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Violence and electoral competition: criminal organizations and municipal candidates in Mexico

Abstract

This article evaluates the effects of violence related to the operations of drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) on electoral competition, defined by the number of electoral alternatives or candidates in Mexico’s municipal elections. I find that the killing and threatening of politicians, which are effective tools to influence politics, jeopardizes competition in violent Mexican municipalities by reducing the number of candidates. This result is not only probabilistically robust but also meaningful. The number of candidates can fall to one in the more violent municipalities. However, DTOs can also provide (illegal) funding to politicians to facilitate their candidacies. I find that as confrontation intensifies among DTOs, the negative effect of violence on electoral competition moderates. This finding suggests that DTOs finance candidates to capture municipal governments when facing intense competition and attacks from other DTOs. In addition, DTOs in this context may also provide protection to their preferred candidates from other competing organizations. These factors temper the negative effect of violence on electoral competition.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Electoral competitiveness grows as main parties’ electoral support becomes relatively more equal (Sartori 1976).

  2. 2.

    For thorough analysis on the increasing importance of domestic markets for cartels in Mexico and Colombia, consult Durán-Martínez (2015b).

  3. 3.

    Online Appendix A includes several cases of candidates and mayors who were funded by DTOs. The Online Appendices can be found at the following web page: https://sites.google.com/site/aldofponceugolini/data

  4. 4.

    Consult Phillips (2015) for a more detailed explanation of the motives of DTOs in Mexico. Unlike the guerrillas in Colombia or terrorist groups in other countries that aspire to political changes at the national scale and are ideologically driven, DTOs are much more pragmatic organizations that mainly pursue economic profits, and their interference in politics is instrumental to secure or increase their economic gains (Koivu 2015; Phillips 2015; Williams 2012).

  5. 5.

    The number of homicides (and homicide rates) is the measure most frequently employed by studies on violence. The main advantage of this measure is its consistency and simplicity on how rates of violence are calculated across time (Buvinic and Morrison 1999; Eisner 2012; Indermaur 1996). There exist other (less frequently employed) measures of violence such as victimization surveys, reports from the police or the healthcare sector, and estimations of the number of healthy years lost as a product of violence (Buvinic and Morrison 1999). However, surveys about victimization and health reports tend to under-report the number of violent events occurred, and calculations based on the number of years lost in adequate health become too complex to accomplish (Buvinic and Morrison 1999).

  6. 6.

    Dataset gathered by the Drug Policy Program at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE-PPD)

  7. 7.

    For more information regarding the construction of this dataset, see Atuesta et al. (2016). The dataset is available at http://www.politicadedrogas.org/PPD/index.php/observatorio/categorias/id/8.html

  8. 8.

    The Calderón administration also created a new Federal Police force and the new Federal Ministerial Police (Astorga and Shirk 2010).

  9. 9.

    For instance, the Mexican government claims to have killed or arrested twenty leaders of DTOs between 2007 and 2010 (Pereyra 2012).

  10. 10.

    For instance, Lessing (2015) argues that criminal organizations aim to influence state’s behavior to favor the implementation of desired policy.

  11. 11.

    Eck and Gersh (2000) refer to low levels of violence and a monopolistic structure of the drug market as ‘concentrated industry’.

  12. 12.

    Once the number of electoral alternatives is altered, DTOs may continue influencing electoral results by increasing the concentration of votes for their preferred candidates. Consult Ponce (2016a) for a description of these tactics.

  13. 13.

    Online Appendix B shows several examples of assassinated candidates during recent campaigns for municipal elections.

  14. 14.

    An illustrative example corresponds to what happened in the State of Guerrero in 2012 where DTOs threatened 15 candidates for mayors. As a consequence, these candidates decided to abandon their campaigns (La Policiaca 2012). These were former candidates in the municipalities of Tierra Caliente, Zona Norte, and Montaña in the State of Guerrero.

  15. 15.

    Online Appendix C lists examples of assassinated mayors during recent years. In addition, the Universal newspaper counted that there were 52 mayors assassinated, 44 mayors’ relatives killed, 5 candidates murdered, and 70 former mayors assassinated between 2005 and 2016 (see http://interactivo.eluniversal.com.mx/2016/alcaldes-asesinados/).

  16. 16.

    There are some differences in the strength of party identification across Mexican political parties. While the PAN possesses this advantage over its competitors in some states of the north of the country, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) have such advantage in some states of the south. The Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI) holds such advantages in most municipalities throughout Mexico (Klesner 2012; Somuano 2014).

  17. 17.

    For example, the PRD warned that DTOs could place “their” candidates in the 2014 local elections in several municipalities of seven violent states where the concentration of DTOs was greatest: Jalisco, Michoacán, Colima, Guerrero, Morelos, State of Mexico, and Guanajuato. The PRD requested that the National Electoral Institute (INE) and the Secretary of Governance intervene to prevent this criminal intrusion in politics (Quadratín Michoacán 2014). Online Appendix A shows examples of illegal financing to municipal candidates or subnational parties.

