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Opinion Briefing: Mexico's Drug War

Opinion Briefing: Mexico's Drug War

Fewer Mexicans report gangs since crackdown, but fewer feel safe

by Peter Cynkar

This article is part of a series of U.S. Foreign Policy Opinion Briefings aimed at helping to inform U.S. leaders on pressing foreign policy issues.

Quick Summary: Five years after Mexico launched its aggressive war on drugs, Gallup finds fewer Mexicans reporting that gangs and drugs are commonplace where they live. Yet gangs remain a neighborhood fixture for 46% of Mexicans surveyed in 2011 and 33% said drug trafficking goes on. Fewer Mexicans feel safe and their confidence in their police and their military has decreased.

Issue at Hand: Recent reports estimate nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a military-assisted crackdown on the drug cartels in late 2006. Calderon has admitted that insecurity remains a significant problem in Mexico, which also has implications for the U.S. as this violence has spilled across its border. At the North American leaders' summit this week, Calderon said Mexico's fight for a "safer North America" requires a strengthening of national actions "to stop the traffic of weapons, to combat with greater strength money laundering, and, of course, to reduce the demand for drugs that strengthens criminal organizations."

The continuing bloodshed in Mexico may also have implications for the country's July 1 presidential election, which in turn could potentially change the way the U.S. and Mexico are fighting the drug war together. The U.S. has backed Calderon's policies through the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative, which has helped Mexico train police and prosecutors and purchase military equipment. At least two of the three leading candidates Mexico's election have talked about withdrawing Mexico's military from the drug war. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with all three candidates in March and said they each view cooperation with the U.S. as essential to fighting the drug war.

Obama Administration's Stance: Obama said at the summit that criminal gangs and drug traffickers pose a threat to each nation and that both countries are responsible for meeting that threat. The U.S., for example, has "increased cooperation on our southern border, and dedicated new resources to reducing the southbound flow of money and guns, and to reduce the demand for drugs in the United States."

Obama acknowledged that curtailing gun trafficking is a "difficult task" but one his administration takes seriously. However, gun control is only part of the Obama administration's "broader comprehensive cooperation in weakening the grip of narco-trafficking within Mexico." Obama said that the U.S. is also responsible for ensuring that bulk cash is not flowing into Mexico.

Mexicans' Views on Gangs, Drugs: Mexicans overall are generally less likely to report that gangs are present in their neighborhoods and that drug trafficking is taking place there than they were at the onset of Calderon's crackdown. The 46% of Mexicans who said in 2011 that gangs were present is slightly higher than in 2010, but is still lower than in either 2008 or 2009. Similarly, one three adults in Mexico say drug trafficking takes place in their neighborhoods -- up marginally from a low of 28% in 2010.

Drug trafficking/sales and gangs in Mexico

At the same time, Mexicans personally feel less safe in their own neighborhoods in 2011 than they did at the onset of the drug war. While perceptions about safety have fluctuated, the 42% who said they feel safe walking alone at night in 2011 is down 15 percentage points from 57% in 2007.

Fewer Mexicans feel safe walking alone at night

Mexicans' Confidence in Police, Military, and National Government: Mexicans' trust in their local police has dropped substantially since the drug war began, to 35% in 2011 from 50% in 2007. This loss of faith may reflect the country's ongoing security issues, as well as the removal of thousands of corrupt cops during Calderon's crackdown. Mexico's military replaced many of these police officers. Majorities of Mexicans have consistently expressed confidence in the country's military in the same period, although confidence has edged lower over the years.

Mexicans' confidence in national institutions

Mexicans' confidence in their national government has remained consistently low for several years. More than one-third of Mexicans (38%) currently have confidence in their national government, down seven points from 45% in 2009.

Policy Implications: Drug-related violence continues to be a problem for the U.S. and Mexico despite efforts on both sides of the border to stop it. Mexico's next president will inherit not only a war on drugs, but also the additional challenge of restoring Mexicans' faith in their police, military, and national government. Mexicans will benefit from a strong Mexico with effective institutions, as will their neighbors to the north.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each survey, aged 15 and older, and conducted from July 2007-December 2011 in Mexico. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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