November 21, 2013 | By Dina Smeltz

Borderline Identity Issues in North America, But Strong Support for Trade

Note:  EKOS gave permission to use their graphs in this posting.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in Mexico City last week,  where he and Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera signed an economic agreement  that aims to increase tourism, foreign investment and exports, and to facilitate university partnerships.  The agreement was development with assistance from The Brookings Institute; according to a Brookings press release, business and civic delegates from metropolitan areas across Mexico, the United States and Canada also planned to discuss the significant role of metropolitan areas in an integrated North American economy.

A recent cross-national poll shows varying degrees of willingness to deepen North American ties.  Mexicans would welcome deeper integration with the rest of North America on a range of policies (less so on energy policy). Americans are generally open to aligning environment and security policies (with pluralities saying they should integrate policies). Canadians are also positive toward environment and security cooperation; but they are less concerned now about border security than in the past.  Canadians appear more sensitive than Mexicans and Americans toward the tradeoffs of sovereignty and integration.

These are some of the findings of three separate surveys conducted in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The study was coordinated by EKOS Research Associates on behalf of Robert Pastor and the Centre for North American Studies (CNAS) at American University.  Miguel Basáñez was also a key contributor to this research, and the Centro de Estudios de Opinión Pública fielded the face-to-face interviews in Mexico. The Canadian survey was based on EKOS’ probability-based, hybrid online/telephone research panel, Probit. The US survey was conducted using GfK's Knowledge Networks’  KnowledgePanel.

The survey objectives included gauging attitudes toward trilateral relations and testing the appeal of a "North American idea."  CNAS recently held a conference examining the rise and decline of NAFTA, and pointed, in part, to a lack of government leadership in creating a sense of a North American market and community.

Canadians win congeniality contest. 

The poll provides some evidence for a limited sense of continental community.  Two in three Mexicans express a favorable image of Canadians (65%), but only a slim majority have a positive view of the US (52%).  For their part, Americans are widely positive toward Canadians (72%), but are primarily ambivalent toward Mexicans (28% favorable, 25% unfavorable, 41% neither).  A bare majority of Canadians have favorable views of the US (53%), with a plurality favoring Mexico (43% favorable, 28% unfavorable, 27% neither).

When asked whether their personal sense of belonging was "first and foremost" to their own country, their state/province, their town, the world, or North America, a plurality in the US (41%) and Canada (44%) say their own country.  Mexicans are more likely to feel closer a local identity to their town (40%).  Among all three publics, North America ranked last (4% US, 3% Mexico and Canada).  But the question asked about primary identity;  citizens could feel a sense of belonging to North America in a different context (not their first and foremost identity).

North American publics have misperceptions about top trading partners.

While trade within North America is very interlinked, publics seem unaware of the extent.  When asked which two countries have been the most important markets for US goods over the last few years, Americans mistakenly name China as the top export market (when the correct answer is Canada). While Canadians and Mexicans are correct in identifying the United States as their top export market, they both mistakenly name China as the second most important market (it is the UK for Canada, and Canada for Mexico).

These misunderstandings seem to feed other preferences.  Americans and Canadians tend to emphasize North America as the trading bloc that should be given highest priority in negotiating freer trade agreements, (pluralities of 32% Americans, 36% Canadians). Mexicans are more divided between North America and China (32% North America, 30% China). Perhaps these priorities would shift if publics in each country better understood the interdependence of the North American market.

There is strong support for idea of NAFTA trade zone.

While mutual perceptions offer a mixed picture, support for trilateral trade remains strong across all three countries. Majorities of Canadians (80%), Mexicans (74%), and Americans (65%) agree that there should be free trade between the US, Canada and Mexico, though US support has dropped a bit over the past decade, likely tied to economic anxieties at home.  (This poll, as well as other American surveys, found a marked drop in the number of Americans who self-identify as middle class).

Seven in ten in Mexico and half of Americans and Canadians also tend to agree "in order to remain competitive with rising economic regions (including Asia and Europe), the United States, Canada and Mexico should collaborate more closely on unifying their policies in dealing with these regions."

Environment and borders top list for deeper integration.

When presented with a series of issues upon which the US, Canada and Mexico could integrate their policies,  the environment and border security elicit highest support across all three publics. In Mexico, more prefer joint than independent policies on borders, security, economy, defense, and currency - all except for energy policy (where the public is somewhat divided, likely reflecting the public reluctance to privatize PEMEX as described previously on this blog). In the US, there is sizable support for at least "somewhat" integrated approaches to economic and energy policies, but more hesitance toward a common defense or currency.  In Canada, there is a stronger preference for independent policies on most of these items.

Asked specifically about the US-Canada border, both Canadians (30%) and Americans (46%) cite security and safety as the top consideration, but security concerns have declined over the past decade among Canadians (freedom of movement and national sovereignty are close behind).  Mexicans have become significantly more likely to name freedom of movement (45%) as the top consideration in Mexico-US border discussions since previously polled.

One in Three in US, Canada and Half in Mexico Think Government Should Do More to Integrate

At least a third in the US (35%) and Canada (35%) and half in Mexico (48%) think the government is not doing enough to seek greater cooperation with neighboring countries on transnational issues.  In fact, four in ten Americans (38% yes, 35% no) and one in four Canadians (26% yes, 69% no) say they would consider forming a single North American country if it meant that they would enjoy a higher standard of living, a higher quality of life, or an improved environment (not asked in Mexico).

Think of the impact it would have on the future of hockey ...   


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


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