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Updated May 30, 2024, 12:25pm EDT
North America
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Semafor Signals

Why Mexico’s coming election matters so much for the US

Insights from CNN, Wilson Center, The Hill, and the BBC

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Raquel Cunha/Reuters
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The News

Mexico goes to the polls on Sunday, June 2. The election is historic, both in terms of a record high of registered voters — about 99 million — and in that it is on the cusp of electing its first woman president.

Claudia Sheinbaum, former Mexico City mayor, leads in the polls. She is a member of incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party and his protegée.

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Under López Obrador, Mexico “has stopped being a distant and strange country and has become a close one,” the director of the Center for US-Mexico Studies at the University of California, San Diego said. That could signal what a Sheinbaum administration will mean for the US over three key areas: trade, migration, and drug policy.


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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Mexico is the US’ largest trading partner

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Sources:  
CNN, Wilson Center

Mexico overtook Canada and China and became the US’ largest trading partner in 2023. That growth is driven by a number of factors, including the US’ protectionist stance on China and the USMCA, a 2020 free-trade agreement between Mexico, the US, and Canada. It is set for renegotiation in 2026, bringing it under the auspice of the incoming Mexican government. Mexico’s fluctuating compliance with the terms of USMCA has been a point of contention between López Obrador and both US Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and the new Mexican president will inherit that issue.

Leading candidates’ stance on migration unclear

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Sources:  
Pew Research Center, CNN, BBC

During the Biden administration, more than 6.3 million people have been detained trying to cross the US-Mexico border, more than under former Presidents Trump or Barack Obama. But while immigration policy is a key issue in the 2024 US presidential race, it’s less clear where the leading Mexican presidential candidates stand. Sheinbaum says she will continue her predecessor’s policy and insist on tamping down illegal crossings and facilitating a legal path for migration to the US, but one analyst told CNN that neither of the candidates’ migration discourse is “very strong [...] nor do they address much of what to do with the migrants who are in the country.”

The US needs Mexico’s collaboration for drug policy enforcement

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Sources:  
Wilson Center, Semafor, The Hill

Mexico is considered the primary source of illicit drugs flowing into the US — and it needs the government’s support to fight the trade. Outgoing President López Obrador has taken a “hugs, not bullets” approach to organized crime and has denied involvement in fentanyl manufacturing multiple times. Sheinbaum, who leads in the Mexican election polls, has rebranded López Obrador’s largely unpopular strategy to be more akin to a socioeconomic reform, and recently said her party plans to “build peace” instead of “declaring war” on cartels.


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