Lost in cyber-space. Polling, the debate, and cyber-ian exile
If Mexico were Twitter, Lopez Obrador would be President: the president of the Digital Republic of Mexico. But the country obviously is not only inhabited by Internet users.
Carlos Acuña in Emeeques
Much as I depend on cyber-reality, I recognize that what happens here often as not stays here, and may not be reflected in the real world. At the same time, I contended that traditional polling isn’t likely to reflect what voters will do at the ballot box either. The ways in which Mexicans communicate (and receive electoral information) has changed dramatically, just since the last Presidential election, when cyber-propaganda and various forms of instant messaging were novelties, and not a major media source. While Mexican internet users are still a minority and most people get their news and propaganda from television, the cybernauts are not only a growing minority, but a growing minority of informed potential voters.
As Carlos Acuña notes, the cybernautic propaganda war is as open to manipulation as any other media propaganda, but what’s surprising is that the “old guy”… 58 year old Andres Manuel Lopez Obradór, whose political strength has been old style politics — pressing the flesh and in-person campaigning … is the clear master of this game. Whether, though, AMLO’s cyber brigade is reaching voters and whether the AMLOistas in cyberspace will go to the polls is something we don’t know… nor how many there really are.
Rough estimates of the cyber voters (like this from Jornada) might be a rough guide to… something… but then the traditional polling methods (which overlook these voters, assuming they are voters) aren’t all that likely to reflect the kinds of respondents who click “Like” and “Dislike” on Facebook posts, either.
A few thoughts:
– At first blush, one assumes computer users are better educated, younger and wealthier than other voters, and they probably are. But, the younger, better educated and upper middle class voters were said in the previous two presidential elections to trend towards PAN… not the left. Except in Mexico City. There is a presumption that the cybernauts are mostly students, specifically students in Mexico City. That too would work in AMLO’s favor… his power base said to be “only” Mexico City, but an ideal ground zero for the spread of viral messages from the left.
– The cybernauts, as voters, might instead be a new demographic that seems to cut across traditional social categories. Given that cyber communications is becoming a normal means of communications, cyber messages may not reach everyone, but they reach every community. Outside of small rural hamlets and isolated linguistic minority communities (where AMLO has used his “press the flesh” and “meet and greet” strategy to some success), cyber propaganda is getting through. How effectively we don’t know.
– Traditional communications networks may not be as effective as we think. While I wonder if it isn’t a tactical mistake on “the Yo Soy #132″ movement’s part — as it suggests in its second (on-line video) manifesto — to withdraw from traditional Mexican political acts like street demonstrations, but that may be a concern for later. For now, the protests continue, and what is more important, they force the media to confront issues that had been overlooked until now. Like media biases.
With only about two weeks of electioneering and polling still ahead of us before the “days of reflection” blackout of political propaganda and the election itself, the movement has already done something extraordinary… making the issue of how candidates present themselves (or are presented) as important as the candidates themselves.
– That “boring” debate (“boring” being the word used by several commentators) was much better received than the first debate, but given that television presentation is itself a contentious issue, is not likely to change voter perceptions all that much.
BloggingsbyBoz had the right feel for how the candidates acted, but got the perceptions totally wrong. AMLO spoke slowly which bothered Boz. Traditionally, Mexican politicians since Porfirio Diáz was first recorded by Thomas Edison speak slowly for effect. The “polished, charismatic and telegenic” style favored by Enrique Peña Neito and praised by Boz was seen by viewers as too slick by half, and reinforced the image Peña Nieto’ss detractors have of a “plastic” candidate. He did, indeed, come across as “a politician” — a TV politician just the thing the Mexican voters (if we are reading the cyber-messaging correctly) are rejecting in favor of “authenticity”. On that score, the seemingly hyper-caffinated and over-prepared Gabriel Quadri would be the “winner” (though his looks, let alone his platform and his party, made his participation seem more a time killer than anything else).
Neither José Merino nor Miguel Carbonell (both writing for ADNPolitico.com) were much impressed by Peña Neito’s performance. Merino slyly notes that Josefa Vásquez Mota was the only one who seemed to think the debates were about debating, so considered her the “winner” for bringing up the PRI’s sordid history as a means of attacking her two real opponents. Seeing the two didn’t take the bait, and launch into a debate (the rules governing responses would have prevented this anyway… and at the very beginning of the debate, moderator Javier Solórzano had to explain the ground rules to Ms. Vasquez a second time) … Vasquez Mota only succeeded in making the exercise a “compare and contrast” contest between Peña Nieto and AMLO. Both analysts felt that AMLO… his “lazy” style and low-key, non-confrontational moderate pronouncements being exactly on target for convincing undecided voters that he is not the “radical” the PRI and PAN have tried to paint him as.
– Even if Peña Nieto wins the presidency, the left has made tremendous gains already. Although social issues haven’t been at the forefront of this election, I was suprised when Quadri brought up decriminalization of abortion and the three “real” candidates all were quick to agree with him. His mention of same-gender marriage didn’t elicit any negative comments, which I suppose is something of a good sign. More to the point, Peña Neito had to fall all over himself to claim he was not respected the right of groups like “Yo Soy #132″ to their opinion (which doesn’t mean he, or his cabinet, would listen to them) but it does mean the cybernauts are forcing the establishment to take note of them, and — whether measured by pollsters or not — that they matter.