Good looks not enough to boost approval ratings, avoid scrutiny for Mexico's president
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Good looks not enough to boost approval ratings, avoid scrutiny for Mexico's president

Apparently, good looks will only get you so far.

Earlier this week, Pew Research Center announced that Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s approval rating is on the decline. A year ago, the president enjoyed a rating just over 50 percent; now, he’s fallen below that mark, with a current overall approval rating of 44 percent.

When Enrique Peña Nieto was elected president of Mexico in 2012, some critics speculated that his win was less about his professional bona fides, political preparedness, and policy proposals, and more about his physical attributes. (It didn’t hurt, either, that he was married to a well-known actress.) His winning smile and youthful appearance even attracted notice north of the border, where he became something of a media darling, even appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine with the bold phrase “SAVING MEXICO” emblazoned across his expensive suit.

But three years into his administration, the president has lost a lot of luster.

Rubbish ratings

While it’s true that the sample size from which the Pew data were extrapolated was small (just 1,000 respondents, who were surveyed in April 2015), the numbers do seem to reflect the general mood of the country. And if the president’s overall ratings are tanking, respondents’ confidence in his abilities to handle specific policy areas is eroding even more. Only 30 percent approve of how President Peña is handling the economy (down from 37 percent in 2014), and just 35 percent think he’s managing the areas of organized crime and drugs effectively (down from 53 percent in 2014). Twenty-seven percent are satisfied with how he’s handling corruption. A year ago, 42 percent thought he was doing a good job in that domain.

It’s clear that the many missteps of the past year have done a number–literally–on Peña Nieto. Between the internationally publicized “disappearance” of 43 students from Iguala nearly a year ago and the second brazen escape of narco boss Chapo Guzmán from prison, Peña Nieto hasn’t really been able to catch a break.

The latest example of his administration’s ineptitude involves the mishandling of what’s come to be called the Narvarte case, in which five people, including a prominent journalist and activist, were killed in Mexico City and discovered in an apartment on August 1. Mishandling of evidence, maligning the character of the assassinated, and leaking information–and misinformation–to the media have all characterized the case, which is being handled by the attorney general’s office.

Pew’s data seem to square with similar ratings and satisfaction polls conducted in Mexico by domestic pollsters, among them Consulta Mitofsky. Consulta Mitofsky reported Peña Nieto’s overall rating at 47%, down from 51%.

A sinking ship?

Though he won’t be able to run for reelection–presidents can serve only one, six-year term–Peña Nieto is hoping he can correct course and boost public confidence in order to retain authority and credibility for the remaining half of his tenure. And to do that, he’s spending a lot of money. In an article published this week by the English-language outlet El Daily Post, it was revealed that the Peña administration has spent 48.8% more on advertising that was allowed for in its budget. Among many troubling details of the pork barrel advertising: fully half of the money was spent on TV and radio ads, even though the close (some would say codependent) relationship between the government and the media bestows upon the government the privilege of free spots.

The spending statistics were drawn from a report released by Article 19 and FUNDAR (Center for Analysis and Research). Titled “Freedom of expression for sale. Access to information and indirect censorship in government advertising,” the report included information about the disturbing extent to which the Peña Nieto administration has literally bought the media. “Only at the federal level, in its first two years in office, President Peña Nieto spent more than 14,663 million [pesos]. Never has a president spent so much in its early years…. Opacity persists, accountability is dysfunctional and institutional and legal design allows contrary to good democratic practice and freedom of expression and information practices,” the authors concluded.

See more:

Mexico: Murder rate drops under Peña Nieto presidency

Evidence destroyed in case of missing Ayotzinapa students