Vianovo-GSD&M Poll Shows Mexico's Brand in U.S. Remains Battered

James S. Taylor    3 Words With Text

Vianovo released a new in-depth-study today that reveals Mexico’s brand in the United States remains battered – with many Americans associating the country with drugs, corruption, and poverty – and that similar to the British public on Brexit, Americans are closely divided on whether to continue or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The national survey, conducted earlier this month among 1,000 U.S. adults via YouGov and in partnership with leading advertising agency GSD&M, provides important context as President Obama meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa tomorrow at the North American Leaders’ Summit.

Notably, the survey reveals a sharp divergence in how Americans view their northern and southern neighbors. Among U.S. adults:

  • 75 percent view Canada positively, while just 22 percent have a favorable image Mexico.
  • 83 percent believe Canada has modern economy, whereas just 16 percent believe the same of Mexico.
  • 84 percent would feel safe traveling to Canada, but only 18 percent would feel safe traveling Mexico.

"When it comes to how Americans view Mexico and Canada, it’s really a tale of two brands," said Duff Stewart, CEO of GSD&M. "The imbalance creates political risk for the overall North American partnership and could undermine trade, investment, and security collaboration.”

One specific political risk is continued U.S. participation in NAFTA. 32 percent believe the United States should withdraw from the agreement, 30 percent say it should continue, and 37 percent don’t know enough to have an opinion. Pluralities of Republicans (44-27) and independents (42-24) favor withdraw over continue, while Democrats favor continue over withdraw by a two-to-one margin (41-20). Excluding those who don’t know enough to have an opinion, 52 percent of Americans favor leaving NAFTA and 48 percent favor remaining in the agreement, remarkably similar numbers to the recent Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.

“Despite significant reforms by President Enrique Peña Nieto to modernize Mexico’s economy, Brand Mexico continues to languish, and the NAFTA partnership is at risk,” said Vianovo partner James Taylor, who leads the firm’s cross-border practice. "It is clear that many Americans don’t appreciate NAFTA’s positive impact on trade, jobs, and national security and that business and political leaders need to better articulate the benefits of the partnership.”

Vianovo and GSD&M conducted a similar survey on Brand Mexico four years ago, and the 2016 results largely match those of 2012.

Americans once again cite drug-related violence, corruption and safety concerns as reasons for their negative view of Mexico. And a majority of Americans continue to see Mexico more as a source of problems (54 percent) than as a good neighbor and partner for the United States (22 percent).

Asked to give three words that come to mind when they think about Mexico, a third of respondents mentioned "drugs" as one of their top-of-mind associations. The resulting word cloud is a dramatic illustration of how the drug war continues to affect Americans' attitudes toward Mexico.

“The stability of the numbers from 2012 to 2016 are remarkable,” said Vianovo partner Michael Shannon. “These results suggest that Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Mexico is a symptom – not a cause – of the country’s poor image in the United States. Mr. Trump has exploited the pre-existing beliefs that many Americans hold about Mexico, some of which are based on reality and much of which are the result of misperceptions.”

Other notable findings include:

  • 63 percent believe a Trump presidency would lead to worse relations with Mexico, compared to 23 percent who say the same about a Clinton presidency.
  • 82 percent believe that during the past five years the number of Mexican immigrants entering the United States illegally has either increased (56 percent) or stayed the same (26 percent).

See the poll charts and survey toplines.