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Mexico Runoff Elections



Authors: Timothy S. Rich, Ian Milden, Madelynn Einhorn, Aurora Speltz*

Most Latin American presidential systems have runoff elections if the first place candidate fails to meet a legal threshold. However, Mexico is not one of them, important when considering that three of the last four presidential elections resulted in winners with less than half of the vote.

The 2000 election ended the PRI’s 74 years of electoral dominance and often is cited as a turning point for Mexican democracy. However, Vincente Fox of the PAN only captured 42.5%. In 2006, the PAN’s Filipe Calderon won with only 36.38% of the vote, compared to Manuel Lopez Obrador’s 35.34%. Both candidates initially declared victory while election officials reiterated it was too close to call. Obrador supporters protested for weeks claiming voter fraud, while Calderon himself suggested runoffs could prevent this type of situation in the future. The PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto won in 2012 with only 38.2% of the vote, with Obrador again in second place (31.6%). Only in 2018 did Obrador secure an outright majority (53.19%).  

Whether the results of 2000-2012 would have differed under a runoff system is hard to say, although, 35 of the 47 runoffs in Latin America from 1978-2017 resulted in victory for the first-round winner. Yet, little research directly tackles public support for runoffs in Mexico or elsewhere, with assumptions that most Latin Americans may see the addition as a waste of time and resources.

Proponents of runoffs focus precisely on preventing a minority preferred candidate from winning, instead prioritizing broad support and coalition-building if not before the first election then before the runoff. Extremist voters also tend to have less of an influence and when a perceived extremist candidate makes it to the runoff, this commonly galvanizes support for the opponent, as seen in the 2017 French presidential election. In addition, runoff winners are perceived to have a clearer mandate to rule, enhancing views of democratic legitimacy. Runoff elections also encourage sincere voting as supporters of even the smallest party know that their runoff vote can be influential. Evidence suggests presidential systems with runoffs also have positive implications for human rights protection (see here and here) and measures of democracy.

However, runoff elections may encourage party proliferation and exacerbate political tensions, especially where the runoff is closely contested or where the winner lacks a legislative majority. Even where the opposition accepts the results, such as this year’s Ecuadorian election, runoffs often leave winners with limited legislative support. Meanwhile, in this year’s Peruvian presidential election, Pedro Castillo beat Keiko Fujimori by less than 1% of the vote in the second round, with Fujimori and supporters claiming electoral fraud and calling for the nullification of the election. Runoff elections also incur additional costs for both parties and election administration and often see lower turnout. Nor does a runoff necessarily inspire greater affinity towards one of the remaining candidates. In the Ecuadorian case, nearly 15% cast a null ballot in the runoff, viewed as either a sign of disapproval of both candidates or concerns of first round voter fraud.

This year’s runoff election in Peru also demonstrates that runoffs can create further challenges to democracy. Despite that various international and domestic observers have verified the validity of the election, one of the members of the court evaluating the appeals of the Fujimori campaign resigned, further delaying the official results of the election. Furthermore, Fujimori shows that human rights protections are not necessarily improved with the addition of a runoff: she has stated openly that she planned to pardon her father Alberto Fujimori, who has been convicted of human rights violations. Keiko Fujimori was also put in preventative prison due to her involvement in the Odebrecht corruption case in 2018.

To gauge Mexican public support for enacting a runoff system, we conducted a web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, surveying 625 Mexicans via quota sampling.

We asked, “Many countries require a runoff election if no presidential candidate receives an outright majority. Would you support changing the election law in Mexico to require a runoff election if no presidential candidate wins an outright majority?”

We found that an overwhelming majority (71.84%)supported such a reform, with majority support across supporters of all parties.  We also find little difference between those who claimed to have voted in June’s legislative elections (72.09%) and those who did not (69.88%). Nor do we find much variation across demographic factors such as age, gender, income, or education.

Why respondents appear so favorable to runoffs is unclear. This could be as a response to a system that often pushes citizens to vote against political parties rather than for their preferred candidate. For example, in 2012 most voters did not feel compelled to vote for a party but rather against two oppositional candidates who were viewed as extreme and dysfunctional. Respondents may also want to avoid the chaos following previous elections, notably Calderon’s 2006 victory that resulted in over a million protestors in the streets.

Despite public support, passing electoral reform would still face several hurdles. Political parties that assume they can win a plurality would likely see it in their own self-interest to reject such reforms. Reforms would need the two-thirds legislative majority as well to pass, increasingly unlikely with MORENA’s loss of seats in June’s Chamber of Deputies election.

Nor is it likely that runoffs can fix all of the problems that citizens think they might. Runoffs cannot guarantee that the candidate with initially the most support wins and does little to improve the quality of candidates who run. Winners may still lack the support to govern effectively. Runoffs also do not necessarily avoid the chaos of contested elections as the 2021 Peruvian election shows. However, instituting this system still provides a rather simple and effective means to shape public perceptions of elections.

Timothy S. Rich is an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University and director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Ian Milden is a recent graduate from the Master’s in Public Administration program at Western Kentucky University. He previously graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from Western Kentucky University.

Madelynn Einhorn is an honors undergraduate researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Political Science and Economics.

Aurora Speltz is an honors undergraduate researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Arabic, International Affairs, and Spanish.

Funding for this survey work was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

Timothy S. Rich is an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University and director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

International Affairs

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Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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Ron Paul: Biden Administration accept that it has a “Zelensky problem”

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Last week the world stood on the very edge of a nuclear war, as Ukraine’s US-funded president, Vladimir Zelensky, urged NATO military action over a missile that landed on Polish soil.”

This is a comment from the prominent American political leader Ronald Ernest Paul was for many years the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. Three times he sought the Presidency of the United States: once as the Libertarian Party nominee and twice as a candidate for the Republican Party. He continues in his comment:

“But there was a problem. The missile was fired from Ukraine – likely an accident in the fog of war. Was it actually a Russian missile, of course, that might mean World War III.

‘While Zelensky has been treated as a saint by the US media, the Biden Administration, and both parties in Congress, something unprecedented happened this time: the Biden Administration pushed back. According to press reports, several Zelensky calls to Biden or senior Biden Staff went unanswered.

‘The Biden Administration went on to publicly dispute Zelensky’s continued insistence that Russia shot missiles into NATO-Member Poland. After two days of Washington opposition to his claims, Zelensky finally, sort of, backed down.

‘We’ve heard rumors of President Biden’s frustration over Zelensky’s endless begging and ingratitude for the 60 or so billion dollars doled out to him by the US government, but this is the clearest public example of the Biden Administration’s acceptance that it has a “Zelensky problem.”

‘Zelensky must have understood that Washington and Brussels knew it was not a Russian missile.

‘Considering the vast intelligence capabilities of the US in that war zone, it is likely the US government knew in real time that the missiles were not Russian. For Zelensky to claim otherwise seemed almost unhinged. And for what seems like the first time, Washington noticed.

‘As a result, there has been a minor – but hopefully growing – revolt among conservatives in Washington over this dangerous episode. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene introduced legislation demanding an audit of the tens of billions of dollars shipped to Ukraine – with perhaps $50 billion more in the pipeline.

‘When the Ukraine war hysteria finally dies down – as the Covid hysteria died down before it – it will become obvious to vastly more Americans what an absolute fiasco this whole thing has been,” writes Ron Paul.

International Affairs

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