May 3, 2018 / 5:23 AM / 19 days ago

Exclusive: Mexico leftist's wide lead narrows as election nears

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican leftist presidential front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s lead narrowed for the first time in months as his nearest rival rebounded from corruption allegations ahead of the July 1 election, according to a poll released on Thursday.

Leftist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) is pictured during his campaign rally in Mexico City, Mexico May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Less than two months before Mexicans vote, Lopez Obrador’s support grew to 39 percent from 38 percent in the previous poll at the end of March, according to polling firm Parametria, but his lead narrowed to 14 points from 18.

The possibility of a victory by Lopez Obrador, who has threatened changes to the country’s landmark reform to lure private investment to its energy markets, has spooked some investors, helping send the peso currency down more than 3 percent in April.

Support for Ricardo Anaya, the candidate of the “For Mexico in Front” coalition of three parties from the right and left, grew to 25 percent from 20 percent the month before. In a recent TV debate, he portrayed himself as the only alternative to the front-runner.

Third-place ruling party candidate Jose Antonio Meade’s support fell to 14 percent in the latest poll from 16 percent previously.

“There is now no debate about who is in second place,” said Parametria founder Francisco Abundis, saying Anaya was helped by a shift in focus away from corruption scandals.

“If this trend continues, we would expect a closer election,” he said, although adding that Anaya may not have enough time to catch up.

Independent Margarita Zavala fell to 6 percent and Jaime Rodriguez declined to 2 percent.

STEADY LEAD

Until now, Lopez Obrador had maintained or increased his lead in opinion polls every month since December when he was ahead by 11 points.

The face-to-face Parametria poll of 1,000 people was taken between April 25 and 30 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Some 14 percent of those asked either did not answer, said they did not know or could not choose a candidate listed.

The results were similar to a poll published by national newspaper Reforma on Wednesday, which showed Lopez Obrador’s lead slightly narrower than its previous poll.

Ricardo Anaya, presidential candidate for the National Action Party (PAN), a part of the coalition "For Mexico in Front", looks on as he is pictured with his daughter, during an event in support of children in conditions of vulnerability, in Mexico City, Mexico April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Despite his smaller lead, Lopez Obrador’s advantage has led to a focus on how his Morena party will fare in national congressional and gubernatorial elections also held on July 1.

His ability to control Congress will be key for his proposals, including a review of major energy-sector reforms enacted in recent years.

In the lower chamber race for 500 seats, Lopez Obrador’s Morena is ahead with 25 percent support versus 19 percent for Anaya’s National Action Party (PAN). In the 128-seat Senate, Morena holds 25 percent of preferences, with the PAN at 21 percent.

Abundis said the difference between the presidential numbers and those for the Senate and lower chamber showed Anaya’s coalition had potential to grow.

He said the first candidates debate on April 22, seen by 13 million people, was an element but not the most important factor in changing voter preferences. Anaya is generally viewed as having won the debate.

Now on his third presidential bid, Lopez Obrador has been almost universally known in Mexico since he first ran in 2006, although opinion of him has varied. Less than two years ago, Anaya was known by less than half the population and Meade by less than one fifth, according to Parametria.

BUSINESS JITTERS

Lopez Obrador has threatened to cancel a new airport for the capital that is already under construction, leading Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, who was the world’s richest man for five years, to hold a news conference to defend the project.

If elected, Obrador’s administration should decide the airport’s fate quickly, one adviser said, although the prospect of the left-winger being in power is beginning to unsettle markets.

Mexican companies are also delaying investment, bringing forward imports to protect against currency swings and warning that the next few months could be volatile.

Parametria said it was working as a consultant on campaigns for all three main coalitions, but not at the presidential level. It uses that money to finance its presidential polls.

Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate Jose Antonio Meade speaks during an event to support childhood in vulnerable circumstances, in Mexico City, Mexico April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The next televised candidate debate is on May 20 in the border city of Tijuana.

Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Peter Cooney

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