When I am in Mexico, I smoke more cigars than in the United States. In part, that is because my demand is higher: there are more places in which I am allowed to smoke, and since my family usually doesn’t travel with me, I have more time during which I feel free to smoke.
But my increased smoking is also supply-driven. It is simply easier to get a good smooth cigar, at least to my own personal taste. (I recommend Hoyo de Monterrey, but do note that in cigars as in music and wine, my preferences are rather plebian.) With more good cigars around, I smoke more cigars.
To be honest, the demand reasons outdistance the supply ones. After all, there is a cigar bar right around the corner from my house in Washington, D.C. I could easily set up shop there are work away in a haze of smoke, especially during the summer. Hell, I could light up in the backyard. But I don’t.
The same principle applies to Mexican political parties. Voters might demand more parties because they do not like the existing options.
But institutional factors might also encourage more viable parties to be formed, which will in turn pull voters away from existing parties even with no change in preferences.
In Mexico, the law encourages party formation and provides the new parties with guaranteed resources. And so, more parties are formed. That pulls voters away from the big parties. The new parties disproportionately grab votes from the PRD and PAN for two reasons. (1) They make ideological pitches (an easy way to grab votes) and PRD and PAN voters are more ideological; (2) The PRD and PAN have less efficient machines than the PRI.
Before I continue, let me make two points up front. First, I am proposing a hypothesis which I am not sure how to test. I have no doubt that some of the decline in major-party support is demand-driven, that is, comes from changes in underlying voter preferences rather than the proliferation of parties clamoring for their votes. Second, I am ascribing no normative value to this development: I doubt that Mexico would be better off under a stable three-party system.
Here is how you establish a party in Mexico. First, you get a membership equal to 0.26% of the electoral roll. (You can find a continuously updated roll here.) That’d be about 226,000 people, spread over at least 20 states. You submit that list in January the year before an election. By August, you should have approval by the National Electoral Institute (INE). That gives you immediate access to an annual pot of money worth about US$258 million. (That is per year, not per election.) Each party automatically gets $8.6 million. The rest is divvied up per your vote share at the last election, but for that first period you get $8.6 million. You also get free 250 hours of radio broadcast and 200 hours of television. You do not need to worry about opponents’ broadcast access: private funding is allowed, but the parties cannot purchase additional radio or TV slots although bigger parties are allocated more airtime.
So the barrier to entry is fairly low. You can get your initial membership almost however you want; you can think of that as an investment to get access to the public funding revenue stream.
Of course, you then need to win 2% 3% of the vote in the next Congressional election to retain your perks.* So you need an electoral strategy. You can try replicate the PRI’s machine, but that’s pricey. Easier to try to siphon off voters from the left or the right ... the Greens have grabbed the non-ideological populist spot. Or you can, a la the Humanists, come in with your own ready-made base of support.
Given that democracy only arrived in 1997, this set-up makes fragmentation seem almost inevitable, even if everyone in Mexico thought that things were going along fine. Imagine what the Tea Party would look like under this system. They could try to contest the PAN primary, but that would be hard: it is a national presidential primary with the rules always in flux. Moreover, there are only limited primaries for lower-level candidates. (The link takes you to a very good but 2003 article by Steven Wuhs of the University of Redlands; a slightly more up-to-date analysis can be found here from Kathleen Bruhn of UCSB.) Worse still, the PAN limits primary voting to those who “have been sponsored for party membership by a current member, have taken a course in party doctrine, and have served an apprenticeship as ‘adherents’ before being accepted into active membership.” (Page 7.) Given that the PAN is already pretty centrist, that would make it very hard to tug the party to the right.
Or you could just split off! Boom, the Social Encounter Party.
Ditto, the fracturing of the left. This is more ideological, but in Mexico it is easier to pick up your marbles and leave when the party takes a stance you do not like. Why should AMLO stick with a party that made a squishy compromise with the PRI (the Pact for Mexico) rather than strike out on his own? Boom, Morena.
And even the PRI will lose some to parties with a built-in voter base, who might decide they have more influence outside than in. (The PRI has moved away from open candidate selection.) Boom, Panal, with a built-in voter base from the unions.
Plus, of course, the inexplicable continuing success of the Greens, a party run as a cynical family business.
In other words, the slow breakup of the party system that Alejandro Hope noted may not reflect voter dissatisfaction at all. Rather, it may be an inevitable consequence of how Mexico finances its political parties. The situation is the opposite of my experience with cigars.
Thoughts? There is a good paper here, if you can figure out how to test the hypothesis.
* The law is somewhat confusing. A party needs 2% of the vote to receive any PR seats in the election, but it needs 3% of the vote to retain its status for the next election. Thus, the Labor Party will be able to seat its deputies in 2015, but the party will not be able to contest 2018.