The election campaign this year has driven a surge of interest in US/Mexico relations, but has often obscured the complexity of the cross-border relationship. Generally, Mexican public opinion of the US is fairly positive, though given to shifts which belie a degree of ambivalence. Positive opinion of the US in Mexico, as measured by Pew, has vacillated between 47 per cent in 2008 and 66 per cent in 2015. The latter figure is on the high end globally, but lower than the comparable figure for Peru (70 per cent), Brazil (73 per cent) and Chile (68 per cent).
In our recently released report examining views of the US among elites across Latin America, we solicited responses from Mexicans who had experience of the US gained from careers in public service, the private sector, NGOs, the media or academia. A few key themes emerged.
For one, Mexicans are extremely aware of their country’s history with the US, in ways that their American interlocutors are not. Mexicans in this group made reference to US interventions ranging back to the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. They linked that historical legacy to more contemporary issues, such as US policies on drugs and gun ownership.
But the responses also indicated a deep sense of familiarity with the US. The criticisms expressed were couched in terms of disappointment rather than fear or anger. Our respondents are not demographically representative of the Mexican population at large, but they represent the circle which shapes its foreign policy. And that circle views the US as misguided in terms of specific policies, but as deeply linked culturally, socially and economically with Mexico in ways which are largely positive.
Our responses were mostly written in spring and summer 2015, so there are few explicit mentions of Donald Trump or the prospect of a border wall. But it is clear from the context that trying to wall off those linkages would play on existing Mexican impressions of US high-handedness, and drive negative impressions for generations to come.