WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thirty-six percent of Mexicans report that gangs are present in their neighborhoods and 25% say illicit drug trafficking or drug sales take place there, according to a Gallup survey conducted in December 2012. Mexicans are now less likely to report the presence of gangs and drug trafficking in their vicinity than in 2011 and are considerably less likely to say these things are happening than in 2007 when former Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on the drug cartels started.
Muggings and Robberies Remain Commonplace
Muggings, assaults, and robberies continue to be fairly commonplace in Mexico despite the apparent progress in the fight against drug cartels. Twenty-three percent of Mexicans say they had money or property stolen from them or another household member in the last 12 months, according to the December 2012 survey -- this compares with 16% who said the same in mid-2007. Furthermore, 14% say they had been assaulted or mugged in the past year, similar to the 10% who said so in mid-2007.
Perceptions of Safety Also Similar to 2007
Given Mexico's mixed track record on crime -- with some apparent successes in the fight against organized crime networks but continuing high levels of assaults and robberies -- Mexicans were as likely to feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live in December 2012 (54%) as they were in mid-2007 (57%).
Confidence in Local Police Restored, but Faith in Military Declining
Mexicans' confidence in the local police rose to 53% at the end of 2012. Confidence in the police had dropped significantly over the course of the drug war, from 50% in 2007 to 35% in 2011. This loss in confidence may have been a result of Calderon's decision to put the military in charge of dealing with the country's drug cartels, while removing thousands of corrupt police officers from the police force.
Mexicans' faith in the military is now on par with their confidence in the local police -- 55%. However, confidence in the military has dropped by nine percentage points since mid-2007. In recent years, human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the Mexican military for its gruesome behavior and numerous allegations of torture, disappearances, rape, and arbitrary shootings.
The international media and Mexican politicians continue to debate the strategy and effect of Calderon's war on drugs. On the one hand, the previous administration of the Mexican government, backed by the U.S. through the $1.9 billion Merida Initiative, has severely weakened or destroyed several cartels and captured or killed many of its leaders. On the other hand, the war claimed an estimated 60,000 lives over the course of Calderon's six-year term as president.
Gallup's surveys provide some evidence that the presence of gangs and drug trafficking declined significantly during Calderon's presidential term. Yet, the data also show that crime and violence continues to plague the country. Mexico's new President, Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office Dec. 1, 2012, campaigned on a promise to introduce reforms to reduce violence in the medium term. In early February when unveiling a new crime prevention program, he declared the fight against violence a priority. His crime prevention program is less militaristic in nature compared with his predecessor's policies and instead focuses on fighting inequality and poverty, besides strengthening security forces and the judiciary.
Gallup will continue to track if Mexico's new leader will be able to keep his promise to Mexicans to work to decrease violence in the country. A continuation of the U.S.-Mexico partnership under the Merida Initiative as well as further economic growth would certainly help Pena Nieto in this respect.
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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 2012 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.