Events

Report Launch: Comparing Mexican and U.S. Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

November 15, 2006 // 8:00am9:30am

On November 15, 2006 the Mexico Institute hosted the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) to present the findings of their second report prepared in cooperation with the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs. "Mexico and the Word 2006" measures Mexican public opinion on key bilateral policy issues including security, migration, trade, energy, as well as compares Mexican views on foreign policy to that of the United States and other countries in Asia.

Guadalupe González asserted that Mexican public opinion on foreign policy is much less polarized than anticipated. However, there were strong gaps between regions and between the general Mexican population and leaders. The results of the study, which identified leaders as a selection of 2,000 people in power positions in government, politics, business, media, academia and NGOs, demonstrated that Mexican leaders are generally more interested in world affairs than the Mexican public as a whole. This difference in opinion was seen in a variety of issues regarding foreign policy, especially when it came to national identity. González pointed out that Mexicans have a strong sense of nationality, but leaders have an even stronger sense of national identity. Moreover, in the southern region of the country local identity is stronger than national identity among the general population. She also noted a distinction between the public and leaders on the issue of culture. National symbols and culture matter a great deal to Mexicans, and forty percent of Mexicans are not open to the idea of other cultures entering Mexico. However, 75% of leaders believe it to be a good idea. Further demonstrating that Mexicans are not open culturally is the fact that 81% of the public believes that foreigners nationalized in Mexico should not be permitted to run for office. Countering the theory of a common North American identity, González referenced that only 7% of Mexicans view themselves as North American, while 62% view themselves as Latin American.

González pointed out that despite their nationalism, Mexicans are very pragmatic. According to the study a majority of Mexicans would be willing to give up some national sovereignty in exchange for a better standard of living. This pragmatism is reflected in public opinion on issues of foreign policy, where the incongruity between the views of leaders and of the general public continues to be apparent. While 56% of Mexicans believe that Mexico should play an active role in world affairs, 96% of leaders do. Further, 52% of Mexicans believe Mexico should only participate when the issue at hand directly affects the country. Foreign policy objectives are more pragmatic than ideological, with the promotion of Mexican exports considered most important, followed by the protection of interests of Mexicans living abroad, combating international drug trafficking, protecting land and sea borders, attracting foreign investment to Mexico, combating international terrorism, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and controlling entrance of foreigners into Mexico. The focus on economic gain is further exemplified by leaders. While 59% of Mexicans view international trade as positive, 90% of leaders do. This discrepancy is additionally outlined on the issue of the liberalization of specific sectors of the Mexican economy. Sixty-eight percent of the public oppose opening the electric industry, while 78% of leaders support it. Seventy-six percent of Mexicans oppose foreign investment in oil while 62% of leaders do.

Looking north, the study shows that Mexicans are optimistic about economic integration, and most Mexicans think that being a neighbor of the US is an advantage, while 85% of leaders share that view. There are clear regional differences on this issue as well. While 72% of the northern part of the country agrees with this, in the south only 40% do. However, while most Mexicans view its location next to the U.S. as an economic advantage, 53% still distrust the United States.

Luis Herrera-Lasso summarized the findings of the comparative study between Mexico, the United States, and various countries in Asia. He emphasized that when it comes to having interest in what is going on around the world, public opinion in all of the countries was parallel. He pointed out that both Mexicans and Americans share the idea that the United States should serve as an international actor in its role as a superpower. Mexico views globalization less positively than the United States and the countries surveyed in Asia. Of all the countries, China has the highest approval rating of international trade.

Robert Pastor asserted that as the survey data shows, Mexico and the United States do not have fixed and immutable views of each other. The results are conflictive; views are both practical and pragmatic with bold thinking continentally, but also with many double standards, especially with regards to immigration. Pastor questioned Mexicans' distrust of energy investment, and whether it is reflective of distrust in foreign investment or in the government itself. He emphasized that we have seen a decade of stagnation, and that it is time for forward cooperation. It should not be a zero-sum choice between negotiating between immigration, funding for combating drugs and energy investment. He promoted the convergence of views on interests, and letting security take precedence over ideology.

Andrés Rozental echoed Pastor's sentiment that the relationship between the United States and Mexico is contradictory. He commented that the survey gives understanding to how the relationship can evolve, and noted that it is important to recognize that the study only represents a snapshot. It is necessary to account for the context in which the study took place. He noted that at the time of the survey, the second half of July 2006, there was much political uncertainty in Mexico and the issue of immigration was hotly contested in the United States. This atmosphere directly affected the negative responses regarding the relationship. He acknowledged that the conclusions fit in with the foreign policy agenda of the new administration in Mexico, and pointed out that there is a clear differentiation between what Mexicans would like and what they understand to be reality. On issues of integration they are resigned to the fact that it will occur, but they would not wish for it. He further asserted that Mexican public opinion has not been sufficiently educated on the issue of energy. The current nationalistic attitude does not take into account the fact that is possible to maintain property and sovereignty over a resource while outsiders develop it. In order to achieve acceptance of this idea it is necessary to reverse decades of populist rhetoric.




  

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