Mexican Public Opinion about the Trump-AMLO Meeting
Alejandro Moreno writes about this week's Trump-AMLO meeting in our latest Expert Take.
When the Mexican President confirmed a few days ago that he would visit President Trump in Washington D.C., I noticed some respectable voices expressing some reservations, but I personally felt very curious about the meeting. I thought it was about time to see AMLO on the international stage, and the beginning of USMCA on July 1 could hardly be missed as the perfect opportunity.
It turns out that I was not alone. When we polled a national sample of Mexican adults during the last weekend of June and asked them whether they agreed or disagreed with AMLO's intention to visit President Trump at the White House, the majority opinion was in favor of AMLO’s plans: 59 percent of respondents agreed and 35 percent disagreed. Only a few days earlier, AMLO had ended his pandemic isolation to travel to Mexico’s south and wave a flag to formally start the works for his Maya Train project, a trip that the majority of Mexicans opposed. Now, the majority is fine with the President going to D.C. and waving the flag for USMCA, an agreement that is widely perceived as a major factor for Mexico's economic recovery and future perspectives.
The same national poll showed that two-thirds of respondents have high expectations about USMCA: 64 percent of them expect the new trade agreement will bring benefits to Mexico within the first twelve months, as opposed to 27 percent who expect little or no benefits at all. Of course, these high expectations are risky. If USMCA does indeed help the Mexican economy to recover from the current crisis, it may translate into additional support for the Mexican President and his party, MORENA, who face a mid-term election next year, an election that is beginning to look like a plebiscite on the President's Fourth Transformation project, including the handling of the pandemic and its economic consequences. Should USMCA be slow to deliver on its promises, the President's popularity and his party's fortunes may drop in opinion polls and, ultimately, on Election Day, eleven months from now.
In the national poll that we conducted for El Financiero on June 26-27, AMLO's approval ratings were at 56 percent, a 4-point drop from May, and a 12-point drop from April. This is the lowest level of approval that we have recorded since AMLO took office on December 1, 2018. AMLO's popularity has had an aggregate 27-point decrease from the 83 percent support that he had in February 2019, the peak of his honeymoon. AMLO began his term as the most popular president of the last thirty years, but he now ranks fourth among the last six presidents by the middle of their second year in office. The Mexican public is not only giving negative ratings to government performance in handling the economy and crime, but also in corruption and poverty, the two central components of AMLO’s rhetoric. The majority of Mexicans approve of their President, but the public has become increasingly critical of his government. By meeting President Trump, AMLO seems to be gambling, so it will be very interesting to see whether, and in what direction, his poll numbers move after that.
The meeting may have a strong symbolic value for Mexicans, who have had a predominantly negative opinion about Donald Trump. Last year, negative opinions about Trump reached 80 percent, and favorable views were in the single digits. More recently, El Financiero polls showed that this has changed a bit, with a slight increase in Trump's favorability ratings in May and June, to 17 and 15 percent, respectively. This may not sound impressive, since negative views are as high as 70 percent, but it means that Trump's favorable views among Mexicans recently doubled. This does not mean that AMLO's visit might boost Trump's support among voters of Mexican origin in the United States, as some of those who opposed the visit argued. I personally think the meeting may have little or null effect on election polls in the United States, but we will see.
What has been more impressive is that Mexicans' opinions about the United States have improved substantially in the last few months, perhaps partly due to perceived progress in the USMCA negotiations. In August 2019, 32 percent of Mexicans had a positive opinion about the United States and 50 percent had a negative view. These numbers began to revert in September and have been improving each month since. By June 2020, 63 percent of Mexican respondents expressed a favorable opinion about the USA, and 24 percent an unfavorable one. In comparison, 68 percent of Mexicans express a favorable opinion about Canada, and only 6 percent think unfavorably of that country. With these poll numbers, it is clear that USMCA begins at a moment when Mexicans feel very warm towards their northern neighbors and partners. In addition, most Mexicans perceive that the bilateral relationship with the United States is in good shape, with 56 percent of them expressing a positive view and 19 percent a negative one. So the meeting will take place when Mexicans perceive the bilateral relationship at its best, and their own president at his worst, so far.
On July 1, the day USMCA formally began, President López Obrador gave a speech celebrating two years since his landslide election victory, where he mentioned that he has been the most insulted president in office during the last century. He did not offer any evidence, but it is clear that a pro-AMLO and anti-AMLO divide has crystallized—some would even say polarized—during his administration. When he meets President Trump, we can expect AMLO supporters cheering and his “adversaries” booing whatever he does or says. It would be surprising if AMLO takes this opportunity to try to unify Mexicans by a common denominator, their profound sense of nationalism. We will see.
About the Author
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more