Political change in Mexico: Lessons from 50 years of PRI-defeats at the local level

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

William Smith - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

Bruce Bagley - Committee Member


This is a study of the causes of municipal PRI defeats and what they reveal about Mexican political transition. It draws primarily on oral histories from actors in competitive elections and expert interviews collected in 20 Mexican states. In-depth case studies were conducted in three states: Chihuahua, Michoacan, and Yucatan. Boolean techniques were used to construct a typology of patterns of PRI defeats that reveal developments that encourage and obstacles that impede democratization. Factionalism is the source of the first pattern, centrifugal defeats, in which either coopted parties or the independent PRD provided a political opportunity for PRI candidates who were not favored in the PRI's internal candidate selection process. The second pattern, snowball opposition movements, started in the local society and gradually obtained a critical mass. An emerging elite latched onto the embryonic opposition movement and societal discontent, organized electoral opposition and provided leadership. A catalyst finally provoked a passionate explosion of participation that resulted in an opposition victory. Finally, there were transformational movements in which the opposition had permanent organizational foundations and elite involvement, a program of government, and a commitment to transform the regime from its informal basis to a state of law. However, the leaders' aversion to state control tended to make them focus more on dismantling authoritarian mechanisms than on strengthening democratic institutions. Local experiences with party competition demonstrate that democratic transition in Mexico is not based on strong parties or democratic values. The inability of opposition administrations to find solutions to Mexico's economic and security crises suggests the possibility of increasing militarization regardless of which party comes to power in the new millennium.


History, Latin American; Sociology, Theory and Methods; Political Science, General

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