There are many problems with public-opinion polls—like their failure to illuminate the real forces and phenomena behind popular beliefs. They have generally been pretty good, however, at predicting how (as opposed to why) citizens are going to vote in an election a few days away. With Mexico’s presidential election just a week and a half away, a variety of voter surveys continue to show the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto as the frontrunner. Just a week ago, in a poll conducted by the newspaper Reforma, the candidate of the left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), after a very slow start, had come as close as four points behind Peña Nieto and had clearly taken second place from the PAN’s Josefina Vásquez Mota. But the latest Reforma poll shows the PRIista’s lead widening again to 12 points over the second-place AMLO. With some minor variations, these results have been mirrored by a half dozen voter surveys over the past week or so.
AMLO’s response to all this is to deny the validity of the surveys. “We have our own polls,” he told a press conference yesterday, and they show us two points ahead and gaining. He did not reveal the source of that information.
His inability to accept bad news or his own personal or political errors has long been part of AMLO’s image. In a perceptive, and not unsympathetic profile of the candidate in the magazine Nexos, Andrés Lajous writes that AMLO has always seen the admission of error as a weakness that can be exploited by his political enemies. On the contrary, this very trait has effectively opened him to his enemies’ charges of bullheadedness.
The case of the polls is different from an inability to admit mistakes, but it’s a trait that has cost him some credibility. Consider this statement to the press on being behind in a half dozen independent polls: “I believe the Reforma poll was badly done...and it seems very strange because the polls of Reforma have been attached to reality. In other cases the polls of Milenio, El Universal, the other polls are evidently manipulated” to favor Peña Nieto.
This characteristic has damaged his credibility in the past: He seems to be saying that everyone who is not with him (even pollsters) is mistaken, manipulated, or lying. Not much room for dialogue or self-reflection there. In an otherwise positive campaign that has effectively mobilized people around progressive policies, this inability to admit bad news has not served him well.
For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested.