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Social networking impacts Mexican election

June 8, 2012

This is Mexico’s first presidential election in the age of the social network. Twitter was launched days after the 2006 election and Facebook was hardly known then outside of colleges in the United States.

These websites have already impacted upon the current campaigns, providing a means for young people to spread information among their friends, organize mass protests and feel more engaged in politics.

Gaffes by presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have been roundly mocked online and it is no coincidence that he began to dip in the polls at the same time as the #Yo Soy 132 movement emerged.

The non-partisan campaign took its name from the 131 students at the Universidad IberoAmericana who, after heckling Peña Nieto, posted a video on YouTube to prove they were in fact students and not thugs sent by another party, as the PRI had claimed.

Coordinated via social networks, #Yo Soy 132 has organized protests across the country criticizing the role of mainstream media outlets such as Televisa, which is frequently accused of bias in favor of Peña Nieto.

The advent of Twitter means Mexicans no longer need to rely on the likes of Televisa for news. Major broadcasters cannot decide anymore whether the public hear about a certain story because it is already being tweeted in real-time.

With staff dedicated to running their social networking campaigns, the presidential candidates are all seeking to amass the biggest online support base.

Having long trailed Peña Nieto (@EPN) in the Twitter stakes, JosefinaVazquez Mota (@JosefinaVM) of the National Action Party (PAN) recently overtook him. As of Thursday, 11.20 a.m., she had 816,575 followers to Peña Nieto’s 767,252. Party of the Democractic Revolution (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (@LopezObrador_) trailed with 654,060 followers.

However, Peña Nieto had by far the largest support base on Facebook, with 3,027,456 users “liking” his page. Vazquez Mota had 1,710,163 “likes” and Lopez Obrador just 469,014.

These figures are not an accurate reflection of the polls, as most surveys currently show Lopez Obrador leading Vazquez Mota in second place. There are several reasons why they should be taken with a pinch of salt in terms of forecasting the elections.

Firstly, social networkers tend to be young people from Mexico’s biggest cities. The views of older voters or those from more rural areas are under represented on Twitter and Facebook. According to Internet World Stats, 42 million people in Mexico have internet access, equivalent to just 36.1 percent of the population (Jalisco is home to 7.4 percent of all Mexico’s internet users, with 38.6 percent of the state population enjoying internet access.)

Secondly, being followed or liked on these sites is not necessarily an endorsement. For example, as of Thursday there were 341,303 people talking about Peña Nieto on Facebook, but much of this discussion ranged from the satirical to the fiercely critical.

Finally, many of these online supporters do not even represent real people. Many of Peña Nieto’s Twitter followers have been exposed as fake bots with generic avatars, no followers and no followings – presumably created by campaign staff to make the candidate appear more popular.

Expo hosts presidential, gubernatorial debates

Mexico’s presidential candidates will engage in a battle of wits in the second and final televised debate on Sunday night at the Expo Guadalajara trade show and convention center.  Earlier in the day, the four candidates for governor of Jalisco will face off in their second debate.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Josefina Vazuez Mota will hope to gain ground on frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with less than a month before voters go to the polls on July 1. The fourth candidate, Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party (PANAL), will also participate although he is only polling around five percent.

The debate begins at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast live on both Televisa and TV Azteca.

The candidates for the Jalisco governorship will also debate at the Expo on Sunday, at 10 a.m. Enrique Alfaro of the Citizens’ Movement and Aristoteles Sandoval of PRI currently lead what increasingly appears a two-horse race to control the state.

While the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) organized the first two presidential debates, the #Yo Soy 132 movement has organized a third debate in which the participants will respond to questions from students.  Lopez Obrador, Vazquez Mota and Quadri have all agreed to take part, although Peña Neto declined after #Yo Soy 132 declared itself in opposition to his candidacy. The debate is set for Tuesday, June 19 at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast live via YouTube.

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