Whoever wins in Mexico's general election Sunday could be making history

This election could also be the largest in the country's history, with 100 million Mexican voters or more expected to cast their ballots in 2024.
Ruling party presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum, center left, greets supporters at a campaign rally
Posted at 4:59 PM, May 31, 2024

Whoever wins Mexico's general election Sunday could be making history, as the country is poised to elect its first woman president.

Mexico and the U.S. share deep economic ties. Both countries are each other's No. 1 trading partner, with the dollar figures in trade adding up to close to a trillion dollars.

The two countries also have a nearly 2,000-mile shared border, and the politics of migration are taking an outsize rhetorical role in presidential politics this election cycle.

Not only are Mexicans likely to elect the first woman to the presidency, they're also deciding on hundreds of seats in their Senate and Chamber of Deputies, as well hundreds of other seats in their 31 state elections and Mexico City.

Another factor making this election historical is that it's expected to be the largest in the country's history — 100 million Mexican voters or more may cast their ballots in 2024.

A Mexican president can only serve one six-year term, meaning incumbent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — better known by his acronym moniker AMLO — will be out of office. But his shadow looms over Mexico.

"This election is going to be an election in terms of whether you want to continue the AMLO legacy through Sheinbaum or you want something completely different through Xochitl Galvez," said University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina, who studies Latino politics in the U.S. and is a native of Mexico.

"From the bad economy, from violence, the narco war — 2018 and 2024 are completely different," Cortina said.

Cortina says populist class-conscious politics dominate the outgoing president's Morena Party agenda.

"It's a class war, right? Between the haves and the have-nots," Cortina said.

AMLO's Morena Party successor, Claudia Sheinbaum, will carry that mantle.

Sheinbaum, who holds a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and is a former mayor of Mexico City, holds a comfortable lead in the opinion polls over her nearest rival. At a rally mid-May she mused at accusations that her party was being too far left and authoritarian.

"Has it gone badly for businessmen? No," Sheinbaum told a crowd in Mexico City. "Only now there is less poverty and less inequality. And that is what we want, that those who have not had [enough] historically have the opportunity to have a fair, dignified and prosperous life."

Under AMLO, the Mexican government has integrated its military into a series of public works projects, such as an expansion of train service through the Yucatan jungle, and a controversial new airport. It also polices the country's border with a heavier presence.

Cortina expressed skepticism of vesting so much power in the armed forces.

"That is extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely dangerous," he said.

Political observers in the U.S. also argue AMLO has sewed distrust in public institutions like the judiciary and the electoral agency that runs the general election.

A person holds a sign that reads "We are all the same Mexico" at an opposition rally called to encourage voting ahead of the June 2 presidential elections.

Latin America and Caribbean

Mexico's historic elections will likely put a woman in power

AP via Scripps News
7:05 AM, May 28, 2024

AMLO's brand of politics, some argue, amounts to left-leaning economic policies and a hodgepodge of populism.

"Voters are looking at less a left-right paradigm, but more of the question do you support liberal democratic government, or you support sort of a populist, competitive, authoritarian form of government that AMLO has tried to enshrine in Mexico," said Mark Jones, a Latin American studies professor and political analyst at Rice University's Baker Institute.

Sheinbaum's nearest opponent is Xochitl Galvez, also a former mayor. She represents a coalition of three parties normally opposed to one another: the PRI, considered centrist neo-liberal; PAN, which is right-leaning conservative; and PRD, a left-leaning social democratic party. All three have disparate politics but have united to defeat AMLO and the Morena Party.

"Altogether, what they share in common is their support for the liberal democratic system in Mexico, and the desire that the country not follow the authoritarian, populist path of AMLO," said Jones.

President Biden hasn't overtly criticized AMLO or his party, as the U.S. has sought cooperation on border control.

Since U.S.-Mexico talks in December, Mexican authorities have pushed migrants who want to cross into the U.S. further away from the border. Overall, illegal crossings into the U.S. are down year over year.

If Sheinbaum wins, she's seen as likely to continue AMLO's approach to U.S. relations.

Of the tens of millions of Mexicans who will vote Sunday, 1.3 million of them are registered voters living abroad. According to the nonpartisan Wilson Center, a congressionally chartered think tank, 97% of those registered voters call the U.S. home.

The Mexican government will offer those voters a chance to vote in consulates across the U.S.