With signs shouting “No to repression!” and “Down with the PRI!” the angry students who have taken the streets of Mexico with flash protests have become the most visible face of youth in this election. They have challenged the presidential candidates to debates, urged others their age to pay attention to the campaign, and sought to fight off the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which held power for 71 years until its ouster in 2000. The college students marching in the protests are among the most privileged of the 24 million young people registered to cast ballots on July 1. At the other end of the spectrum sit the majority of Mexico’s young who live in poverty, did not graduate from high school, and earn less than $10 a day. But unlike the elections of 2000, when a majority of young voters agreed that the PRI had to go, this election season has seen a sharp division among youth along class lines. Educated voters in this demographic are opposed to the return of the PRI, while the rest of the voters aged 18 to 29 prefer the candidacy of Enrique Pena Nieto over his two major rivals.
The widespread student movement narrowed the lead held by the former ruling-party’s young and telegenic Pena Nieto, but he’s still well ahead just three weeks before the election. Among young voters, Pena Nieto is still the preferred candidate with 33 percent in favor, 8 points ahead of the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and 10 above the ruling party’s choice, Josefina Vazquez Mota. The poll was conducted by the firm Mitofsky from June 8-10 with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
Though they lack consensus over who to choose for president, Mexican young people have much at stake. They suffer from the nation’s highest rates of poverty and unemployment, and are the main victims of the six-year-long war against drugs that has left some 50,000 people dead. “I think they have higher expectations that they deserve better than this,” said Rodrigo Aguilera, the Mexico analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.