Theses Doctoral

The Political Consequences of Long-Term Violence in Mexico

Pocasangre Meneses, Oscar Mauricio

Criminal violence is one of the top policy concerns among citizens throughout many Latin American countries. Existing research would predict that political parties will exploit the issue in their campaigns to win electoral support. And yet, there are elections in which the issue of criminal violence is downplayed, even in countries with high levels of violence. Why are parties avoiding the issue of crime in contexts with high crime levels? Are parties leaving votes on the table by avoiding the issue or are they working within constraints that have not yet been fully theorized?

In this dissertation, I provide some answers to these questions. The overarching argument is that when criminal violence is seen as intractable, the issue becomes a liability for political parties in their campaigns. The persistence of criminal violence gives citizens opportunities to learn about the ability of parties to manage crime and about the effectiveness of anti-crime policies at reducing crime. Empirically, I focus on the case of Mexico.

If parties are indeed constrained in their campaign messaging by a loss of credibility over the issue, then we should observe parties downplaying crime related ads in their campaigns, especially in areas with chronic crime. In the first paper, I use an original data-set that I built by using web-scraping tools to download all the radio and TV ads from the archive of Mexico's National Electoral Institute and by applying natural language processing techniques to classify the campaign ads by topic, particularly by whether they emphasize crime related issues or not. The data set includes the texts of over 30,000 campaign ads played by parties in elections during the period under study. I find that from 2012 to 2018, political parties play crime related ads fewer times in states where homicides have remained high or have been increasing.

The second paper uses the data on campaign ads as its main independent variable to identify the effects of crime related campaign ads on the vote shares of party coalitions. In this paper, I argue that in contexts of persistent crime, campaigning on crime will be a liability for parties that have been in office and have not been able to deliver improvements in public safety. Incumbent parties that have staked their reputations on fighting crime will be especially vulnerable to these effects. Over time, if criminal violence remains unresolved, voters will discount electoral promises to address the issue, potentially moving on to other issues. I test this argument using a research design that exploits differential radio and TV coverage at the electoral precinct level. I find that as chronic crime increases, increases in crime related campaign ads decrease the vote share of the PAN in 2012 but increase that of the PRI and AMLO. In 2018, however, these effects are weakened.

Finally, the third paper uses a survey experiment that tests to what extent anti-crime policies help politicians cultivate a favorable image by transmitting desirable characteristics like effectiveness. In the experiment, repressive anti-crime policies increase perceptions of a politician’s effectiveness but only insofar as respondents think that military interventions reduce violence and that criminal groups are to blame for it. Against the conventional wisdom in the literature, I find that preventative policies also increase perceptions of politician effectiveness and the effect remains even among those who blame the government and where local homicide rates are increasing.

Together, the three papers highlight the importance of considering the histories of criminal violence when studying the effects of crime on politics.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Murillo, María V.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 8, 2022