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Mexicans and Americans Recognize Benefits of Trade But Want to Keep Focus on Security

2014 North American Leaders' Summit

In advance of President Obama’s trip to Mexico for the North American leaders’ summit on February 19, a survey finds Americans and Mexicans recognize the importance of US-Mexico economic relations.


A Chicago Council Survey–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.

Key Findings

The preliminary report of survey findings includes US data from fieldwork conducted February 7-10. 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.

About the Author
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2008.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz