6 Insights on Mexico’s Historic Election: Stanford Scholars Explain What This Means for the Future of its Democracy

6 Insights on Mexico’s Historic Election: Stanford Scholars Explain What This Means for the Future of its Democracy

The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law’s Poverty, Violence, and Governance Lab, in collaboration with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, invited a panel of scholars to discuss the implications of Mexico’s elections and to analyze the political context in which they were held.
Presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum of ''Sigamos Haciendo Historia'' coalition waves at supporters after the first results released by the election authorities show that she leads the polls by wide margin after the presidential election at Zocalo Square on June 03, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. Presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum of ''Sigamos Haciendo Historia'' coalition waves at supporters after the first results released by the election authorities show that she leads the polls by wide margin after the presidential election at Zocalo Square on June 03, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

On Sunday, June 2, Mexico held its federal, state, and municipal elections. Sunday’s poll was historic in more than one sense. Mexico, a democracy in its mid-twenties, had never previously embarked on an election as large in scale, with more than 20,000 vacant public offices at all levels of government to be filled by an electorate of almost 100 million eligible voters. For the first time in the country’s history, a woman, Claudia Sheinbaum, was elected to spearhead the government of the world’s most populous Spanish-speaking nation. Finally, these events took place in the shadows of record-high, albeit stable, levels of drug-related violence.

In this Q&A roundtable organized by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law’s (CDDRL) Poverty, Violence, and Governance Lab (PovGov) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a panel of scholars discuss six main insights from Mexico’s elections and what they tell us about the state of Mexico’s democracy.*


  • Beatriz Magaloni, Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations and Professor of Political Science in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University
  • Tesalia Rizzo, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Merced, Research Affiliate at MIT Governance Lab, Research Affiliate at CDDRL’s Governance Project
  • Larry Diamond, William L. Clayton Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), Stanford University
  • Amrit Singh, Professor of the Practice of Law and founding Executive Director of the Rule of Law Impact Lab at Stanford Law School
  • Alberto Díaz-Cayeros, Senior Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University
  • Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar, Visiting Scholar at Stanford Law School, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Beatriz Magaloni, Tesalia Rizzo, Larry Diamond, Amrit Singh, Alberto Diaz-Cayeros, Tino Cuellar

*Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

1: Mexico has elected its first female president in a clean and fair election.

One of the big headlines from the elections is that Mexico elected its first female president. What explains why Mexico has accomplished this milestone, even before the United States?

Beatriz Magaloni: It is incredibly exciting, especially considering our history of machismo and a patriarchal society where women have traditionally been followers, not leaders. Mexico enacted a significant gender parity reform about two years ago, which mandates gender parity across all political parties and levels of government. This transformation to include women began then, and it is amazing that the next step is electing a woman president.

Were the elections in Mexico clean and fair by international standards?

Beatriz Magaloni: Mexico has a long history of institutional reform that created bodies like the National Electoral Institute (INE). These institutions have persisted, even though Andres Manuel López Obrador (whom everyone refers to as AMLO) tried to weaken them. Fortunately, they withstood these attacks, and we can see how essential they are for elections. I can confidently say that we had free and fair elections by international standards. Mexico has the capacity to orchestrate inspiring elections, and this should serve as a lesson to powerholders about the importance of sustaining these institutions.

What worries me about the election results is the supermajority the MORENA coalition won. Likely, Claudia has the majority necessary in both the Senate and Congress to modify the Constitution unilaterally and pass laws unilaterally. I worry that Mexico is going back to the era of hegemony we suffered from for 70 years under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

2: Sheinbaum’s landslide was a referendum on the legacy of the current President, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO).

Given the massive Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA) electoral landslide, are we witnessing the beginnings of a MORENA-dominant era in Mexican politics?

Tesalia Rizzo: MORENA, the party of the current president, has been said to draw inspiration from the PRI, which governed during those 70 years. MORENA has effectively used social policy to gain favor among Mexicans. This election demonstrated that the strategy of using social policy to gain voter favor was successful not only at the presidential level but also at the state level, gaining more states and seats in Congress. This indicates that MORENA has built a stable party and a stable electorate, suggesting a potentially dominant era for the party.

