In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mexican Politics and Government

  • Introduction
  • Defining Mexico’s Political System (1950–1970s)
  • Corporativism and Mexican Hegemony
  • Political Recruitment
  • Transition Studies
  • Political Economy and the Economic Crises
  • Organized Criminal Violence
  • Social Movements
  • Electoral Rules and Reforms
  • Federalism and Decentralization
  • Social Programs and Clientelism
  • Voting Behavior and Opinion Polls

Political Science Mexican Politics and Government
Joy K. Langston
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0362


The literature on Mexican politics is rich and filled with important contributions to the study of politics in Mexico and political science more broadly. Partly the study of Mexico is so deep and broad because the nation has an extensive network of universities that have housed dozens of political scientists who have enriched the study of their country’s political institutions and behavior. Furthermore, many Mexican political scientists received their graduate degrees in France, England, and the United States over the past sixty years, which helped introduce different methodological approaches into their academic literature. Finally, scholars from the United States and Europe have long been attracted to Mexico’s distinctive political regime, as well as its economic development patterns, which adds to our understanding of Mexican politics. The nation’s hegemonic party system under the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) lasted for more than sixty years, followed by a ‘long decade’ of transition beginning in 1988 and ending in 2000 with the defeat of the hegemonic party. As elections became fairer, scholars employed new methods of studying individual preferences such as public opinion polls that captured changing partisan choices during a period of political transformation. This bibliography will introduce the reader to the most important readings and resources that cover several topics of interest during the hegemonic era (lasting from 1929 through 1988), the transition period (1988–2000), and the first years of democratic consolidation (2000–2022). Naturally, the study of politics in Mexico follows the actual course of the authoritarian regime and its transformation to a working democracy. Just as Mexico was dominated for decades by the party of the institutional Revolution (PRI), so was its political science literature until the late 1970s, when economic topics began to encroach on political studies. Beginning in the 1990s, transition studies were central, and by the late 1990s and into the new millennium, voting studies became crucial to understanding individual-level political preferences. Finally, fewer monographs in English on Mexican politics have been published in the past ten years as compared to years past, most likely because of a strong push to accept only those that are comparative—usually with other nations in Latin America. Because of space constraints, this review does not consider Mexican–US relations, free trade agreements, immigration, or Mexican foreign policy.

Defining Mexico’s Political System (1950–1970s)

Mexico’s modern state was created during and after the maelstrom of the Revolution (Garfías 2018). For decades after the end of the Revolution and the eventual creation of the PRI’s forerunners, the PNR (the National Revolutionary Party) and the PRM (Party of the Mexican Revolution), scholars in both the United States and Mexico debated the true nature of Mexico’s political regime. It was clear that the ‘masses’ were included in the regime through the functionalist sectors (workers, peasants, and popular) and that elections—while at times violent and contested—took place regularly at all levels of government. Was Mexico a democracy, albeit with only a single party capable of winning elected posts, as Brandenburg 1955 argued? Or was it an “imperfect democracy” because of the government’s ability to write the rules, count the ballots, and overspend on its candidates, as suggested in Fagen and Tuohy 1972 and Hellman 1988? Since the nation rid itself of landed elites thanks to the Revolution and subsequent land redistribution under President Cárdenas (1934–1940), many early authors believed that Mexico was a different sort of democracy albeit with political rules and culture that were less than democratic, as argued in Almond and Verba 1963. Many US scholarly works such as Brandenburg 1955, Fagen and Tuohy 1972, Hellman 1988, and Hansen 1971 described the incorporation of the peasants, workers, and middle classes in multiple works, making Mexico one of the best understood developing nations in the world. The books in this section are initial contributions that describe the PRI regime and address the question of the regime’s democratic merits, and Sartori 1976 is crucial in defining Mexico’s authoritarian regime. Mexican scholars made enormous contributions to this early literature, as shown by the works Carpizo 1978, Córdova 1972, Cosío Villegas 1974, and González Casanova 1965.

  • Almond, Gabriel, and Sydney Verba. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400874569

    This pathbreaking work found that while Mexico’s political culture was more authoritarian than those of developed democracies, it was more democratic than once thought.

  • Brandenburg, Frank. Mexico: An Experiment in One-Party Democracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1955.

    The author argues that the PRI’s hegemonic regime can be considered democratic, despite having only one party capable of winning elections.

  • Carpizo, Jorge. El presidencialismo mexicano. México, DF: Siglo Veintiuno Press, 1978.

    Written by a constitutional lawyer whose discussion of the powers of Mexico’s presidents during the hegemonic period was mostly based on the constitution and its bylaws. Only at the end of the book does Carpizo delve into, “the metaconstitutional faculties of the president”— namely, that the Chief Executive was the true leader of the PRI, who designated his favored successor in the post, and imposed the nation’s governors and could remove them at will.

  • Córdova, Arnaldo. La formación del poder político en México. México, DF: Ediciones Era, 1972.

    A vision of Mexican politics that argued that economic development largely depended on the central government’s ability to impose modernizing tendencies on traditional regional elites. This development power of the central government depended on presidencialismo—that is, a powerful executive who could impose his will on other branches of government, state governments, as well as the party’s mass sectors.

  • Cosío Villegas, Daniel. El estilo personal de gobernar. 5th ed. México, DF: Joaquín Mortiz Press, 1974.

    This famous work emphasized the power of Mexico’s hegemonic presidents, which was so great that the executives did not govern within a set of constraining institutions but often followed their personal whims.

  • Garfías, Francisco. “Elite Competition and State Capacity Development: Theory and Evidence from Post-Revolutionary Mexico.” American Political Science Review 112.2 (2018): 339–357.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0003055417000715

    A fascinating article that examines political elites’ incentives to build state capacity. The author finds that the more political elites expropriate private assets, the greater the impulse toward state building. The effects of these initial steps last for decades.

  • González Casanova, Pablo. La democracia en México. México, DF: Era Publishers, 1965.

    The author links democracy with economic development and explicitly asks whether it is possible to modify political structures to allow for more robust and equal economic development to improve living standards for all Mexicans.

  • Hansen, Roger D. The Politics of Mexican Development. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971.

    Hansen wrote that the Mexican political elite could be compared to la Cosa Nostra. After a solid explanation of then-recent economic trends in the first half of the work, Hansen turns to a rich description of authoritarian realities through the decade of the 1960s.

  • Hellman, Judith Adler. Mexico in Crisis. 2d ed. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1988.

    From a dependency framework, this book examines how the Mexican political regime was beginning to fail to provide prosperity for its poorest members, even before the economic collapse of the 1980s.

  • Sartori, Giovanni. Parties and Party Systems. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

    Settled the question of whether Mexico could be called a democracy once and for all by devising a classification scheme to distinguish Mexico’s PRI from the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and the Polish Communist Party, categorizing it as a hegemonic party that allowed other electoral options to exist, but never win at the ballot box.

  • Segovia, Rafael. La politización del niño mexicano. México, DF: El Colegio de México, 1975.

    The work explains how young Mexicans were socialized into the value system of the hegemonic regime so they would find it legitimate and therefore support it.

  • Tannenbaum, Frank. Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1950.

    This book first reviews Mexico’s history before turning to an evaluation of the strengths and weakness of Mexico’s postrevolutionary regime, and finds that in general, the regime achieved few victories—especially in the economic realm.

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