In Advance of the Toluca Summit: Mexicans and Americans Want Government Focus on Security, Understand Trade is Key to Bilateral Ties

February 14, 2014
Findings from Chicago Council Survey of public opinion in Mexico and the United States

February 14, 2014 – In advance of President Obama’s trip to Mexico for the North American leaders’ summit on February 19, a Chicago Council Survey (PDF) – conducted in partnership with CESOP, CIDE, ITAM and The Wilson Center Mexico Institute – finds Americans and Mexicans recognize the importance of US-Mexico economic relations. While both publics tend to think the two countries are working in the same direction on trade and economic development, both publics are hesitant to turn their governments’ primary focus away from border and security issues.

Coinciding with NAFTA’s 20th anniversary year, President Obama along with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are slated to discuss trade, investment and security issues. In advance of the meeting, survey results show that American and Mexican governments have some challenges in order to shift public attention to North American trade and energy cooperation.

“While government officials have been hoping to diversify bilateral policies beyond drug trafficking, organized crime and security, publics, especially Americans, aren’t quite ready to let the traditional issues go,” said Dina Smeltz, senior fellow of public opinion and foreign policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of the report.

The preliminary report of survey findings (PDF) includes US data from fieldwork conducted February 7-10. A full report report on final data will be issued next month.

Key preliminary findings show:
  • Seven in ten Americans (69%) and eight in ten Mexicans (79%) recognize the importance of bilateral relations and majorities also consider bilateral relations good. But, while Mexicans have a generally favorable view of the United States (an average thermometer reading of 64 out of 100), American views of Mexico are much less favorable (an average of 36), and at their lowest point since 1994.
  • Majorities in each country also characterize the other country as an economic partner. But 51 percent in Mexico and 72 percent in the United States place a greater emphasis on border and security issues than on the economy, trade and energy in the bilateral relationship.
  • Two decades since the implementation of NAFTA, Americans have grown incrementally more positive toward NAFTA, and a majority of Mexicans now say that NAFTA is good for the Mexican economy, Mexican companies, and creating jobs in Mexico. But both publics, especially Americans, think the other country has benefited more from the deal.
  • Mexicans divide on whether the US and Mexico are working in different directions on developing new sources of energy (Americans tend to think they are working in different directions). A sensitive issue given recent energy reforms, a majority of Mexicans also oppose private investment in their oil industry.

The Mexican survey is based on face-to-face interviews conducted December 11 to 16, 2013, among a nationwide sample of 1,000 Mexican adults. US survey results are based on two separate surveys conducted online by GfK for The Chicago Council, the first from April 12 to 15, 2013, and the second from February 7 to 10, 2014. The samples were national and consisted of 1,017 and 1,029 Americans, respectively. Unless noted as an April 2013 survey, the American results cited are from February 2014.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is a prominent, independent and nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue and public learning. Learn more at and follow @ChicagoCouncil.

The Chicago Council’s internationally renowned public opinion studies on American views on foreign policy, conducted since 1974, provide rich, comparative data on a series of US foreign policy issues. The 2014 Chicago Council Survey will be released in September, marking its 40th anniversary. Learn more at and follow @RoguePollster for survey updates.