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Polls Predicting Wild Ride for Lopez Obrador in Mexico's Presidential Election

Wildly varying results from influential opinion polls ahead of Mexico's July 1 presidential election have added to the controversy surrounding the anti-establishment candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who many in the business community consider a threat to the nation's stability.

However, the polls appear to suggest that the general population is fed up with two decades of sluggish economic growth, despite Mexico’s proximity to the world's largest economy.

Supporters of Lopez Obrador claim that he will provide opportunities for Mexico's impoverished underclass that have long been denied. Opponents say he could cause economic ruin by reversing energy reforms undertaken by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

NGI’s Mexico Gas Price Index has long reported that Lopez Obrador, formerly a fierce opponent of the energy reforms, has no intention of reversing them, but his opponents fear he will delay enacting any.

On Monday, Mexico's leading daily, El Financiero, published a poll that showed Lopez Obrador with 46% support among voters, compared to 26% for Ricardo Anaya, leader of a right-moderate left coalition. Another 20% said they support Jose Antonio Meade, the candidate of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). A victory of that dimension could, with the help of some minor parties, place Lopez Obrador within sight of a Congressional majority.

According to Bloomberg’s look at Mexico presidential election opinion polls, as of May 9, Lopez Obrador had 46% support, Anaya had 28% and Meade 18%, with Margarita Zavala at 4% and Jaime Rodriquez with 3%.

More remarkable is that the El Financiero poll showed a surge in support for Lopez Obrador in northern Mexico, which is generally held as the most economically growing region of the nation. The poll showed 39% of respondents in northern Mexico backed him, by far his biggest showing in any of the many polls in which he has featured in three attempts to win the presidency.

But the poll marks a sharp contrast to another that followed a highly publicized dispute between Lopez Obrador and a group of Mexican business leaders. That poll was conducted at the end of April by the business consultancy Grupo de Economistas y Asociados (GEA) and the pollsters of Investigaciones Sociales Aplicadas (ISA) in the wake of the first televised debate among the three leading candidates and two independents.

According to the GEA-ISA poll, had the election been held at the end of April, Lopez Obrador would have won with 29% of the vote, compared to 24% for Ricardo Anaya. Those findings contrasted with most other polls, which had estimated 40-42% backing for Lopez Obrador and slightly more than 30% for Anaya.

The most recent poll is that of México Elige-SDPnoticias, which showed a 0.8% drop in support for Lopez Obrador compared with its previous finding. However, support for Anaya went up by three percentage points, to 27%.

The GEA-ISA poll does not include undecided voters, who may prove pivotal in the event of a last-minute surge generated by an incident, such as a corruption scandal.

Lopez Obrador's party, Morena, is generally regarded as left-wing nationalist, while Anaya's party, the Partido Action Nacional (PAN), is usually described as pro-business. However, Anaya has formed an electoral alliance with the moderate Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) and has promised to double the minimum wage.

Economists have said any attempt to implement a realistic universal income would overwhelm Mexico's state's financial  resources. The country's "informal economy" amounts to about half, or perhaps more, of the workforce.

GEA-ISA is owned by Jesus Reyes Heroles who, like his late father, is a stalwart of the currently ruling PRI, which governed Mexico for most of last century under a one-party system. He is a former energy secretary, a former director-general of the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), and a former ambassador to the United States.

Many of the PRI's opponents question the impartiality of the GEA-ISA findings. But GEA-ISA provided highly accurate forecasts for the 2000 and 2006 elections, in which the PRI made historic losses. In 2012, when Ernesto Peña Nieto was elected president, it overestimated his majority.

This time, however, the GEA-ISA findings offer little, if any, consolation for the PRI and its supporters. Jose Antonio Meade, who is not a member of any party but has held top jobs as a technocrat for administrations of both the PAN and the PRI, is the PRI's candidate for the election. However, he is well behind in all of the polls.

Much more remarkable than the low rating of Meade is the huge public condemnation of the current PRI government. The poll found 82% of respondents believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction politically, and 79% said likewise on economic matters.

Significantly, the policies of Peña Nieto that were most criticized were not necessarily those that relate to energy. Energy reform was identified by voters as one the president's biggest mistakes at 6%, but an increase in gasoline prices (which related to the reform) came in at 8%. Corruption (11%) and crime (16%) rated much higher.

Violent crime has emerged not only as an issue that faces the nation, but also of the election itself. Along with the presidential vote, there are hundreds of local elections. So far, more than 80 candidates for positions such as small-town mayors have been killed: most of the murders have been attributed to organized crime.

At a national level, election officials and prominent citizens have urged calm on social media. A well-paid, prominent columnist in one leading newspaper tweeted that Lopez Obrador could end up like John Lennon, by being killed by one of his fans. The columnist's editor -- by no means a supporter of Lopez Obrador -- fired the columnist immediately..

Lopez Obrador himself has backed down on his more aggressive political positions. At a meeting of business leaders, he ended up angering almost all of them by saying that, if he becomes president, he would cancel the new $13 billion Mexico City airport which is already under construction.

Lopez Obrador claimed that there were much bigger priorities for the next government; his aides pointed out that only 70% of all Mexicans have ever been on a plane. But in a television interview, he said he would allow the airport through a private-sector concession, not a public works contract.

"If private companies want the new airport, let them have it, but they'll have to pay the tab," he said gruffly.

So far, the private sector is saying that the concession formula would be just fine.

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