-Translation by me, image chosen by me
367 days in advance of the next federal election, the president has already settled the strategic dilemma with which his party will play in 2021.
During the June 4 daily presser he said (more or less): The democratic system solves problems, and elections are coming up. if you want the corrupted regime back, vote for them, if you want to keep the transformation, you already know who to vote for.
Similarly, last week, Senator Monreal(1) announced his intention to advance the recall election to accrete it to the midterms as a response to to anti-Obrador sentiments that have emerged in the last few weeks.
In the original script of Morena’s(2) fourth transformation(3), they would win the midterms easily for three reasons: firstly, because of voter-inertia carried from the 2018 general election; secondly, because the opposition would still be in shambles and voters wouldn’t see them as an option, and thirdly, because of their further gain in voters as they govern the entire country.
COVID-19 wrecked their script. Firstly, the federal government’s image was tainted in an accelerated manner. Even if they continue harboring vast approval among the public, it is not the same. They have lost the middle-class’ majoritarian and unquestioned approval. Of women with which they’ve fought unnecessarily, and even a small section of their traditional voter base, who now deals with a wrecked healthcare system and a government incapable of handing out promised welfare. This has generated a new electoral market that we named Postmorenism and I will talk about it in the last section of this article.
Secondly, the territorial aspect will have to change radically, the door-to-door campaigns Morena is used to will have to change due to sanitary reasons so long as there’s no cure or treatment for the bug. We’ll see a preliminary experiment of the new strategies in the American Presidential election, and possibly in the Hidalgo and Coahuila state elections that were postponed due to the pandemic.
Thirdly, the mayoress, the sole female governor(4), some governors, and some municipal authorities, mostly in the opposition, have revindicated themselves among their citizenry for their handling of the current crisis. They have broken the president’s monopoly of the public agenda, at least at the local level.
Polls show Morena is still leading in voter preference.
All in, according to major pollsters, Morena still has enough to win next year’s election. But not comfortably. It isn’t because of how they’re governing, but because on the other side, all of the opposition is yet to articulate an interesting message for the voter.
The President has got them where he wants them: disputing past actions. No to the peninsular train, to pharaonic infrastructure, to an energy reform, to what the president is doing, to the economic recovery plan. The only proposal we’ve heard of the opposition, to which Morena might even join, is that of universal basic income.
Other proposals by the opposition, like their economic recovery plan, were successfully opposed and discredited by the president as “past formulas”; they want to rescue the country from the top down, I -AMLO- will rescue it from the bottom up.
Lets suppose that the President has the support of twenty of the thirty million that put him in office in 2018; what party is capable of topping that? In the current state of affairs, none.
The midterm is a local-game. To win, one must debate the future.
In truth, the 2021 general election is not a federal election, but the sum of 32 local ones. Although we’re yet to see a politician that is capable of disputing the president’s future at the national level, in states and municipalities - in the battleground of the next election- exciting and interesting local leaders are emerging. Some new, some revindicated, that might not be able to dispute the president’s future, but have the capacity to dispute the future, and the blind vote, for Morena’s candidates.
It’s why the president is trying to accrete the recall election. If he succeeds, Morena will get a head start on the 2021 elections: Obrador will be on the ballot(like in 2018) versus local opposition candidates. One will defend the continuation of the fourth transformation and the rest (which will divide the opposition vote among themselves) will defend the reestablishment of the past. If the opposition falls for the stupid tentation of making the election about the recall vote, they’ll be turning in the congress and many of the governorships.
To have a fighting chance, opposition candidates will have to turn the elections local, they must dispute local adversaries. Save for a couple of anti-Obrador districts, those who chose Obrador as their adversary will lose. It’s an absolutely biased fight.
The opposition has to learn how to dispute the future. They need to compete through proposals. Through the past, the only thing worth recognizing is that we’re in this because of the previous regime. That we’re a classist, racist country, with an economic system that deepens inequities and social polarization, with a corrupt political system that needs to be fixed. They need to sympathize with the voter’s desire for change. They must offer a perspective to the frustration they feel because things are yet to change as of 2021.
