term health challenges. This in the middle of a pandemic.”

Rubio Márquez likewise said that while AMLO sees Mexico as a poor country, some 47 million of the total population of 126 million are considered as neither poor nor rich, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval).

Notwithstanding, she said, many Mexicans who currently are considered middle class are vulnerable to falling into poverty.

“A common aspiration among these shades of gray is a desire to enroll children in private schools,” she said.

“Families often dedicate large proportions of their income toward their children’s tuition, a worthy investment if you consider that according to the OECD, finishing high school in Mexico means adding five years to one’s life expectancy.”

Rubio Márquez observed that polarization and political mobilization mean that the top and bottom deciles of Mexico¿s socio-economic spectrum are already largely spoken for.

“The holy electoral grail lies in the middle,” she said.

“Candidates need to re-enchant the middle class that has been battered the health and economic crisis of the pandemic. In Mexico, these voters were left to their own devices, and their vulnerabilities have been exposed and exacerbated. This is where the game-changing political challenge lies, since this time around it will be much harder to ‘sell’ electoral proposals that can be regarded as credible.”

Lack of credibility and trust are, Rubio Márquez said, “precisely at the core of the current crisis of politics.”

“Middle-class voters struggle for what they have, don’t want to lose what they’ve achieved and legitimately aspire for more,” she said.

“Thus, social mobility and the reduction of vulnerabilities has become a key element to ignite political interest for those who are part of this ample and complex spectrum.”

Consequently, she said, the candidate that is “able to connect with this diverse middle class will have a better chance of becoming Mexico’s president in 2024.”


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