Mexico’s landmark election: A historic shift ahead

April 9, 2024
Left: 'Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo' by Eneas, licensed under CC BY 2.0. Right: 'Bertha Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz (2) (cropped)' by EneasMx, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Left: ‘Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo’ by Eneas, licensed under CC BY 2.0. Right: ‘Bertha Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz (2) (cropped)’ by EneasMx, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


Mexico stands on the cusp of a historic moment, poised to elect its first female president amidst the largest electoral process in the nation’s history June 2. Far more than a contest of personalities, the election is shaping up to be a definitive clash of political ideologies, each offering distinct visions that promise to steer Mexico’s internal development and external relations, particularly with the United States.

Edgar Franco-Vivanco
Edgar Franco-Vivanco

Edgar Franco-Vivanco is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan. His work encompasses Latin American politics, historical political economy, criminal violence and indigenous politics.

Why are Mexico’s 2024 elections different from previous years?

There are many significant elements about the 2024 elections. First, these elections will be the largest in Mexican history, with over 20 thousand offices up for contestation. Approximately 100 million people are eligible to vote, a roughly 10% increase from the previous election. The scale and logistical challenges required to coordinate such massive elections are considerable. However, the National Electoral Institute faces budget cuts that may curtail its capacity to ensure the quality of the voting process.

Second, these elections will serve as a referendum of sorts for outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Although his reelection is prohibited, it is anticipated that AMLO’s successor will likely continue many of his current policies. Of particular relevance are the institutional changes he has spearheaded, such as bolstering the military and implementing budget cuts to federal agencies. Should Morena secure a majority in Congress and AMLO’s successor continue his policies, it could pave the way for the consolidation of hegemonic party control in Mexico once again.

Third, the two leading candidates for this election are women. This is a remarkable and somewhat paradoxical development in a country characterized by high levels of gender inequality, misogyny and violence against women.

What led to Mexico having two leading female presidential candidates, Morena’s Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez, the candidate of the opposition coalition?

There are two primary factors at play: a structural trend and an idiosyncratic component. First, there is a long-term trend of increasing female representation in Mexican and Latin American politics. In 1990, less than 8% of members of Mexico’s lower house were female; today, about half of them are. This progress in gender equality is largely attributed to the implementation of gender quotas over the past few decades.

The other element is related to the personal choices of the current president, AMLO. Early in his tenure, he advocated for a gender-equal cabinet with a significant presence of women. The heavy weight he has on the incumbent party led to his preferred potential candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, to be elected in the party primaries. This decision led the opposition to pick Xóchitl Gálvez, a candidate that could, theoretically, compete with her without involving the gender element as a potential obstacle.

How are their political platforms different from each other and how could these affect the future of the country and/or relationship with the U.S.?

Their main difference is ideological. Sheinbaum is leftist and considered to be the ideological successor of AMLO. Gálvez has been aligned with the right and has championed policies implemented by previous National Action Party administrations.

Sheinbaum has published a lengthy document with 100 proposals. It offers support to the continuation of the Fourth Transformation (4T), a narrative created by AMLO to encapsulate his agenda. Perhaps a main difference is that Sheinbaum places more emphasis on climate change and environmental issues, reflecting her strong background in this area. However, the challenge would be to balance these goals with the heavy investments in carbon-emitting projects promoted during the AMLO administration.

On the other hand, Gálvez’s platform prioritizes security, combating organized crime and reinforcing the prison system. It also promotes more support for small business ideas and the private sector.

Overall, these platforms represent two different visions for the role of the state. But in practice, the difference is ambiguous. Sheinbaum’s project relies heavily on the role of the state. However, just like AMLO, she is also promoting fiscal discipline and relatively low spending. This could limit the potential to implement these ambitious policies. On the other hand, Gálvez’s project does not reflect a huge change in many dimensions as the proposed role of the state is relatively strong for a right-wing government.

In my opinion, the relationship with the U.S. will be more influenced by who wins the U.S. presidency than who wins in Mexico. The border crisis will remain an issue no matter who is elected, and negotiating with the U.S. would likely present similar challenges regardless of the Mexican president.

Xóchitl Gálvez has claimed that the opposing party is robbing her of the presidency and asked for U.S. intervention. What are the implications of these assertions?

