May 29, 2012 / 8:50 PM / in 5 years

Mexico presidential front-runner suffers poll setback

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Enrique Pena Nieto, the favorite to win Mexico’s presidential election, has suffered his biggest drop in support during the campaign after demonstrators said his party was corrupt and oppressive, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday.

Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), gives a speech during the First Citizen Summit in Mexico City May 22, 2012. Mexico will hold presidential elections on July 1, 2012. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The poll by Consulta Mitofsky showed backing for Pena Nieto, candidate of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), at 35.6 percent, still a big lead over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist contender and runner-up in the 2006 election.

But the PRI candidate’s support was down 2.3 percentage points from a previous Mitofsky survey published on May 22.

That was the sharpest drop since the campaign for the July 1 elections began at the end of March. Pena Nieto’s support in Mitofsky polls has been above 40 percent at times during the race.

Backing for Lopez Obrador rose 1.2 percentage points to 21.7 percent.

The latest poll by Mitofsky was taken between Friday and Sunday, the first conducted since thousands of protesters took to the streets of Mexico City on May 19 against the PRI, which ruled the country for 71 years until losing power in 2000.

Demonstrators said the PRI was corrupt and repressive, and some smaller protests, many of them organized in online social media, have followed since.

Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost in 2006, has sought to capitalize on the opposition to Pena Nieto, who has led presidential polls for more than two years.

In a news conference Monday, Lopez Obrador championed the protesters, although he said he was not involved in organizing the demonstrations himself.

“It is a fresh, clean, extraordinarily and creative movement of young people,” Lopez Obrador said. “I am speaking about the independence of this movement, of not intervening.”

Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate of President Felipe Calderon’s ruling National Action Party (PAN), remained in third place with 20.4 percent, a rise of 0.3 percentage points.

Support for the PAN has been damaged by a brutal drug war and a sluggish job market, helping to spur the PRI comeback.

Opponents have accused the PRI of stealing public money, rigging elections and violently cracking down on dissenters, especially toward the end of its lengthy hold on power.

But Pena Nieto argues that the PRI has transformed into a democratic and honest party that can halt Mexico’s crime wave and create enough jobs for its growing population.

The latest survey was based on 1,000 face-to-face interviews with eligible voters. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Reporting By Ioan Grillo; Editing by Philip Barbara and Paul Simao

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