The Youth Vote -- Mexican Politicians Fail to Inspire in 2012

When it comes to getting the attention of the youth, Mexican politicians just don't get it.

In 2000, voters under 30 helped end the seven decade long reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI -- and brought the National Action Party (PAN) and Vicente Fox to power. In 2012, there will be 24 million voters between the ages of 18 and 29, enough
to sway the election once again.

However, this time around, Mexican politicians, voters and the country are facing a greater set of challenges. A bloody drug war that has claimed thousands of lives in six years and a tough economy that has put a new generation of voters in a tight squeeze. Millions of young voters are so disenchanted with the country's politics they are expected to stay home.

"It is not that I don't care what happens in the elections. I want to vote, but none of the candidates are saying anything interesting. Most of my classmates are in the same position," said Elia Ramirez, a 21-year-old student from the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, UNAM.

Smart Mexican politicians should probably be talking to Humberto Fuentes, a young voter who will be at the polls July 1. "I like politics, but I haven't joined the ranks of any party," he said. "Politicians do not understand our language."

Fuentes gets his politics from video games, text messaging, the Internet and Flash Mob, a non-political movement that congregates youth through social networks. Mexico, as a country, has the fifth largest number of Facebook users in the world -- three out of ten are between 18- and 25-years-old. But the Facebook and Twitter accounts of Mexican politicians are wooden and stilted.

Last year, Fuentes joined 2000 youthful cohorts in a noontime display of exuberance in Mexico City's subway. They rode across the city in underwear -- an unthinkable act in this heavily Roman Catholic country. Dubbed FlashMob México and organized through Facebook, the goal
was to shake up the establishment. "I realized the power we have," said Fuentes, who graduated with a degree in political science from one of Mexico's top private universities, the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM).

To gauge the weight of this sector in the 2012 elections, the MEPI Foundation and a team of journalism students at the Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico City surveyed 103 students from six major public and private universities. The poll focused on Mexico City, and found that three out of ten university students of voting age won't be casting ballots in the upcoming elections. The disaffected youth voter population could overwhelm the troops of disinterested voters.

That's what happened in the presidential election of 2006. Forty percent of all voters did not go to the polls, an action that contributed to a dangerous showdown when the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party, PRD, disputed the claims that the PAN's candidate Felipe Calderon won the elections by 1 percent of the vote. PAN won that argument but the wounds never healed.

Experts now worry about how the lack of political interest translates into an uninvolved and uncaring citizenry. Four out of ten students polled by MEPI described themselves as liberals, yet had no opinions on abortion, family planning, the rights of minorities and sexual diversity.

Another academic study by the Universidad Iberoamericana found that 50 percent of all youth are still sitting on the fence.

Tania Ortiz Cornejo, 23, a communications major, wants to vote but she is critical of all three political parties because none have spoken to her of real policies, she said. "I want to know their political platforms. I still have a little hope that this country will not get worse." Myrian Andrade, 20, a civil engineering student at the University Autonoma Metropolitana agreed with Cornejo. "All the parties are the same. No one delivers on their promises," she said.

The national study by the Universidad Iberoamericana found that most of the country's youth are engaged through Facebook and Twitter. And political experts say that the 2012 elections will be ruled by social networks.

Maria Elena Meneses, a professor from the Tecnologico de Monterrey, who studies social networks in politics, says 2012 will be an experimental test tube for Mexican politics. "Newspapers, television and radio have already become the sounding board of social networks," she said. As an example Meneses points out how the PAN presidential candidate, Josefina Vasquez Mota, had to fire an employee after she misspelled the name of the Mexican state, Tlaxcala. The oversight became a popular Twitter hashtag.

However, ninety days before the election, the accounts of the candidates for the three top political parties have tried to beef up their presence on Facebook. Still their numbers are small. Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate for PRI, has 2.6 million followers, the PRD candidate, Manuel Lopez Obrador, has 340 thousand followers and Josefina Vasquez Mota has 1.6 million followers.

Fuentes, the youth who rode the subways in underwear, says Mexican politicians could learn a lot from movements like FlashMob. "Youth have different ways of organizing, but Mexicans politicians don't get it. Their interests and their values don't coincide with the youth agenda", he argued. "When they say youth in Mexico do not get organized, they do not know us. When Lady Gaga came (to Mexico) there were 20 thousand youth outside her hotel, if that is not organization, than what is?"

Fundacion MEPI is a regional investigative journalism project based in Mexico. The Tecnologico de Monterrey student team included: Claudia Ocaranza, Gabriela Jimenez, Daniel Carranza, Lizette Noriega, Johannes Zuber, Roberto Zaragoza Gascon, Lucia Coman, Fernanda Gutierrez Orozco, Fernanda Ibarra and Melissa Rodriguez.