The explanation #2 from my ideas on why EPN is leading the polls.
This one continues to gain traction as the Guardian and liberal Mexican news sources publish information that seems to incriminate the EPN campaign and Televisa for orchestrating a huge PR campaign (one spreadsheet shows a budget above 500 million pesos (U$ 45 million). These claims had already been circulated and in fact the “#soy 132” student-propelled movement has led anti-EPN demonstrations after the mass media covered a contentious visit from Peña Nieto to the Universidad Iberoamericana with very strong bias towards minimizing the role of protestors. A link to one of the videos from the events can be found here.
While many in México have talked about the collusion of the PRI and the major media empires (Televisa and TV Azteca), less reference has been made to any evidence supporting the claim that positive media coverage is capable of winning an election. In a paper analyzing the media coverage during the 2006 Mexican Election, Valenzuela and McCombs argue that the positive (candidate attribute salience) and extensive coverage (candidate salience) of Calderón was the major determinant of voter preferences.
If we look at the figures that the Mexican electoral commission (IFE) has published on media coverage (http://monitoreo2012.ife.org.mx/sitio_camp/index.html), we can see that since mid-April Peña Nieto has been covered more than any of the other candidates. More interesting is also the fact that during the “pre-campaign” during which only the PAN had a democratic primary season, the PRD and the PRI candidate both received about 21% of all coverage.
Clearly, this picture is incomplete as we do not know the nature of the coverage as negative coverage will clearly have a different effect than positive coverage. But as the paper by Lodge, Verhulst and Lavine (see hypothesis 1) argues, familiarity is an important element of a positive evaluation of a candidate. EPN has cultivated this familiarity over the last five years, and not only that, he has mixed his image with that of the telenovela dream stories. This long-term effect seems to mirror the findings of Son and Weaver (2006) that show that only in the long run can favorable continual media coverage can affect public opinion towards candidates.
Regardless of how the news covers him, his figure is so strongly linked to positive emotions and to seeing him as the hero in a telenovela, that this agenda-setting; not based on issues, but on the candidate and his charming attributed, is strongly supporting his great presidential run. People in México might be subject to “mere-exposure” and other low-information shortcuts that guide their decision-making in a country where prospective expectations are nothing less than a gamble and the likelihood of candidates fulfilling their promises is very slim. Yet again, EPN also links his “compromisos cumplidos” to his ubiquitous smile and hair do.
But enough with Political communications research, following will be my less scientific but nonetheless quite reasonable views on why the PRI is leading the polls (and similarly, why the PRD seems to be closing the gap).