Millennial-style politics have well and truly arrived in Mexico: the victory of a baby-faced 33-year-old candidate in the Nuevo León gubernatorial election has been largely attributed to the online campaigning of his 25-year-old social media influencer wife.
Samuel García, a former state and federal lawmaker, won handsomely in the race for the prized governorship of the northern border state – an economic powerhouse – attracting about 37% of the vote in Sunday’s election.
It was a phenomenal result for the Citizens Movement (MC) party candidate given that polls showed that he had just 13% support early in the campaign.
He was certainly helped by the emergence of a video in which the Morena party’s candidate, Clara Luz Flores, appeared alongside NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere.
But the main reason for the sharp increase in García’s popularity was undoubtedly his wife’s indefatigable promotion of him – mainly on the photo and video social networking service Instagram, on which Mariana Rodríguez currently boasts 1.7 million followers.
García is no social media slouch himself – he has about 2.5 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – but his wife’s somewhat offbeat, sometimes humorous and less-political Instagram posts and stories were credited as having greater “cut-through” with voters.
“It has been Rodríguez, not García, who has arrived to revolutionize the way of doing politics, and winning, in Mexico,” the newspaper El País said in a report published Tuesday.
Rodríguez’s frequent posts, which gave countless people a candid insight into the couple’s life and relationship, also served to humanize García and apparently endear him to voters, which ultimately translated into his comfortable victory on Sunday.
(Institutional Revolutionary Party-Democratic Revolution Party candidate Adrián de la Garza was nine points behind in second place).
According to a report by the Associated Press, the couple “rocketed to fame” after Rodríguez posted a video to social media in which she panned her phone away from García as he rattled off the names of towns they had visited during a campaign trip.
“Do you want to see my sneakers?” she says before showing off her bright orange, phosphorescent, shoes. “Fosfo, fosfo,” she says, referring to the sneakers, which just so happen to be the same color as the MC’s branding.
“Fosfo, fosfo” quickly became part of the colloquial lexicon of northeast Mexico, which served to raise García’s profile.
According to El País, which describes Rodríguez as a “mega-influencer,” García’s attractive, blonde wife “has achieved what no other institutional or political apparatus has achieved in the history of Mexico: develop a leader by the force of [social media] likes.”
Like a “fish in water” in the world of social media, Rodríguez was able to “mobilize thousands of followers who would be transformed into voters” for García, the newspaper said.
With slogans such as the oft-repeated “hay que tumbar la vieja política” (we have to tear down old politics) and a range of nimble social media strategies, Rodríguez, who has ample experience promoting countless products on social media, including her own makeup brand, effectively sold her husband to voters through her social media accounts.
She brought strangers into their home through social media, the couple danced virtually with followers and Rodríguez even made García the subject of good-natured ridicule in some of her posts, laughing and teasing her husband — the couple wed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic — and inviting her large legion of followers to follow suit.
Rodríguez’s posts also likely distracted some voters from a federal investigation into García for allegedly receiving resources of illicit origin and using them for electoral gain.
It is not the first time that an attractive woman has helped her husband obtain power — Angélica Rivera, a telenovela star, certainly played a role in broadening the appeal of her ex-husband, former president Enrique Peña Nieto, in the 2012 presidential election — but the way in which Rodríguez did it is revolutionary, at least in Mexico.
Through social media promotion, Rodríguez and García became an “irresistible product,” El País said — “so white, so rich and so authentic, even virtually.”
“… The Mariana formula to win elections has arrived in Mexico to transform traditional politics,” the newspaper said. “And everything points to the effective use of social media being a powerful weapon for those who manage to master it in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential elections.”
President López Obrador — who has 8.8 million followers on Facebook alone — could claim that he has mastered the medium, but the constitution bars him from seeking a second term.
While Rodríguez is undoubtedly the bigger, brighter social media star in the Nuevo León power couple, García’s online politicking had an impact as well.
“Yes, he’s an influencer. I follow him on Facebook, and that’s how I found out about his campaign,” Monterrey resident Fernando Gutiérrez told the Associated Press. “I like his platform, and what’s more, he opposes the traditional politicians who have governed here before.”
“I voted for Samuel because he’s young, and he has offered [public] safety,” Yesenia Aguilar, also of the Nuevo León capital, said. “I also wanted to send a message to the president — that I think he has done everything wrong, the way he handled the pandemic. I am not happy with him because of so many deaths, women’s killings, so much crime.”
Denise Dresser, a Mexican academic and political columnist, was less enthused about the governor-elect, his wife and their very 21st-century campaigning style.
“Now people are coming into politics who have an entertainment factor, those who dance and sing. It’s not just a Mexican phenomenon, it’s worldwide,” she said. “It is a degradation in which politics is becoming something else, a show.”