The only problem with this narrative is that more young people support Peña Nieto than they do his challengers, according to polls, which may make the protests here, led by urban university students, a well-meaning but ultimately meaningless blip.
Yet the stakes, for both Mexico and the United States, are high: a possible comeback by Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran Mexico with an autocratic combination of corruption and coercion for 71 years until it was tossed out in 2000. A month before the vote, Peña Nieto is up in the polls by double digits.
At a dozen large rallies over the past two weeks in several major cities, thousands of young people protested what they see as media manipulation and thwarted democracy. One of the signs read: “Peña Nieto — the television is yours, the streets are ours!”
Peña Nieto, 45, is married to a soap-opera star from the Televisa network, and his critics say he has received overwhelmingly favorable coverage from the country’s No. 1 broadcaster, which reaches 70 percent of Mexican households.
“We are not against Enrique Peña Nieto, but we are against his attempt to impose, by an unethical business community and by the political class, a conspiracy to elect him,” said Rodrigo Serrano, a spokesman for the youth group. “We do not want a return of the old regime.”
Divided youth demographic
Some enthusiastic participants have compared the youth street actions and earnest YouTube videos, driven by Facebook and Twitter, to the Arab Spring. Except that Mexico is a fully functioning democracy, with an elected president who is leaving peacefully at the end of his single, constitutionally mandated six-year term.
Others have compared the protests to the Occupy movement in the United States. They say the students have a valid point, if not a detailed agenda, that this is a corporate, scripted presidential campaign that does not include vigorous debate or any real access to the candidates, outside their made-for-TV rallies and speeches. And, they point out, a single, stilted debate was not even aired on major television channels — nor have the candidates faced real news conferences or town hall audiences.
Trailing in the polls are the leftist stalwart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, and the ruling conservative National Action Party candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota.
According to the latest surveys by the independent Mitofsky group, Peña Nieto is winning 34 percent of the vote among 18- to 25-year-olds; his two opponents are trailing with 20 percent.