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Canadians Cooler than Mexicans and Americans on USMCA

Running Numbers by Emily Sullivan
U.S. President Joe Biden, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador meet for the North American Leaders' Summit (NALS) at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 18, 2021.

Public opinion data show relatively warm feelings between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

In November, President Biden met with fellow North American leaders President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada. These trilateral meetings have historically occurred regularly, but are now returning from a five-year pause under the Trump administration.

Canadians Cooler than Mexicans and Americans in Perceptions of Neighbors

Recent polls conducted from July 7-26 in the United States by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and from August 19-25 in Mexico by the polling firm Buendía and Márquez provide useful insight into public opinion surrounding many of the key issues discussed at the summit. One purpose of this meeting was to foster and demonstrate a sense of North American solidarity and cooperation. This increased collaboration will likely be welcomed by the publics in both the United States and Mexico given that seven in 10 Americans (70%) and eight in 10 Mexicans (79%) view the other country as an ally or necessary partner, rather than as a rival or adversary. The American public also expresses warm feelings towards Canada, rating it an average of 81 in 2020 on a thermometer scale on which 0 represents cold, unfavorable feelings and 100 represents warm, favorable feelings.

While the same questions were not posed to the Canadian public, data from a November 16-17, 2021 survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute indicate that their feelings towards their North American neighbors are somewhat less positive. About half of Canadians view Mexico (50%) and the United States (46%) favorably. In 2020, only 35 percent of Canadians classified the United States as a valuable friend and ally to Canada.

Leadership Change in United States Seen Positively

In addition to pausing these trilateral summits, former US President Donald Trump regularly inflamed tensions with Canada and Mexico, notably calling both countries “spoiled” and “very difficult to deal with” during NAFTA renegotiations in 2018. Public opinion data indicate that the election of Joe Biden may usher in an era of warmer relations between the three countries. Seventy-four percent of the Mexican public views President Biden favorably, compared to only 15 percent who hold favorable views of former President Trump. Similarly, in November of 2020 six in 10 Canadians believed that Joe Biden’s presidency would have a positive impact on the US-Canada relationship (61%). In November of 2016, only one in 10 Canadians said the same about a Trump presidency (12%).

Among the American public, 68 percent hold favorable views of Prime Minister Trudeau, and 46 percent hold favorable views of President López Obrador. While President López Obrador’s favorability in the United States does not reach the majority threshold, the resumption of more regular trilateral communication and the transition to the Biden administration may ease the relationship onto better footing.

Solid Support for USMCA Trade Agreement in United States and Mexico

One issue discussed during the summit was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)—the free trade agreement between the countries that entered into force and replaced NAFTA in July of 2020. Eight in 10 Americans (80%) and Mexicans (78%) think that the USMCA is good for their country’s economy. This overwhelming support has only risen in both countries since the early days of the agreement’s negotiation. Canadians are much less positive when asked about the USMCA. The Angus Reid Institute finds that a plurality of Canadians say the USMCA has not really impacted their personal financial situation (44%), but has hurt the Canadian economy overall (37%) rather than helped (18%).

About the Author
Emily Sullivan
Former Research Assistant, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
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Emily Sullivan joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2021 and was a research assistant on the Public Opinion team.
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