Why do you think the margin of victory was so large?  

Tesalia Rizzo: It doesn't necessarily come as a huge surprise. López Obrador's approval ratings have been off the charts and very stable for a long time. This approval is largely driven by his social policies, which have been carefully crafted and effectively implemented. This election has shown that MORENA is now a political party with strong structures across the country. People are joining MORENA not only because they see it as a party that can win elections but also because they sense stability in its structure. If we think of parties as institutionalized social movements, perhaps MORENA has followed a similar path. 

3: Mexico has cemented its position as a consolidated electoral democracy, with strong procedural safeguards and a vibrant civil society embracing democratic values.

As an observer of democracies throughout the world, does Mexico fulfill the requirements of an electoral democracy?

Larry Diamond: I think people chose the leader they wanted in Mexico. It's easier to declare this democratic when it isn't close — it was decisive, a landslide. There's no sign that I know of significant fraud in the election. There's no sign that it wasn't cleanly and efficiently administered. And there's always a question of "compared to what?" If you look at the controversies around the U.S. election, for example, it may look better or less disputed, more efficient than some of the elections we held in U.S. states. Many people in the United States might wish for a system of national electoral authority that has the technical efficiency and ability to standardize across the country, as the National Electoral Institute (INE) has.

What about the political violence that occurred before the election? Would those challenges qualify Mexico as a liberal democracy?

Larry Diamond: I think there are many things to be noted about the state of Mexican democracy before election day. Some relate to the nature of the campaign, and some to the broader character of political and civic space in Mexico. Regarding the campaign, when you have a significant number of candidates assassinated — 40 to 50 people, which is shocking and deeply distressing — this isn't necessarily a ruling party killing its opponents but indicates a state that lacks the capacity to rein in criminal and narco-trafficking violence. This kind of climate degrades the electoral environment, though I wouldn't say it alone makes Mexico a non-democracy.

The sitting president of Mexico, AMLO, has been highly critical of the autonomous body for electoral administration, the INE. From a legal standpoint, what are the risks to the institutional architecture of electoral politics in the coming years?

Amrit Singh: I think it's important to recognize that INE has been one of the crown jewels of Mexico's democracy. It is widely regarded as one of the most independent and professional election commissions in the world. Whether it continues to be as highly regarded will depend on what Claudia Sheinbaum decides to do — whether she chooses to break from President López Obrador's authoritarian agenda or to open a new chapter in Mexico in favor of democracy and the rule of law.

You described the potential consequences of MORENA moving ahead with constitutional amendments that could affect the autonomy of the electoral agency. Do you think the new government has any incentive to pursue an agenda that would debilitate INE? If so, can we still speak about an electoral democracy in Mexico?

Amrit Singh: That remains to be seen. Claudia Sheinbaum has an opportunity to open a new chapter in Mexico's democracy. She has indicated, for example, that she is in favor of voting for judges, a proposal submitted by President López Obrador to Mexico's Congress back in February 2024. Whether she sticks to that position still remains to be seen. It is worrying that the constitutional reform proposals by President López Obrador may become a reality because MORENA and its allies now have a qualified majority in Congress. Over the last few years under President López Obrador's administration, we have seen systematic attacks on the independent institutions necessary for safeguarding democracy in Mexico. These attacks targeted INE, INAI (the freedom of information agency), and the federal judiciary. If such attacks continue under the new administration, there will be nothing left to speak of in terms of electoral democracy in Mexico. These institutions are essential for maintaining the checks and balances and the separation of powers necessary to uphold the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms.

4: Mexico is still lacking some of the civil protections of liberal democracy, the most apparent being insecurity and drug violence, which remain top unresolved issues.

How is it possible for the incumbent party, MORENA, to be reelected despite the security conditions and maintenance of high levels of violence?

