South of the border, public opinion of U.S. headed north

WASHINGTON – Make America great again? Mexicans think it is already.

Or at least they did in 2014.

That’s according to a recently released survey that said the number of Mexicans who reported they trusted and admired the United States grew sharply over a 10-year period, rising from 20 percent of those surveyed in 2004 to 44 percent in 2014.

The Mexican public also gave the U.S. the highest rating of any other country measured in the survey.

“I think that these figures, even though they are over a year old now, it’s important to get them out there,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “When people hear other people like them, they’re much more likely to be favorable toward them.”

The report has been done every two years since 2004 by the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico. The nationwide survey asks Mexican people and their leaders their opinions on issues and institutions ranging from police to the church, both for their country and for other countries around the world.

The most recent report, released in late May at a Wilson Center event, showed that the majority of Mexicans still mistrusted the U.S. government – just 37 percent trusted it, as opposed to the 44 percent rating for the U.S. overall. But the numbers were improving – and more Mexicans trusted the U.S. government than they did their own politicians and police.

An author of the report said Mexican attitudes toward the U.S. may not have any immediate policy implications, but that they could create a climate for more partnerships between the neighboring countries in the longer term.

“What it might do instead of having any specific policy effects, is create a positive policy environment,” said David Crow, an assistant professor of international studies at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

Crow said Mexico already views the U.S. as a partner and admires its advancements in technology – evidenced by its trade history. Arizona alone exported $9.2 billion in merchandise to Mexico in 2015, according to the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration.

Crow said the Mexican public’s view of the United States could be a product of what he called the “Obama effect” – or the general population of Mexico being more favorably disposed toward President Barack Obama.

“I almost feel like it parallels ways the U.S. itself soured on the Iraq war once it became clear it was a long, drawn-out process with a lot of ups and downs, and not a mission accomplished as it was reported to be in 2004,” Crow said. “I think that Mexican public opinion went through a similar process.

“It goes back up with Obama and I think that’s clearly related to his personal popularity among Mexicans,” Crow said.

Mexican opinion of the U.S. began to climb in 2008, when Obama was first elected. The Wilson Center’s Wood agreed that Obama’s persona and, to some extent, his policy has affected the Mexican public’s views on the president and the country.

“Mexicans view the United States favorably in part because of what we’ve seen done by the current administration,” Wood said, adding that the U.S. is less involved in global conflict than it was eight years ago.

He said the findings of the report are indicative of Mexico’s progress toward globalization, and that the results of the survey could sway Americans’ opinion of Mexico.

Erik Lee, the executive director of the North American Research Partnership, said Mexicans’ overall favorable view of the United States did not surprise him, as Mexico has had stronger ties to the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994.

Since NAFTA was passed, Lee said, there has been an increase in private universities in Mexico with a more international perspective. He said the Mexican public has also become more connected to America, with many in Mexico knowing people in the U.S. and some receiving remittances from them.

“Now complicating all of this is having Donald Trump running for president … he has none of the perspective of what has been accomplished in the last two decades with NAFTA,” Lee said.