How many votes would the PRI have had to purchase in the 2012 Mexican Election? A Response to Simpser

by Joshua Tucker on July 17, 2012 · 3 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Comparative Politics,Electoral Fraud

Tolga Sinmazdemir, a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at Washington University in St. Louis in the Department of Political Science, sends along the following response to Alberto Simpser’s now very well read Monkey Cage guest post on the 2012 Mexican elections. In the post, Simpser attempted to estimated the cost of purchasing enough votes to swing the election to the PRI’s presidential candidate, and then speculated about the feasibility of actually purchasing that many votes. The post attracted many comments, a good number of which raised the question of whether the PRI could have “purchased” the elections in ways that move beyond direct vote-buying. In this response, however, Sinmazdemir addresses Simpser’s argument largely on its own terms by simply questioning whether he got the actual number of votes that would need to be purchased correct, a point that does not seem to have been raised in the comments in reaction to the original post:

Having read Alberto Simpser’s post titled “Could the PRI have bought its electoral result in the 2012 Mexican election? Probably Not.”, I was a little puzzled by the number (3.2 million) he uses for the minimum number of votes that PRI needed to buy to get the election results they did. I am an expert neither on Mexican politics nor on elections so I wanted to join the conversation on this subject. It seems to me that this number lies somewhere between 1.6 and 6.4 million. Let me explain why.

As Alberto Simpser also points out, the minimum number of votes PRI needed to buy depends on two things: 1. How voters would have voted if there were no bribes. 2. Whom PRI targeted with their bribes (PRD voters or those who would have stayed home and those who would have voted for a third party)

Now we know that PRI received 3.2 million more votes than PRD.

Assuming for now that PRI targeted exclusively either PRD voters, or those who would have stayed home and those who would have voted for a third party, and that bribes are 100 % effective, the 3.2 million vote margin could have happened in four different ways depending on what we assume about these two things:

First:

1. Without any bribes, PRD would have received 3.2 million more votes than PRI.
2. PRI targets 3.2 million PRD voters who change their votes to PRI.

Second:

1. Without any bribes, PRD would have received 3.2 million more votes than PRI.
2. PRI targets 6.4 million voters who would have stayed home or would have voted for a third party, so they vote for PRI because of the bribe.

Third:

1. Without any bribes, PRD would have received the same number of votes as the PRI.
2. PRI targets 3.2 million voters who would have stayed home or would have voted for a third party, and they vote for PRI because of the bribe.

Fourth:

1. Without any bribes, PRD would have received the same number of votes as the PRI.
2. PRI targets 1.6 million PRD voters who change their votes to PRI.

So, depending on these two factors, the minimum number of voters needed to be bribed fluctuates between 1.6 and 6.4 million. And as scenarios three and four illustrate, if we assume that clean elections were close, and if PRI targeted both groups (those who would have voted for PRD and those who would have stayed home or voted for a third party) and succeeded, then the number would be somewhere between 1.6 and 3.2 million. If they targeted only those who would have stayed home or voted for a third party, the number would be 3.2 million. As I understand from Alberto Simpser’s response to one of the comments on the figure of 16 % he uses for vote-buying effectiveness, PRI has likely targeted both groups although some scholars object to the idea of parties bribing partisans of their rivals. But the bottom line is, as far as I can see, the right number for voters bribed that should be used for calculating the lowest possible cost of buying the elections should be 1.6 million, not 3.2 million.

This obviously changes our estimate of the total cost of buying the election. With the lower bound of 1.6 million rather than 3.2 million, and using the figures that Simpser uses in the post for the cost of buying votes (700 pesos) and its effectiveness (16 %), the total estimated cost of stealing the election becomes half a billion dollars. At 100 % effectiveness, the estimated cost becomes 1,120 million pesos which is less than the total campaign funding of PRI-PVEM coalition as reported by Simpser (1,390 million pesos).

Therefore, this analysis makes me reach the conclusion that if the result of a clean election was close between PRI and PRD, and if PRI focused heavily on potential PRD voters effectively (to me as a total outsider, this seems consistent with the image of the PRI’s fraud “machinery” used by some commentators), then the total cost of buying the elections was less than the total campaign funding of PRI-PVEM, and PRI buying the election results in 2012 becomes less improbable.

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