This year will be a key for the future of Mexico. The mid-term elections on June 6th will renew the Chamber of Deputies, 15 governorships, and a large part of the local legislatures, adding up to more than 21,300 democratically elected positions. They are the last great opportunity to stop his project of authoritarianism, centralism and socialist regression led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
This is how the big opposition parties (PRI, PAN, and PRD) have understood it, so they have united in a coalition called “Va por México” (This one’s for Mexico) with the objective of taking away the government’s majority in the Chamber of Deputies and to install a counterweight that prevents the excesses of the regime. If the opposition loses in 2021, its defeat in the presidential elections of 2024 is almost guaranteed.
The alliance was great news for the opposition, but not good enough in order to win. Victory depends not only on an agreement between the leaderships, but above all on a coalition of independent citizens, who are disappointed with López Obrador, but distrust the promises of the opposition.
What do they need, then, to defeat López Obrador?
The 10 rules of effective language, developed by Frank Luntz, are an excellent starting point. Let’s see how they apply in the case of Mexico:
- Simplicity: academic language is heard very nicely in college symposia that stresses the dialectic interaction of arguments to develop a wide and conspicuous conceptual scaffolding. However, in campaigns it is not a matter of presuming people are informed, but of communicating simple messaging. For this, it is indispensable that citizens understand what we want to tell them. In Mexico, the opposition is wrong to insist on their academic credentials. They haven’t understood that if people reject them, it isn’t because they consider them to be ignorant, but because they consider them crafty.
- Brevity: let’s not say in two sentences what could be perfectly say in one. In this sense, “Va por México” is a step forward in comparison with some longer phrase, such as “Technocratic alliance to stop a demagogue.” However, this brevity needs to be accompanied by content. “Va por México” is good. But what does that “va” (go) imply? Where is it going? Who is going to go? Someone honest or someone corrupt?
- Credibility: once again, the problem with the opposition is not that people consider them fools. People know they are smart, but they think they’re evil. Tragically, the opposition still doesn’t understand that blunt lesson given to them by the voters in 2018; they’ve spent two years focused on criticizing López Obrador, instead of taking concrete steps to regain their own credibility. Now, if they do not take radical steps to regain the trust of the electorate, all other efforts will fall into disarray. Even the kindest words taste like vomit when spoken by someone we consider a liar.
- Consistency: finding a message and repeating it over and over again is a very solid strategy. This is what Lopez Obrador has done, for example, with the supposed “fight against corruption.” For any issue he is challenged on, (even if in the strict sense it is not the case), López Obrador responds with the fight against corruption. The opposition has misinterpreted this insistence as a lack of intellectual capacity on the part of the president. In reality, Andrés Manuel is giving a lesson in discursive consistency that is well worth learning.
- Novelty: offering something new is very important and is a complement to consistency. The opposition alliance has a serious problem in that it is not developing new offerings. Their speech is a rehash of the one used by Ricardo Anaya and Pepe Meade against López Obrador in 2018. And we know how they fared.
- Sound and texture do matter: In this sense, the opposition has a point in favor. “Va for Mexico” is catchy.
- Speaking aspirationally: criticizing López Obrador and pointing out the disaster of his government works well to motivate those already in the opposition camp, but it is not enough to convince the undecided or the workers, and to win in 2021 the opposition needs to get at least some of the votes that López Obrador obtained in that historic 53% in 2018.
That’s where “Va por México” breaks down, because the only thing that unites them is the repudiation of Obrador. Their political agreement is based on the idea of “stopping” AMLO, but there was no conversation around what the future of the opposition coalition is. Tacitly, the offer of “Va por México” implies going back to where we were before 2018; however, in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Mexicans, in 2018 things were so bad that they voted for López Obrador. Going back to when things were “less bad” isn’t good enough.
- Visualization: through a language that allows us to imagine how Mexico governed by the opposition will look, which brings us back to the problem of the previous point. “Va por México” doesn’t have any idea of a country that is innovative or inspiring. His offer to return us to Peña Nieto’s Mexico brings to most citizens’ minds a film of corruption and arrogance.
- Asking a question: questioning works, because it involves involving the citizen in the process of building ideas and conveys a sense of respect, as well as making it easier for the voter to feel ownership of the proposal being offered. In this case, the opposition needs to pose several questions to its militancy and then to society. Unfortunately, at least until now, the perception is that ‘Va por México’ is not willing to ask: not in a rhetorical way and not even to the militancy of their respective parties.
- Provide context and explain the relevance: the opposition has tried to comply with this point, but it has done so with a language that feels alien and prefabricated. It is clear to all of us that the context of the opposition alliance and its relevance are related to putting a stop to the presidential and centralist project headed by President López Obrador. Now we must convince people that the opposition alternative is preferable.
The opposition has been insisting for months that “there is another option” and that they are different from López Obrador. That contrast is already clear, but it isn’t enough that “there is another option”; that other one has to be better than his own.
This is the way forward. Let’s hope the opposition takes note.