Three years after being elected president, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto is increasingly unpopular. Following a year plagued by scandal and controversy, his ratings have fallen, and Mexicans have grown disappointed with key elements of his ambitious agenda.
A new Pew Research Center survey of Mexico finds 44% of the public expressing a favorable view of Peña Nieto, down from 51% in 2014.
Moreover, his ratings on specific issues have dropped sharply. Last year, 55% approved of how Peña Nieto was handling education. Education reform is a cornerstone of his presidency that has met with intense opposition from the country’s powerful teachers unions. However, this year just 43% give him a favorable review on this issue.
Only 35% of Mexicans now think Peña Nieto is doing a good job of managing the country’s ongoing battle against organized crime and drug gangs, compared with 53% in 2014. Just 39% say the government is making progress against drug traffickers, down from 45% a year ago (and the survey was conducted before the prison escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, in July).
Just 34% of Mexicans say their economy is in good shape – a decline of 6 percentage points since last year. And here again, Peña Nieto gets poor marks, with just 30% approving of how he is dealing with the economy, compared with an already low 37% in 2014.
And while Peña Nieto has tried to advance new anti-corruption measures in recent months, his administration has also been shaken by scandals over the course of the past year, including allegations of impropriety surrounding a real estate deal involving his wife and a major government contractor. Just 27% now approve of how the president is dealing with corruption, down 15 points from a year ago.
Ratings for Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have also declined (from 47% favorable in 2014 to 38% now). However, the PRI remains more popular than two of its biggest rivals. The conservative National Action Party (PAN) is viewed positively by just 29%, while the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) gets even lower marks (23% favorable).
The Mexican military, which is heavily involved in the country’s fight against drug cartels, receives mostly positive reviews, though its image has also declined over the past year. In 2014, 75% said the military was having a good influence on the nation; today, 61% hold this view. Meanwhile, ratings for the already unpopular police have slipped even further (34% good influence in 2014, 27% now).
These are among the key findings from the latest survey in Mexico by the Pew Research Center, which is based on face-to-face interviews conducted from April 7 to 19, 2015, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 randomly selected adults from across the country.1
A Downbeat National Mood
Roughly seven-in-ten (72%) Mexicans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country, with only 27% saying they are happy with the country’s direction. Satisfaction with Mexico’s direction is at its lowest point since 2011.
While a strong majority in Mexico is sour on the country’s direction, some are more dissatisfied than others. Women are somewhat more likely to voice negativity than their male counterparts. Roughly three-in-four women (76%) are dissatisfied with the way things are going, a share 9 percentage points higher than that of men (67%).
And Mexicans who identify with the right-of-center PAN (77% dissatisfied) are more pessimistic about the state of things in the country than supporters of Peña Nieto’s PRI (58%). Although majorities in all regions of the country are dissatisfied, those in the Greater Mexico City area (81%) are the most pessimistic.2
Mexicans’ attitudes about the country’s direction are reflected in their views of its economic situation. Only 34% believe that Mexico’s economy is good, while 66% say it is bad. This marks a 6-point decline in positive views of the economy since last year. There has been a similar decline in those who say the economy will improve over the next 12 months. Just 44% now say their economy will improve, compared with 50% a year ago. Meanwhile, 22% say it will worsen and 32% believe the economy will remain the same in the months ahead.
When it comes to their children’s future, Mexicans are divided. Nearly equal portions say the next generation, when they grow up, will be better off financially than their parents (41%) as say they will be worse off (43%). Roughly one-in-ten (12%) say their financial situation will be the same. (For more on economic views in Mexico and around the world, see Global Publics: Economic Conditions Are Bad, July 23, 2015.)
Top Concerns: Rising Prices, Crime, Unemployment, Corruption and Violence
Seven-in-ten or more also name crime, unemployment, corrupt political leaders, drug cartel-related violence and corrupt police officers as very big issues.
Half or more say poor-quality schools, health care and people leaving Mexico for jobs in other countries are very big concerns.
However, less than half name the gap between rich and poor, immigrants traveling through Mexico from Central America to the U.S., or traffic as top worries.
Increasingly Negative Views of Peña Nieto
President Peña Nieto’s popularity has declined over the past year. Just 44% express a favorable opinion of him, down 7 percentage points since 2014 and down 12 points from a spring 2012 poll conducted just months before he was elected president.
Peña Nieto is also less popular in his third year as president than his predecessor was in the final months of his administration. In 2011, 55% had a positive opinion of former President Felipe Calderón.
Within his own party, however, Peña Nieto is well liked. Roughly eight-in-ten supporters of the PRI (78%) view him favorably.
Those who view Peña Nieto more unfavorably tend to be better educated and wealthier (both 62%). And people who live in the Greater Mexico City area (72%) are also more negative in their views of the president than those in other regions.
Roughly two-thirds disapprove of how he is dealing with corruption and the economy. A similar proportion give him poor marks on energy reform, where he has called for increased foreign investment in Mexico’s oil and natural gas industries.
A 63% majority disapproves of the way Peña Nieto has pursued the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico, while over half disapprove of his handling of relations with the U.S. and the issue of education.
Mexico’s Political Parties
Three of Mexico’s major political parties tested on the survey receive majority-negative ratings from the public. Peña Nieto’s PRI gets the highest marks, with a favorability rating of 38%. Still, a 56% majority expresses a negative view of the party, up from 47% last year.
Meanwhile, the right-of-center PAN (63% unfavorable) and social-democratic PRD (68%) are even more unpopular.
Ratings of Mexico’s Military and Police Drop
Roughly half or more list the media, national government and religious leaders as positive influences in Mexico, mostly unchanged from a year ago.
Rounding out the bottom of the list, only about one-third or fewer name the court system, Congress and police as good influences. Views of the court system and Congress remain relatively unchanged since last year.
While the military receives the highest ratings of the groups and institutions tested, views of the military have turned less positive since last year, when 75% said it was having a positive impact. Today the military’s ratings are similar to what they were in 2011 (62%), the peak year of drug-related homicides in Mexico. Trends in the views of police influence follow a similar pattern.
These declines have taken place during a year in which several high-profile instances of corruption among police and human rights abuses by the military have been brought to light. In late September 2014, for instance, 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero. Local police were found to have been involved with members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang in the students’ disappearance and eventual mass murder.
In October, Mexico’s federal Human Rights Commission released their findings from an investigation into the June 2014 execution of at least 12 people carried out by Mexican soldiers. The incident is considered one of the worst violations of human rights the country has seen.
Drug Trafficking and Cartels
Mexicans’ optimism about their government’s progress against drug traffickers has dipped. Roughly four-in-ten (39%) believe the government is making progress against drug traffickers, down 6 points since last year.
In mid-February 2014, Mexican officials, working with U.S. anti-drug forces, captured the notorious Sinaloa cartel leader known as “El Chapo.” The boost in the share of Mexicans saying in the spring 2014 survey that their government was making progress against drug traffickers came shortly after his capture. However, this view of progress made by the campaign faded over the course of the year to present levels, even before El Chapo’s second escape from prison in July.3