WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When Canadians and Mexicans were asked in recent Gallup Polls whom they would personally rather see elected president of the United States this November, Democratic candidate Barack Obama received about three times as many nods among both populations as Republican contender John McCain.
Two in three Canadians (67%) prefer Obama, while 22% favor McCain. As in the United States, widespread disapproval of the Bush administration is almost certainly hurting McCain in Canada. Just 22% of Canadians say they approve of the current U.S. leadership, while 71% say they do not.
In Mexico, the ratio of supporters between the two candidates is similar at 3-to-1 in favor of Obama; unlike Canadians however, most Mexicans -- 63% -- do not venture an opinion at all. This is in part a function of Mexicans' lower average socioeconomic status and education level; for example, 76% of Mexicans with elementary education or less say they don't have an opinion about the U.S. election, versus just 35% of those with a four-year degree who say the same.
However, Mexicans' lack of responsiveness may also stem from the fact that only 34% feel the U.S. election outcome will make a difference to their country, while 37% say it will not. Among Canadians, three-fourths say U.S. residents' choice of president will make a difference to Canada, while just 22% disagree.
One substantive disagreement between McCain and Obama has come on the issue of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Obama wants to renegotiate the agreement to include enforceable labor and environmental standards -- a position that McCain has criticized as harmful to the economic growth brought about by free trade in the region.
A slim majority of Canadians agree with McCain that NAFTA has benefited their country economically; 51% say its effect has been mainly positive, while 39% say it has been mainly negative.
However, another finding suggests most Canadians are not powerfully attached to NAFTA: When asked what they think their government should do if the United States does decide to negotiate a new trade agreement, 45% say the Canadian government should agree to start negotiations, while 34% say the government should try to keep NAFTA intact, and 13% favor having no trade agreement at all. What's more, a September poll for the Council of Canadians found that 61% of Canadians agreed with Obama's intention to renegotiate NAFTA.
With regard to Mexican public opinion, NAFTA may be a wash politically -- 21% of Mexicans say the agreement has had a positive effect on their economy, while 24% say it has been negative. A majority of Mexicans either say the effect has been neither positive nor negative (19%) or that they don't know (36%).
Mexicans' relative inattention to the U.S. election may partly reflect the relative lack of discussion by either candidate on one issue of particular concern to Mexicans: immigration policy. Currently, almost one in five Mexicans (18%) say they have family members who have moved abroad in the past five years, and 81% of those family members moved to the United States. Remittances are a significant source of income for many; 78% of Mexicans say those who go to live abroad are "a big help" for their families.
There is little substantive difference between Obama and McCain on immigration, which helps explain their lack of focus on the issue. Both candidates support a legalization process for illegal immigrants living in the United States that includes paying fines and learning English. Both also support guest worker programs, and both voted in 2006 for the construction of a fence along 700 miles of the United States/Mexico border.
Results from Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Aug. 7-Sept. 7, 2008. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. Results from Mexico are based on face-to-face interviews with 873 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted July 25-30, 2008. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.