  18. 18.

    For instance, Sberna and Olivieri (2014) confirm that there is abundant evidence of collusion between candidates or elected officials and criminal groups both at subnational and national levels.

  19. 19.

    This periodicity ensures the inclusion of at least one observation (one election) per each municipality. Data for most Oaxacan municipalities is not available for most of the independent variables used in the analyses. Unfortunately, this fact reduces the number of available observations. For some municipalities, it was possible to include more than one observation since municipal elections occur every third year (dependent on the electoral calendars that vary across states). Of course, this selection is random because it is determined exogenously by the electoral calendar. Even when one of these observations is dropped (when there are two observations per municipality), empirical support for both hypotheses is also valid and robust.

  20. 20.

    During the analyzed period, in approximately 55% of observations, violence disappeared at some moment between December 2006 and November 2011 (prior to the municipal election). As stated above, violence is highly concentrated in some territories, but it is also volatile: it disappeared in some areas and grew rapidly in others during this period. Appendix 1 presents descriptive statistics of the variables used in analyses. Appendix 2 provides descriptions and definitions of variables used in analyses.

  21. 21.

    The Gini coefficient is commonly employed to measure the degree of inequality to compare units of analysis (Creedy 1998). It takes values that range from 0 in cases of perfect equality to 1 in cases of perfect inequality. The Gini coefficient is less likely to underestimate the segments with lower values than other concentration measures such as Laakso-Taagepera or Herfindahl-Hirschman (Avila et al. 2012; Hall and Tideman 1967).

  22. 22.

    Studies measuring electoral competitiveness commonly employ the difference in percentages of votes between the first and the second place in an electoral contest (Blais 2000; De Feo and De Luca 2017; Endersby et al. 2002). Unlike the difference in percentages of votes, the Gini coefficient -- as a measure of electoral competitiveness -- takes into account the distribution of votes for all candidates in the contest.

  23. 23.

    These municipalities were, however, included to test the first hypothesis as they can serve as a quasi-control group for examining the effects of violence on electoral competition. In testing the second hypothesis, their inclusion could produce bias in the results as DTOs are very unlikely to be present in these territories. Certainly, these regions do not help test the effects of the dynamics of competition (monopoly or several competitors) among DTOs on the number of candidates as DTOs do not operate in these territories.

  24. 24.

    As additional robustness checks, I first assess whether variations in local electoral rules are able to change previous results. There are a few states where the election of municipal councilmen employs a different electoral formula (proportional representation). These states are Campeche, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Morelos, Puebla, Estado de México, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. For this purpose, I include a dummy variable to examine whether or not this variable is statistically significant, and more importantly, whether or not this variable modifies previous results. I find it does not change previous results. Online Appendix D displays in its first three models the average marginal effects of the independent variables.

    Second, I introduce a variable that counts the number of times the PRI lost in the last four municipal elections. Since the PRI ruled Mexico for several decades before they lost the presidential elections in 2000, there could be authoritarian enclaves in which incentives for other candidates to run might be weak. I used the CIDAC Database to construct this variable. Model specifications from 4 to 9 in Online Appendix D display these results. The inclusion of this variable does not change previous results either. These additional control variables change neither the statistical significance of the key independent variables nor their magnitudes in relevant amounts.

    Third, I control for regional heterogeneity. For this purpose, I include three dummy variables to account for the spatial location of the Mexican states: municipalities in states sharing a border with the United States, municipalities in states that border the Pacific Ocean, and municipalities in states that border the Gulf of Mexico. In particular, these locations are usually employed by DTOs to transport illegal products to the United States. Their inclusion does not change previous results. The last three model specifications of Online Appendix D present these outcomes. These last specifications in Online Appendix D put together all these additional control variables.

    Finally, in Online Appendix E, I include an additional control variable that quantifies the number of assassinations of candidates and/or other attacks against local politicians when at least one homicide occurred. I employed the Drug Policy Program at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) to construct this variable. This exercise becomes helpful as it proves that successful attacks on politicians reduce electoral competition. It helps isolate the impact of one of the arguments (killings of politicians) that supports the validity of Hypothesis 1.

  25. 25.

    I employ the first specification of Table 2 to calculate these expected values of the number of candidates.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Table 3 Descriptive statistics for variables used in analyses

Appendix 2

Table 4 Definition of variables used in analyses

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Ponce, A.F. Violence and electoral competition: criminal organizations and municipal candidates in Mexico. Trends Organ Crim 22, 231–254 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-018-9344-9

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Keywords

  • criminal organizations
  • electoral competition
  • violence
  • municipal elections
  • Mexico
  • number of candidates