Facing a variety of national problems – crime, drugs, corruption, a troubled economy – Mexicans overwhelmingly are dissatisfied with the direction of their country. With drug-related violence affecting much of Mexico, large majorities describe crime (81%) and illegal drugs (73%) as very big problems, and Mexicans overwhelmingly endorse President Felipe Calderón’s tough stance against drug traffickers.

Most believe life is better in the United States. Close to six-in-ten (57%) say that people who move from Mexico enjoy a better life in the U.S., up from 51% in 2007. And the vast majority of those who are in regular contact with friends and relatives living in the U.S. say those friends and relatives have largely achieved their goals.

A substantial minority of Mexicans say that if they had the means and opportunity to go live in the U.S. they would do so, and more than half of those who would migrate if they had the chance say they would do so without authorization.

Nonetheless, immigration data show a drop-off in recent years in the annual flow of Mexican immigrants to the U.S.1 This decline may be tied in part to the economic downturn in the U.S., which has resulted in fewer jobs for immigrants. Four-in-ten Mexicans say they know someone who left for the U.S. but returned because they could not find a job, although even more (47%) report knowing someone who returned because they were turned back by the border patrol.

And some may see expanding job opportunities in the Mexican economy. Although 69% say the current economy is bad, most are upbeat about the future: 61% expect the national economy to improve over the next 12 months, while only 14% think it will get worse.

The close ties between people in the U.S. and Mexico are reflected in the survey’s findings – 39% of Mexicans have friends or relatives in the U.S. Nearly one-in-five (18%) Mexicans say they receive money from relatives living in another country, although this represents a slight decline from 2007, when 23% said they received money from outside.

These are the latest findings from the 2009 survey of Mexico by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 1,000 adults in Mexico between May 26 and June 2, 2009. The sample is representative of the country’s adult population, and the margin of sampling error for the results is plus or minus three percentage points.2 The Mexico poll is part of a broader survey of 25 publics conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (Mexico was surveyed as part of the Spring 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, which included 24 nations and the Palestinian territories. For more findings from this survey, see Confidence in Obama Lifts U.S. Image around the World; Most Muslim Publics Not So Easily Moved, released July 23, 2009).

Support for Tough Stance Against Drug Gangs

There is a widespread concern about illegal drugs in Mexico, and broad support for using force to combat the violent drug gangs plaguing much of the nation. With more than 10,000 deaths from drug-related violence since President Calderón took office in December 2006, Mexicans clearly see this issue as one of the main challenges facing their country: 95% rate it a big problem.

Calderón has responded to the drug traffickers with unprecedented force, deploying the army to major cities to combat the gangs. As the survey illustrates, the public overwhelmingly backs this strategy: 83% support using the Mexican army to fight drug traffickers, while just 12% oppose the idea.

Moreover, most Mexicans believe the efforts are effective – 66% say the army is making progress against the traffickers, while only 15% think it is losing ground. The popularity of the tough stance against drug gangs seems to be bolstering support for Calderón. Roughly two-thirds (68%) have a favorable opinion of the president, while only 29% express an unfavorable view.

There is also considerable support for U.S. assistance in fighting the drug war. Almost eight-in-ten want the U.S. to train Mexican police and military personnel, and 63% want the U.S. to send money and weapons to the Mexican police and military. However, there is little appetite for having American troops on Mexican soil – only 30% want U.S. forces deployed to Mexico to fight drug traffickers.

The survey makes clear the extent to which Mexicans want law and order in their country. A majority (56%) believe that, right now, law and order should be a more important priority for the government than protecting personal freedoms. Only 18% believe individual freedoms should be the bigger priority, while about one-quarter (24%) volunteer that both are equally important.

The survey also reveals serious differences in how some of the main institutions involved in the drug war are perceived. Mexicans largely approve of the job the military is doing – 77% say it is having a good impact on the country. On the other hand, the court system (37% say it is having a good impact) and the police (35%) receive generally poor reviews.

U.S. Image Improves

The Pew Global Attitudes survey found that America’s overall image improved significantly across much of the world over the last year, and Mexico is no exception. While slightly less than half (47%) expressed a positive opinion of the U.S. in 2008, 69% do so now. Views of the American people also have become more positive since 2008.

And in a pattern found throughout much of the world, President Barack Obama receives considerably more favorable reviews than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Interestingly, however, Mexico is one of the few countries included in the survey where the U.S. as a country receives higher marks than President Obama or the American people.

Overall, Mexicans believe they benefit from the deep economic ties between the U.S. and their country – about three-in-four (76%) say that these ties are good for Mexico. Nonetheless, many see America’s economic crisis spilling across the border, and most say that, right now, the U.S. is having a negative economic impact on Mexico.

Government Gets Good Marks for Handling Swine Flu

When the survey was conducted in late May and early June, nearly all of those surveyed (93%) had heard of the swine flu (also known as the H1N1 virus). And most of those who had heard of it were worried that they or someone in their family could be exposed to the illness. Even so, despite the fact that the first outbreak of the 2009 swine flu began in Mexico, concern about the disease was lower among Mexicans than among several other publics included in the spring 2009 survey – in eight of the 25 publics, the level of concern about swine flu was higher than in Mexico.

The Mexican government received high marks for its handling of the swine flu outbreak. Roughly three-in-four (76%) of those who had heard about the virus said the government was doing a good job of dealing with it. Support for the government’s handling of the crisis was widespread, both among those who identify with President Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) (83% approve) and those who identify with the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) (77%).

Also of Note

  • The economic downturn has not led to a decrease in support for trade. In fact, the share of the public who believes growing trade and business ties between nations are good for Mexico has increased, rising from 69% in 2008 to 79% in 2009.
  • Mexicans are less enthusiastic about the free market than many others around the world. Just 52% say people are generally better off in a free market system, even though this means some may be rich while others are poor; about four-in-ten (41%) disagree with this point of view. Only four of the 25 publics in the survey express less enthusiasm for the free market.
  • Almost universally, political corruption is considered a problem. Fully 94% of those surveyed say corrupt political leaders are a big problem, and 68% say they are a very big problem.
  • Despite seeing a host of problems afflicting the country, the vast majority of Mexicans (87%) say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their own lives.
  • The economic downturn is having an impact on the lives of Mexicans – 54% describe their personal economic situation as good, down six percentage points from last year.
  • Most Mexicans think their country has a poor image abroad – 61% say Mexico is poorly regarded by people around the world.