Gálvez’s allegations raise concerns about potential government interference in the electoral process. Although some of them might be valid (e.g. the platform that AMLO provides to Sheinbaum in his public appearances, and the budget cuts to the National Electoral Institute), the likelihood of widespread fraud in Mexico is relatively low. Additionally, it is highly improbable that the U.S. would intervene under the current circumstances. Such rhetoric is likely part of the electoral campaigns that are expected to intensify in the coming months.

What are the implications of Sheinbaum’s Jewish background in a mostly Catholic country?

It may seem surprising that a Jewish woman could potentially become the next president of a country where the majority identifies as Catholic, and where there is a longstanding culture of machismo. However, it is unlikely that her cultural background will play a significant role in the election. Mexico has a strong tradition of separation between the church and state, and most voters are likely to identify her primarily with the MORENA party and AMLO rather than her religious identity. Therefore, it is improbable that the opposition will exploit her background for political gain. However, we should not discard the presence of hate speech and misinformation about her origins. Additionally, external factors such as the Hamas-Israel conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Palestine could exert pressure on her to redefine the country’s foreign policy stance, which has thus far been characterized by neutrality and support for a two-State solution.

How do you think criminal violence in Mexico will affect voter turnout, and what measures are candidates proposing related to security?

Violence is already affecting the electoral landscape. Reports indicate that more than a dozen candidates have been murdered, and over 40 journalists have been killed during the AMLO administration, according to Articulo 19, an NGO. This reflects organized crime’s efforts to influence electoral outcomes, control local candidate selection and suppress press freedom. Homicide rates have remained disturbingly high during the AMLO administration, and the strategies implemented to fight organized crime have proven ineffective.

Violence will likely decrease turnout, particularly if some violent events occur close to the election. Given the impact it is having on journalists, it might also create the conditions for disinformation.

How could the results of the 2024 elections change the political dynamics in Mexico?

Currently, there are three plausible scenarios. The first one, and most likely, is that Sheinbaum of the Morena party will win the election with a slight majority in Congress. This will maintain the status quo, allowing the future president some room to implement her agenda. However, since Sheinbaum lacks the same level of support within Morena as AMLO, she may need to make concessions and form alliances with the opposition. This will also block any straightforward constitutional change but will create a fertile ground for Sheinbaum to implement her policy agenda.

The second plausible scenario is that Sheinbaum wins the presidency without obtaining a majority in Congress. This will create the need for further alliances, increasing the significance of minor but pivotal parties, such as Movimiento Ciudadano.

The third, and least likely, scenario is that Gálvez wins with a split Congress. In this case, we could expect some resistance from Morena to negotiate with Gálvez. Furthermore, given the coalition behind her candidacy, her ability to govern would be severely weakened. Also, there is concern that some members of the Morena party may not immediately accept the results, particularly if the margin is close.

In any case, it seems that the Morena party is consolidating as a quasi-hegemonic party on one side, with a coalition of opposing parties on the other. This could mean an equilibrium that will resemble a bipartisan system with high levels of polarization.

Regardless of who wins, what are the biggest challenges for the next president of Mexico?

Security is a critical issue. The country has been embroiled in an internal conflict for the past two decades. Since 2006, a half million people have been murdered and many have disappeared. So far, three different administrations with different approaches haven’t been able to reduce violence or the increasing power of criminal groups.

Although the role of law enforcement and judicial system is clear, the candidates should also focus on curtailing cartel recruitment. This is, of course, a more difficult issue because it means a combination of social and economic policies that no government has been able to implement. Moreover, the role of the U.S. as a market for illegal drugs shouldn’t be disregarded. As long as both countries do not tackle this issue comprehensively—including the transnational component of drug production and its implications as a health emergency—violence in Mexico will probably remain high.

The other big challenge for the future president are the frail finances of Pemex, the state-owned oil company. Pemex has a large standing debt to domestic producers and international lenders. In general, there are concerns for the 2024 budgetary deficit and slow GDP growth, and the impact they might have on existing fiscal discipline.

There are of course many other challenges, including the U.S.-Mexico border and how to deal with the flow of migrants from Central and South American countries. All this has to be added to the perennial issues of inequality and corruption that have affected Mexico and Latin American countries for centuries. Regardless of the election outcome, the next president will face formidable obstacles.