New Report: Pew Global Attitudes Project Identifies Crime and Drug Cartels as Top Concerns in Mexico

AL DÍA: Analysis from the Mexico Institute, 8/31/11

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes project today released a very interesting report on public attitudes in Mexico about crime and violence and the government’s efforts to confront these.

Amongst the reports key findings are:

Less than half (45%) of Mexican’s see the Calderón government making progress in its campaign against organized crime; 29% say the government is losing ground; and 25% believe the situation is about the same.  Interestingly, 83% view the role of the Mexican military in anti-crime efforts favorably.

The top issues of concern to respondents were crime (80%); cartel-related violence (77%); illegal drugs (71%) and economic problems (69%).  Corruption was fifth with 65% of respondents naming it as a “very big problem,” followed by terrorism at 62%.  Security related issues and governance are clearly what are on the mind of most Mexicans.

Overall public attitudes about the government and public institutions seem to be on a downward trend. Seventy-six percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the country’s direction while 22% where satisfied.  Fifty-seven percent say President Calderón’s influence has been good, but this is down from 75% in 2009.  While the influence of the military (62%) and media (60%) has been viewed positively, they are both down from 77% and 68% respectively since 2009.  Thirty percent believe the police are having a good influence, down 5% since 2010; and 32% believe the courts are having a good influence, also down 5% in a year.

A few quick observations:

The public seems to be disenchanted with the Calderón government’s strategy for confronting organized crime.  This could be the product of a couple of factors.  For one, I believe that the vast majority of Mexicans do not understand what strategy the Calderón administration is pursuing.  I study this issue on a daily basis and would be hard pressed to articulate their strategy in a concise understandable way.  Beyond their commitment to an all-out war against criminals, the Calderon Administration has largely failed to articulate a clear strategy that reassures the public and manages expectations appropriately.  Furthermore, the government has not articulated measures of success that are understandable.  Is lowering violence a priority or not?  If so, how will this goal be accomplished and when?  If not, then there needs to be an explanation that makes sense to everyone including those in violence-plagued cities like Ciudad Juarez, Acapulco, and more recently Monterrey.

One thing the Pew poll did not delve into fully is the regional differences in public opinion.   The poll shows that Northern Mexicans are more concerned about illegal drugs (87%) and drug related violence (94%) than are Mexicans in the central highlands and southern Mexico.  But one is left wondering if support for the government’s strategy is based in areas where organized crime related violence has not been as great and where people have been less exposed to the government’s strategy.

For better or worse, public attitudes about U.S. support for Mexico’s anti-crime efforts are changing.  There appears to be widespread support (74%) for U.S. training of Mexico’s federal police and military, with 64% supporting U.S. money and weapons transfers to the police and military.   Support for direct U.S. troop deployments remain low (38% support and 57% oppose) but these numbers are increasing when compared to previous surveys – up 12% since last year.

In the blame game, the percentage of people who blame the U.S. and Mexico equally has increased to 61%.  It would seem that at least amongst the Mexican public the idea of entirely blaming the other country for the current crisis is being overcome.  The notion of “shared responsibility” for the violence seems to have taken hold amongst the Mexican public.  It is not so clear that the same holds true in the United States.

Finally, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the results of this and other polls are bad news for the Calderón government and for his party in the lead up to next year’s presidential election.  I certainly do not blame all that ails Mexico on the Calderón government.  The challenges they and the Mexican people face are many and complex and cannot be blamed on one factor or person.  Nevertheless, it is clear in this poll that there is declining faith in the government’s ability to confront the problem of crime and violence.  To the extent the 2012 election becomes a referendum on the Calderón government’s security policies, the news in this poll is not good for the PAN party.

Finally, there is much more of interest in the poll; but, like all polls, one shouldn’t draw too many definitive conclusions.  This poll is simply a good sign-post suggesting how public attitudes in Mexico are evolving.

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