MEXICO CITY—Mexican presidential candidate Felipe Calderon is leading in the country's three-way race, according to a new survey released Friday by a U.S.-based pollster.
The survey, by Zogby International, confirms previous results by Mexican pollsters indicating that former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who'd led opinion polls for two years, has fallen behind as the country nears the July 2 vote.
But a variety of sources had disputed those polls, questioning the pollsters' previous work for Mexican political parties and the political leanings of their news organization sponsors.
Zogby chief executive John Zogby said the results also suggested that Calderon's 38 to 33 percent lead over Lopez Obrador would continue. He said Mexican voters also had favorable opinions of outgoing President Vicente Fox, who, like Calderon, is a member of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN in its Spanish initials, and of the country's improving economy.
"There is no prediction of a Calderon victory here. But there's enough to say the tenor of the race has changed, and Fox's numbers along with Calderon's numbers clearly put the wind behind Calderon's back," Zogby said.
The poll confirmed that Roberto Madrazo, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, remains a distant third, with 25 percent.
Zogby presented the results to the Texas-Mexico Frozen Food Council conference in Puerto Vallarta. Zogby International and the University of Miami's School of Communications in Florida paid for the poll, a Zogby spokesman said.
Lopez Obrador, a member of the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution, had been considered the front-runner to replace Fox until last month, when polls began to show the race tightening. Twelve percent of voters are undecided, but Zogby said he thought those voters would choose candidates largely along the same percentages as those who'd already decided.
Political observers have blamed Lopez Obrador's decline on a number of strategic missteps, including skipping the April 25 national debate, which 44 percent of voters in the poll said Calderon had won. While only 15 percent said the debate changed their votes, it was enough to propel Calderon into the lead, Zogby said. Lopez Obrador has said he'll participate in the second, final debate June 6.
More than 44 percent of voters approve of Fox, who upset the PRI's 71-year political stranglehold with his election in 2000, and they give him good marks on improving life for Mexicans in the last six years.
"In a two-person race that could be deadly, especially for the incumbent party," said Zogby, noting that Fox's numbers are below 50 percent. "But this is a three-person race."
Among the surprises is that Calderon leads the other two candidates on nine of 11 issues that are most important with voters, including the top two: creating more jobs and fighting drug trafficking. Lopez Obrador now leads only in fighting poverty and improving public transportation. Madrazo is third on all issues.
"If you looked at similar polls of who's best on the issues several months ago, AMLO would have led all of those. This shows a big shift," said Jeffrey Weldon, a political science professor at the Autonomous Mexican Technological Institute, referring to Lopez Obrador by his initials. "This shows a lot of people trust PAN to govern and there's doubt about changing course on the economy."
Calderon holds a commanding lead among voters who are doing better economically than they were six years ago, urban voters and voters aged 18 to 29. Lopez Obrador still leads among lower-income, less-educated voters, whom he's targeted with his campaign to improve conditions for the poor.
Nearly 46 percent of likely voters said they thought Mexico was going in the right direction, compared with 38 percent who didn't. Only 32 percent said their finances were better than they were six years ago, but nearly 49 percent said they were in a better personal situation.
"He obviously has momentum. We'll see what happens when the negative campaign against him starts in the next few weeks by Lopez Obrador," said political expert Sergio Aguayo of Colegio de Mexico. "It could also happen that the majority of those in favor of Madrazo could decide to vote for Lopez Obrador."
With President Bush sending the National Guard to the border and the U.S. Senate voting to build a wall and declare English the official language of the United States, the same poll showed that 43 percent of Mexicans now have an unfavorable impression of the American people, and 60 percent have an unfavorable view of the U.S. government.
The poll, which was conducted May 6-9, included personal interviews with 999 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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