Baker Institute expert: Young voters to be ‘a major force in Mexico’s politics’

Mexico’s 18-to-35-year-old demographic, the largest voting bloc in the country, could have a historic impact at the polls July 1, according to an issue brief from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Voters will select Mexico’s new president and 3,400 other elected officials in the single largest election the country has ever had.

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“Mexico’s Young Voters and the 2018 Elections” was authored by Tony Payan, the Françoise and Edward Djerejian Fellow for Mexico Studies at the Baker Institute and director of the institute’s Mexico Center. The brief explores Mexico’s young voters as a bloc, their political participation and agenda.

“Given that a majority of Mexico’s citizens are relatively young, the most important bloc in this watershed election year is composed of people between the ages of 18 and 35 — a population group roughly comparable to voting-age members of the so-called Generation Z and the “millennials” in the United States,” Payan wrote. “In Mexico, these two groups together constitute around 45 percent of eligible voters. Their importance as a voting bloc is even more evident if we consider that the last three presidential elections were decided by a small percentage of voters.”

However, their potential influence on the results of the election is being sharply debated, Payan said. “Some contend that by virtue of their numbers, the social and political agendas of young voters will decisively change the political makeup of the country, Payan wrote. “Others argue that their historically low level of electoral participation suggests Mexico’s young adults will not truly matter in the election, or at least their participation will not be decisive.”

In addition to their numbers, this bloc is important due to the differences that set them apart from their parents and grandparents, Payan said. “More than 80 percent of them live in urban areas,” he wrote. “They are more educated than their parents. Tertiary education enrollment has climbed steadily in Mexico in recent decades. And today’s young voters are more connected to the internet than previous generations, and possibly more exposed to alternative political ideas and debates. Mexico’s young adults also identify less with any one political party, as nearly half declare themselves as independents. In addition, they are more tolerant than previous generations of differing lifestyles and life choices: Nearly half support gay marriage and abortion.”

Surveys show that poverty, unemployment, poor public safety, corruption, violence and drug trafficking rank at the top of young Mexican citizens’ concerns, Payan said. “In this sense, their positions are very similar to those of most Mexicans, who also cite such issues as key problems facing the country,” he wrote. “This could indicate that young Mexican voters may vote like other Mexicans — for example, largely against the current government. More proactively, many will also look for candidates or political parties whose visions for the country are more attuned to their own cultural, social and economic views. If they find such a candidate or political party, their votes will certainly carry that candidate or party to power.”

Payan concluded that “this enormous voting bloc is up for grabs in the 2018 election. It is therefore important to pay attention to their political behavior, as they will likely be a major force in Mexico’s politics in the foreseeable future.”

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.