MEXICO CITY — They came of age in Mexico’s young democracy but they have grown up in the midst of unremitting drug violence. They are the most highly educated voting bloc in Mexico’s history but face stagnant wages.
Above all, they are fed up with corruption and politics as usual and are ready to put the nation on a new, better course.
As Mexico gears up for a watershed election on July 1, with more than 3,000 positions at stake, one sector of the Mexican population could well determine the outcome: Mexico’s millennials and the subsequent Generation Z.
Nearly half of all eligible voters are younger than 39, and one of every five would be voting for the first time. It is an age group profoundly disenchanted with the political establishment and urgently seeking a moral leader to bring about real change.
“We keep thinking that an honest, heroic, caudillo-like figure will arrive one day and change it all for us,” said María Montoya, 21, referring to the leaders that emerged in the tumult of Mexico’s drive for independence. “I don’t.”
“We have gone out to the streets to protest, to demand change and answers about the thousands of disappeared people, the violence, and nothing changes,” added Ms. Montoya, an economics student in Mexico City who grew up in the violence-ridden state of Sinaloa. “It feels like we have no control left over our lives.”
Though many young Mexicans say they have not found the perfect changemaker among the current crop of presidential candidates, one appears poised to reap the benefits of their discontent: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known by his initials, AMLO.
According to several major opinion polls, between 41 and 47 percent of Mexicans between 18 and 29 intend to vote for Mr. López Obrador, 64, a former Mexico City mayor who is running for the presidency for the third time.
“We all badly need a new beginning, a moment of redemption, a feeling of change coming at last,” said Jorge Carlini, 34, a lawyer in Mexico City who said he planned to vote for Mr. López Obrador. “He won’t save us, he will probably not carry out major changes. But it is a blank slate — it means turning the page.”
Mexico’s youngest potential voters grew up during a seismic period in the nation’s political history, when the center-right National Action Party, or PAN, ended more than 70 years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. This shift to a more pluralistic system has imbued them with a sense of democratic promise.
But the realities of Mexican politics have eroded this hope, as successive administrations have done little to curb rampant corruption, violence, impunity and inequality — and have often contributed to them.
The last six years under President Enrique Peña Nieto — a deeply unpopular leader whose term has been marked by corruption scandals, spiraling violence and human rights violations — have only hardened their anger with the political class and reaffirmed their desire for profound change. Mexican presidents are limited to one term.
Both younger voters and the broader electorate seem mostly concerned by rampant corruption and a general exhaustion with the political establishment, polls show.
Many young Mexicans are far from enamored with Mr. López Obrador and say they intend to hold their noses while voting for him.
The candidate, many say, has not presented the kind of progressive agenda they are looking for: He has been weak on environmental issues and reluctant to speak on gay rights, and he represents an unusual left-right alliance — Juntos Haremos Historia — that includes his left-leaning Morena party and evangelical party critical of gays and abortion.
But for many young voters, Mr. López Obrador at least offers the best chance of an end to the status quo of the PRI and the PAN, which have alternated power for the past two decades. Those parties had their chance and squandered it, many say. Any shift away from those two major parties, they say, offers enough hope and possibility.
“It is the oxygen this young democracy needs,” said Antonio Martínez Velázquez, a journalist and human rights activist in Mexico City.
Genaro Lozano, a political analyst in Mexico City, said Mr. López Obrador had managed to draw on the youth anger and transform it into hopeful enthusiasm, much as Senator Bernie Sanders did when he sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination in the United States.
“Most people don’t care about the unnatural alliances or inconsistent policies of López Obrador,” Mr. Lozano said, “because they are too angry at the meager economic growth, the endless violence against journalists, the countless disappearances, the unsolved cases, the scarce jobs.”
Throughout campaigning this spring and summer, all the presidential candidates sought to entice young voters, flooding social media with humorous memes and youth-oriented ads. The parties have hired celebrities with youth appeal to promote their candidates.
In one ad, produced by a party running on a ticket with the governing PRI, a young woman announces to her stunned parents that she planned to move in with her boyfriend, Andrés — a coy reference to Mr. López Obrador.
“I want to try something new,” she explains. “I feel it is his turn.”
The mother is aghast. “There are choices in life that we can’t take back!” she warns, eventually persuading her daughter to change her mind.
Analysts say, however, that the more technocratic candidates representing the two largest parties — Ricardo Anaya, 39, of the PAN, who is polling in second place; and José Antonio Meade, 49, of the PRI, who is in third — have not come up with an adequate response to disaffected young voters.
Mr. López Obrador, meanwhile, has cast himself as a person who can break the status quo, with grand promises of “moralizing” the country and starting a “revolution” — direct appeals to the young.
“Nobody wants a more radical change than the young people,” said Sabina Berman, a writer and columnist in Mexico City. She said that Mr. López Obrador “represents a ray of hope” for an end to a political system that has failed to deliver on its economic and social promises to the nation’s young.
“But,” she added, “it is a skeptical and sad kind of hope.”
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