Beatriz Magaloni: The main issue in Mexico is the violence surrounding elections, not necessarily from political parties or the incumbent attacking opposition candidates, but from organized crime. These were the most violent elections we've had, with at least 30 candidates for municipal presidencies and other positions killed and more than 200 attacked. This is deeply concerning because it means that organized crime, not just voters, is influencing election outcomes. How do we explain AMLO's victory? Because, although it is Claudia's victory, it is essentially a referendum on AMLO’s performance. He is an incredibly intelligent politician who has been able to amass electoral support through various mechanisms, including delivering entitlements and public services to poor and middle-class voters.

Xóchitl Gálvez ran a campaign highlighting the violence and harshly criticizing AMLO’s "hugs, not bullets" slogan. Claudia has said she will increase the size of the National Guard. How do you think this will work out in a liberal democracy, having an even larger military presence in Mexico?

Beatriz Magaloni: Xóchitl didn't win for two main reasons. One, she was embraced by political parties like the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which have been discredited for their own roles in perpetuating violence. President Calderón started the war on drugs, and during President Peña Nieto’s administration, we saw events like the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students, which increased corruption and impunity. This association with discredited parties hurt her campaign. Secondly, she was competing against an incumbent who was very popular. People don’t really know who Claudia is, and we are eager to learn what she brings to politics at this critical juncture, with high levels of violence and immigration issues.

5: Popular welfare programs glue together the MORENA coalition, but these might not be enough to reduce poverty and improve well-being.

What do you expect will happen with poverty alleviation and the provision of basic public services like health and education?  

Alberto Díaz-Cayeros: The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) always claimed to prioritize the poor. "Primero los pobres" ("first the poor") was the slogan in his campaign, and Claudia Sheinbaum repeated it yesterday in her victory speech. It is paradoxical that a government claiming to support the poor removed the most crucial and effective poverty reduction program Mexico has had in two decades. Claudia Sheinbaum is not obligated to follow AMLO's exact policies. I expect she will likely listen to experts and policy advice from those working on poverty relief globally and in Mexico. Hopefully, she will incorporate elements of conditional cash transfer programs that have successfully alleviated poverty worldwide.

Claudia Sheinbaum's proposals and the legacy of her predecessor, AMLO, suggest that she aims to build on the foundation laid by Mexico's fourth transformation. What do you expect her social policies to look like? Will she move Mexico closer to a universal welfare state?

Alberto Díaz-Cayeros: The current government has aimed to create programs that move Mexico towards a universal welfare state. AMLO's significant poverty reduction achievement was raising the minimum wage, which benefited moderately poor families but not the extremely poor. But the removal of the conditional cash transfer program and Seguro Popular led to a loss of access to public health for a significant portion of the population. Moving towards universalization will require substantial funding and a focus on labor market reforms.

6: This election matters to Americans and the world for the sake of global economic growth, hemispheric security, and multicultural diversity in the U.S.

Why does the Mexican election matter to the U.S.?

Tino Cuéllar: Mexico has become a particularly massive trading partner of the United States, the largest trading partner now that trade with China has declined due to trade tensions. Additionally, the law enforcement and rule of law interests of the United States and Mexico often converge. So, the well-being of the United States, its relationship to the larger world, and issues many Americans care deeply about — security, migration, and economic prosperity — are all interconnected with Mexico.

Compared to U.S. elections, how vibrant is Mexican democracy?

Tino Cuéllar: In both countries, democratic processes have withstood attacks and efforts to undermine institutions. However, the success of democracy depends not only on formal legal arrangements — such as electoral institutes, courts, and prosecutors — but also on norms, traditions, and habits of behavior. An important distinction in discussions about Mexican democracy is the risk of violence that candidates face. In the U.S., running for office generally does not expose one to great risk due to law enforcement and norms. In Mexico, improving democracy further will involve securing the well-being of candidates, even if their agendas might upset people who might target or threaten them. In principle, there are many common interests that Mexico and the United States share. They both have an interest in keeping borders secure, making economies vibrant, and allowing the peoples of both countries to share in a more prosperous hemispheric economy, which is good for both countries and the world.

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