Public safety will be one of the most influential topics of the 2021 election, in this area the opposition has to avoid the temptation of the past’s populist hard-on-crime sensationalism of public safety.
Finally, the opposition candidates has to innovate the way they campaign. Obrador’s advantage over other adversaries is that he spent twelve years traveling the country, and he’s got a representative ready to campaign on his behalf on every odd corner of the nation.
The only way to cover the nation will be through the use of technology. They must reinvent social media, not to replace television or to inflate “troll” opinions as they have done erroneously until now. They’ll have to use them as a direct-contact mechanism as substitution for door-to-door activities.
With or without Obrador in the ballot, being part of Morena usually is enough to get elected. Being part of the president’s team would be enough to guarantee at least 100-120 districts and at least half of the governorships in the election. Specially in the south and south-east. Similarly, there’ll be some other 80-100 districts and a couple of governorships in which Morena, due to the anti-Obrador sentiments or the other party’s power, have no chance of winning.
Obrador’s trick is to polarize the election. If the president is in the ballot, chances are the participation of both sides will increase, with advantage for Morena because they don’t have to split the votes among themselves.
But in the remaining states and districts where the election will be competitive, the places that will define whether the president gets a supermajority or a simple majority, Morena’s candidates need to learn how to add value to the brand. In such a polarized election they will find themselves with a dilemma: how close, or how distant, do they want to seem from the president. If they’re too distant, they’ll have internal issues, like crossed voting like in 2018 in many districts. If they win their elections, they’ll be pushed away from key rolls by other party members, specially in the case of house members.
In those 50-80 districts, and in northern and central states, the dilemma for Morena’s candidates will be particularly hard. Not only will they have to find the right distance to the president, they must adapt their rhetoric to dispute the future offer changes to correct the President. They’ll also have to innovate the way they campaign as mentioned prior. They’ll have to have clear positions to defend the government without offending those who are discontent with it and vice versa. They have to tackle regional discontent without offending the government.
These candidates are the ones that might lose and do away with the President’s majority. Similarly, they’ll get to the election insisting they don’t need to do any of the above.
Postmorenism, the key to the election
What is Postmorenism? It’s the group of voters that reject the old regime, but isn’t satisfied with the fourth transformation. People that voted for Obrador -some mostly to punish the prior regime rather than supporting the new one- who are now disappointed, regretful or, in the best of cases, apathetic to the results. Though disappointed, they don’t regret voting for Morena, and would vote for them again.
Examples like: feminists, environmentalists, the middle class, students, academics, and other minorities that sympathize with the left, with Obrador, or with the idea of change but have been left unrepresented by the government’s public policy, which not only disenfranchised them, but even attacks their beliefs.
As I mentioned prior, COVID-19's crisis has, atop radicalizing pro and anti-Obrador positions, has embiggened the ranks of postmorenism. We’re yet to know what percentage of the population is inside this segment, what we can anticipate is that by 2021 they’ll be enough to sway they most competitive races, the ones that will define whether the president will keep a useful majority in the legislative branch or not.
For them, Morena’s strategy of “With the president to keep the transformation, or with the other parties to return to the past” is not enough to give them votes, just like the opposition unending “no to ___” strategy. They demand the discussion of the future. What follows the transformation? They’re expecting a message with a future perspective from all sides. If they don’t find it they will join the ranks of abstentionism.
- Roberto Trad for Animal Politico
Trad directs a social communication and study firm, he has been an assessor for multiple candidates and governments.
(1) Senator Ricardo Monreal is member of the Senate policy coordination committee, and the leader of Morena’s senators.
(2) Morena, or National Regeneration Movement, is the President’s party
(3) “fourth transformation” is the term the President made to refer to his administration, it has been widely adopted.
(4) Mayoress Sheinbaum of Mexico City has almost identical powers to state governors. Governor Pavlovich of Sonora is the only female governor and in the Spanish-language version of the article the writer makes an effort to make the two women stand out. As english is slightly more gender-neutral than Spanish, an adaptation and note is necessary.