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Mexico: Implications of a Historic Presidential Election and the Outlook Beyond

May 16, 2024
By Nicholas Watson & Roberto Cabral Duran

Mexico is heading towards its biggest and most polarized election to date on 2 June, which will likely result in the first female president in the country’s history.

The choice is between frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum, a former mayor of Mexico City and close ally of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), or the leading opposition candidate, Senator Xochitl Galvez.


Sheinbaum, a long-time AMLO protégé, is running as the continuity candidate who intends to build the “second story” of AMLO’s political project, which he has dubbed the Fourth Transformation (4T). This entails continued support for AMLO’s brand of energy nationalism, major infrastructure projects and generous social programs. Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist and academic, has diverged from AMLO in aspects of her energy policy and her more enlightened stance on climate change, which has prompted a cautiously optimistic reaction from markets and business sectors.


The main challenger to Sheinbaum represents a tri-party opposition alliance. Galvez is an entrepreneur-turned-senator from humble origins, who is the first indigenous candidate in Mexico’s modern history. Galvez advocates for changes in security policy, alongside a more pro-business approach focused on attracting new investment inflows (nearshoring), while she also promises to halt the process of democratic backsliding under AMLO. One of the parties backing her candidacy is the corruption-plagued Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed from 2012-18 and remains unpopular. However, Galvez’s charisma and combativeness stand in stark contrast to Sheinbaum’s reserved nature and highly scripted campaign performances. A third-party candidate, Jorge Alvarez Maynez of the Citizen Movement (MC), is polling in a distant third place.

How the Race is Shaping Up

Most polls suggest that Sheinbaum leads Galvez by a margin in the low double digits. While there are polls that suggest Sheinbaum’s margin is even higher and at least one outlier indicating that the race is much tighter, polling is not always reliable. One of the most important indicators of voting sentiment is AMLO’s own popularity, which remains very high for this stage of a Mexican presidency. Maynez’s candidacy also threatens to divide the opposition vote. The most likely scenario is a Sheinbaum victory. That said, the race could well tighten towards the end of the campaign, making it unlikely that Morena will repeat its commanding performance of 2018 when the party carried majorities in both houses of Congress alongside AMLO’s victory.

Mexico’s Largest Election

In addition to the presidential election, there will be simultaneous votes for both legislative chambers, as well as over 20,000 other positions at the federal, state and municipal levels. This includes nine gubernatorial races in Mexico City, Jalisco, Puebla, Yucatan, Veracruz, Morelos, Tabasco, Guanajuato and Chiapas. In the legislative elections, Morena and its allies want to secure two-thirds majorities in order to change the constitution. While that objective looks out of reach, the governing coalition could still attempt to secure a super-majority after the election by enticing members of opposition parties to its side. At the state level, Mexico City is shaping up to be the main battleground; the capital is a long-term bastion of the Left (AMLO himself was once mayor), but polls point to a relatively competitive race. At the municipal level, the election has been tainted by violence, with over 157 attacks from organized crime towards local candidates. This trend places the 2024 election on track to be the most violent to date.

Expectations of a Potential Sheinbaum Victory

A Sheinbaum victory would entail continuity for several of AMLO’s central policies, including the use of the National Guard (GN) in security and a development model rooted in government-funded infrastructure projects. As part of her campaign, Sheinbaum has signaled that she would establish a system of special economic zones around the country to boost nearshoring investment. A Sheinbaum government would also be likely to continue AMLO’s social spending based on direct cash transfers. Without fiscal reform, these policies risk further straining Mexico’s public finances, which in 2024 incurred the most significant deficit in over 20 years. Overall, Sheinbaum is seen by markets as a moderately more pro-business option than AMLO has been, with potential changes in areas like energy generation, where Sheinbaum has hinted at a possible return to public-private partnerships, as well as climate change, with a renewed push towards solar and wind power. Whether and how Sheinbaum might shift bilateral relations with the U.S. remains uncertain, with future relations dependent on who is in the White House from 2025.

Post-Election Outlook

Despite AMLO’s constant criticism of the Independent National Electoral Institute (INE) and his unsubstantiated allegation that electoral judges in league with opposition parties are planning a “technical coup,” the risk of fraud or other interference at national level is low. A clear victory for Sheinbaum would be unlikely to trigger opposition challenges. Regardless of the outcome, Mexico will continue to face a complicated security situation, alongside rising climate events, growing immigration from Central America, persistent poverty and inadequate healthcare. AMLO will leave office in October and has said that he will go into retirement. This seems unlikely given his position as the most influential political figure in recent Mexican history. One of the key questions looming over a Sheinbaum presidency would be the extent to which AMLO will seek to exert influence over his one-time protégé and what latitude and willingness she might have to steer Mexico in new directions.

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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