How Mexicans see America
May 1st, 2013
09:24 AM ET

How Mexicans see America

By Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Juliana Menasce Horowitz is a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are her own.

When U.S. President Barack Obama travels to Mexico this week, he will encounter a Mexican public that has far more positive attitudes about the United States than at any time in the last several years.

America’s image south of the border fell sharply in 2010, when Arizona passed a “show me your papers” law aimed at identifying, prosecuting and deporting immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. But Mexican views have rebounded since then, and U.S. favorability ratings are now at their highest point since 2009. The prospects for U.S. immigration reform may be, at least in part, the source of renewed Mexican approval of their neighbor to the north.

A new Pew Research Center poll found that 66 percent of Mexicans have a favorable opinion of the U.S., up 10 percentage points from a year ago and up 22 points from May 2010, immediately following the enactment of Arizona’s immigration law. The last time America’s image was as strong among Mexicans was in 2009, when 69 percent said they had a favorable opinion.

Opinions of Obama, though more positive than in 2012, are still mixed – 49 percent express confidence in the American president, while 39 percent have little or no confidence in him, compared with a year ago, when 42 percent of Mexicans said they had confidence in Obama and 46 percent said they did not.

This boost in America’s image comes amidst rising expectations that Washington may soon reform U.S. immigration laws.

More than 11 million native-born Mexicans live in the U.S., including about 6 million who are in the country illegally – by far the largest segment of the undocumented population, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center. In June 2012, Obama authorized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving more than one million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children the chance to apply for temporary but renewable work permits and avoid deportation. It is estimated that 70 percent of those eligible for the program are from Mexico.

Obama carried the Latino vote by 71 percent to 27 percent in his 2012 reelection victory.  Since then, the president and a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have been working on legislation that would remove the risk of deportation and open a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. These legislative developments have been followed closely by the Spanish-language media.

But this resurgence in goodwill for America coexists with continued skepticism about Uncle Sam’s intentions and influence in Mexico. And Obama himself, although now more popular than a year ago, receives only lukewarm ratings there. The president’s trip, which is being billed by the White House as an “opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America,” is also a chance for Obama to improve his own image on several key issues regarding the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

One challenge will be to convince Mexicans that Washington sees them as a full partner. About half of Mexicans say their neighbor to the north takes Mexico’s interests into account; 45 percent say it does not. And while the vast majority of Mexicans generally sees the benefits of strong economic ties with the U.S., their opinions are more mixed about the impact America is currently having on Mexico’s economy, with 33 percent saying U.S. influence is positive and 28 percent saying it is negative.

Besides talks on economic ties and collaboration on immigration and border security, Obama is likely to hear from Mexico about the U.S. role in the country’s ongoing fight against drug traffickers.  Currently, 56 percent of Mexicans blame both the U.S. and their own country for the drug violence in Mexico, while one-fifth say the U.S. alone bears most of the responsibility.

Mexicans welcome their neighbor’s cooperation in combating this serious problem, with about three-quarters saying they want U.S. help in training Mexican police and military to combat drug trafficking, and 55 more than half saying they approve of the U.S. providing money and weapons to their country’s police and military. But they draw the line at any American boots on the ground, with 59 percent rejecting the deployment of U.S. troops to their country to fight narco-traffickers.

The drug war, immigration and the economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico are among the items bound to be on the agenda when Obama visits Mexico this week, and Mexican opinion regarding U.S. involvement on these issues has shifted in a somewhat more positive direction in recent years. The question now is whether the two countries can build on the promise fostered by the proposed immigration policy and cement some the progress that appears to have been made.

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Topics: Mexico • United States

soundoff (187 Responses)
  1. Juan

    The real history: Spain illegally claimed most of the western north America, central America and South America. The Mexican government inherited this illegal booty. The U.S. took some of it away.
    The modern claims of Mexicans over what is now U.S. territory and their attempt a "moral high ground" on this issue is nonsense. In California, General Vallejo of the Mexican army wanted to break away form Mexico.
    How does the Mexican government treat U.S. citizens who are in Mexico illegally? They are arrested.
    One can feel pity for the downtrodden people of Mexico, but it is their own bad government that is the cause. Just a few very wealthy families, a small middle class and a huge amount of extremely poor.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  2. James

    Did OBAMA sign the (I-864) law for each of the 11 million illigal mexicans he sponsard for citizenship?,,Obama has to garentie each person 125 % of the yearly wage law to not be useing any goverment food stamps or services??

    September 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  3. Eddie Fonseca

    When we think of Mexican Americans most of average middle class American's think of someone running across the border, trying to find a better life in the United States of America another illegal immigrant trying to deplete our social welfare programs and taking our jobs away from us. This is the old stereotypical viewpoint of Mexican Americans not wanting to fit into American society, this further away from the truth most Mexican Americans like Santana the famous Mexican American guitarist who is well educated makes his living by selling his music cd's which can be heard on radio stations across the USA and the world for music listeners to enjoy. Most Mexican Americans are well educated with more then high school diploma and they are our auto workers who assemble cars and trucks for Ford and GM, and work as our Customs Border patrol agents keeping American travelers safe from Mexican terrorists groups. Mexican American's view America as the land of freedom to create a better life for their family's, and to live the American Dream like all Americans getting a better job after graduating from college and university and buying that big house with the two cars in the driveway. As Americans we come from different parts of the world which makes our great nation a melting pot of a diverse of cultures from Mexican Americans to Hispanic Americans who come from their war torn nations and seek a better life for their family's and help our nation if it's to fill the shortage of doctors who care for our stupid ass when we have a gunshot wound in the chest and need's medical attention right away after a local fight in the bar. Without better culture programs to understand the Mexican American's living in America will they feel like second class citizen's living in a society that only knows about the stereotypical Mexico culture from watching the local news's and not experiencing the true Mexican American culture for years to come.

    August 23, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Reply
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