Events

Public Opinion on Foreign Policy in Mexico and the United States

September 29, 2004 // 9:00am2:30pm

On September 29, 2004, the Mexico Institute hosted the launch of a study on Public Opinion on Foreign Policy in Mexico and the United States, conducted jointly by the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI), the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR). By comparing American and Mexican public opinions, the study presents an in-depth and comprehensive look at foreign policy attitudes of these two neighboring countries.

In his opening remarks, Lee H. Hamilton stressed the importance of public support and public interest for sustaining foreign policy over time. Andrés Rozental, President of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI), praised the joint efforts of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR), and COMEXI for their groundbreaking public opinion poll on foreign policy in Mexico and the United States. Rozental pointed out that the survey, especially on the Mexican side, has already debunked some myths and confirmed some trends.

Guadalupe González of CIDE highlighted the innovative and important nature of the survey from the Chicago Council's pioneer efforts to utilize the internet in its United States survey to the collaborative effort to generate a precisely worded survey instrument, capable of diminishing the language and cultural gaps in the surveys in the two countries. Marshall Bouton, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, lauded the team effort displayed at every stage of this project. He believes this survey is another opportunity to deepen the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Antonio Ortiz Mena of CIDE expressed his satisfaction with the survey in meeting the challenge of conducting the Mexican survey amidst criticisms that the Mexican public is too disinterested, uniformed, or dishonest to be surveyed.

Mexican and American Attitudes Toward the World and Each Other

In the first conference panel, Christopher Whitney of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations provided an in-depth overview of the US-Mexican survey results. He pointed out that Mexico and United States are both interested in global engagement and have shared security goals, although Mexico favors less U.S. and more UN intervention in international affairs. Commenting on the phenomenon of economic globalization, Susan Minushkin of CIDE noted its influence on Mexican-American bilateral relations and the attitudes and opinions expressed in the survey. Robert Pastor of American University emphasized the need to create a historical context for this survey, primarily by making comparisons with previous surveys. According to Pastor, the survey points to the convergence of Mexican and American values and strengthened relations, to the surprise of cultural pessimists. Lastly, he criticizes the survey for both missing the opportunity to measure perceptions and attitudes toward Canada and using faulty logic within its tradeoff questions.

Andrés Rozental praised the Mexican public opinion survey for providing policymakers with a more broad perception of how the public perceives foreign policy. He also noted a disconnect between elite and public perceptions of foreign policy, based on the fact that elites tend to adhere to principles while the public is more pragmatic. Mr. Rozental argued that the Mexican foreign policy has evolved over the years, based on his analysis of the current findings and past policy decisions.

Public Opinion on Economic Issues and Investment

Antonio Ortiz Mena opened this panel with an overview of the findings on economic issues such as free trade, regional integration, foreign investment, globalization and employment. He highlighted the differences of opinion held by Mexicans and Americans, as well as those between Mexican elites and the public and among diverse regions in Mexico. The most notable difference was in the area of foreign direct investment in the oil and gas sectors. Carlos Heredia of the Mexican Council expressed his surprise that Mexicans think globally, not locally, pointing to their favorable opinions of NAFTA and some forms of investment. He cautions that such findings could be misleading because of nuances in the survey questions. Heredia believes the value of the survey is that it generates the essential question for Mexicans: how to define their national interest.

Sidney Weintraub from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) began his remarks with the observation that public opinion and policy differ markedly. He also noted that, although Mexicans and Americans are interested in world affairs, their interests are distinct. In support of these two observations, Weintraub commented on the accuracy of answers to survey questions on trade, investment, and energy.

Public Opinion Related to Security Challenges

In the third panel, Guadalupe González questioned whether or not Mexicans shared similar view with the United States on security issues. She believes that their concerns converge on border security issues, and, surprisingly, around the same critical threats such as terrorism or chemical and biological weapons. Mexicans are willing to cooperate with the United States on terrorism; however, they are more willing to delegate power and responsibility to handle security threats to multilateral actors such as the United Nations.

In his comments, Jorge Chabat of CIDE focused on the divergence between the politicians' rhetoric and the population's opinions. Although Mexico pragmatically supports the collaboration with United States in their security efforts, he questioned if Mexican public genuinely feels the same. Mr. Chabat also hypothesized about the possibility of a North American intelligence system in the future.

John Bailey of Georgetown University opened his remarks with an observation that the Mexican public has an even mix of public security and national security concerns. Dr. Bailey questioned whether the bilateral security relationship was U.S.-led or an independent foreign policy of Mexico and suggested that feelings of trust toward the United States would be the strongest determinant of their willingness to cooperate.

Conclusions and Keynote Address

In the keynote address, Jesus Reyes Heroles opened his remarks with a caution about the inherent danger in making decisions based on survey data, despite its allowance for more intellectual action. He suggested that Mexico had become increasingly reactive as a result of the proliferation of polls. When analyzing the Mexican survey, Reyes Heroles was not surprised that Mexicans looked outwardly, considering that over sixty percent have relatives outside of Mexico. He categorized this behavior as self-preservation on their part. Reyes Heroles noted that visionary leadership is needed to bring the bilateral relationship to a new level of integration since a quarter of Mexicans oppose a stronger relationship with the United States.

 

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