Poll: Most in the U.S. see Mexico as a partner despite border problems

MIAMI — Most people in the U.S. see Mexico as an essential partner to stop drug trafficking and illegal border crossings, even as they express mixed views of Mexico’s government, according to a new poll.

The poll from the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about two-thirds of Americans see their southern neighbor as having at least a friendly relationship with the U.S. Relatively few within that group, or 16%, consider Mexico a close ally. Meanwhile, U.S. adults are more likely to have an unfavorable (38%) view of Mexico’s leadership than a favorable (12%) one. The remaining responded they did not have an unfavorable or favorable view or were not sure.

The poll captures the different perceptions Americans have of Mexico, its leadership and the estimated 10 million immigrants living in the U.S. Mexico is the largest trade partner of the U.S. and both countries have deep diplomatic and cultural ties. But both Washington and Mexico City are under immense pressure to reduce unauthorized migration at their shared border and to stop the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that killed around 75,000 people in the U.S. last year.

“For two countries that are such close neighbors, so intertwined in each others’ lives, and have been for so long, there’s still room to grow,” said Benjamin Lessing, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago and faculty affiliate of the Pearson Institute.

Americans see a shared responsibility for the two countries to address their international problems, including illegal immigration and drug trafficking. About two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. government and Mexican government should both be responsible for preventing immigrants — from Mexico or from other countries — from getting into the U.S. illegally through Mexico. An even larger share, or about three-quarters of Americans, say the governments should both be responsible for preventing illegal drug trafficking from Mexico to the U.S.

“We need as best relations as possible,” said Kris Bennefield, 41, of San Augustine, Texas. “We should be working hand in hand with Mexico to take the cartels down.”

The results come as several of the Republican presidential candidates say they would use military force against Mexico in response to the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. As the Israel-Hamas war rages on, some in the GOP field are suggesting without evidence that militants may be taking advantage of the mass arrivals of migrants to come through the U.S.-Mexico border.

Americans place a high level of importance on preventing illegal immigration across the border between the U.S. and Mexico: 53% of U.S. adults call this an important foreign policy goal. Republicans (80%) are more likely than Independents (50%) and Democrats (35%) to call this important.

Slightly fewer (43%) Americans say it’s important to create more opportunities for legal immigration from Mexico to the U.S., with Democrats (57%) being more likely than Republicans (25%) to prioritize this.

“There’s a big part of the population that recognizes the importance and the big effort that the two nations are making to work together,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University who specializes in U.S.-Mexico relations.

Bennefield, a Democrat, said he feels the U.S. needs to create a better system for people to arrive in the U.S. legally. The last extensive package on immigration came under President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and a more limited effort was signed by President George H.W. Bush four years later.

“We need to boost our economy with people,” said Bennefield, adding he also feels it is equally important to prevent illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.

That emphasis on stopping illegal immigration is also reflected in how Americans view Mexican immigrants differently depending on whether they live in the U.S. legally or not. About two-thirds of Americans say they have a positive view of Mexican immigrants who are living in the United States legally, compared to just 20% who say that about those who reside in the U.S. illegally.

Dan Allstun, a retired utility company worker who lives in Los Angeles, said he thinks it is a problem when people reside in the U.S. and do not pay taxes. Experts have said that immigrants who are in the country illegally pay sales taxes and that very significant numbers of them also have federal and state tax withholding in their paychecks.

Allstun, who is a Republican, said he thinks the vast majority of immigrants are fleeing poor economic conditions in their countries.

“It’s not that these people are bad. They’re coming here for economic reasons. However, it becomes quite difficult for our country to control,” he said. “So there could be people who are coming here to take advantage.”

Hispanic Americans were more likely than Americans overall to say it’s important to create more opportunities for legal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. They were also more likely to have a favorable view of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The poll also reflected that about two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they have a positive view of Mexican culture. Three in five say they have personally engaged with Mexican culture within the United States such as through festivals or cultural events.

“Mexico is part of the American culture,” said Correa-Cabrera. “The politicization of the issues of immigration and border security and how they are used to divide and conquer in elections differentiates from the realistic perspective of who Americans are in their day-to-day lives.”