The Spanish word for “wow!” is “guau!” pronounced like wow, but with a soft g sound in front.
Since 2004, Mexican pollster and academic Guadalupe González has conducted a national poll every two years for Mexico’s Center For Research And Teaching In Economics (CIDE). This year’s edition was conducted in the second half of last year. And there’s a lot of “guau!” to it.
“A survey is like a mirror,” González said. “Sometimes we look at it and see things we don’t want to see.” The first number that jumps out from the survey is 42. That’s the percentage of Mexicans who said that, if they could, they’d live someplace outside their country.
“It reflects that many Mexicans are looking for a better standard of living – whether in Mexico or abroad,” González said.
There’s a paradox to that number.
“What’s driving this are economic gains,” González said.
In other words, the better off you are, the more you want. No wonder folks in the United States are so transient.
It was such a surprising number that pollsters went back and asked followup questions. They found four things were prompting that inquietude, and the subsequent desire to go outside the country:
The need to find a job.
The desire to reunite family.
A desire for better education.
Insecurity in Mexico due to drug violence.
But there’s a caveat: Mexicans have also become much more risk-averse. Four years ago, 30 percent said they would be willing to emigrate, even if it meant doing so without papers. In the 2012 poll, that number had dropped to 14 percent. And, not surprisingly, the more educated and well-informed, the more risk-averse the respondents were. However, a corollary to that is that the better-educated are now more willing than ever to legally live outside the country, which leads González to worry about a possible Mexican “brain drain” in the future.
“It’s one of the counter-productive impacts of immigration reform (in theU.S.),” she said. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, there are few limits for high-skilled immigrants from Canada and Mexico to receive visas.
Mexican respondents seemed to be highly aware of the effects of immigration on their country. When asked whether immigration was good for the country and their communities, a majority said no. The number was particularly high for women.
“They are aware of the trauma caused by immigration,” González said. “They see communities that have been abandoned and are lagging behind.”
In general, González was pleasantly surprised by the growing sophistication of the Mexican respondents – at least when it came to foreign policy in the western hemisphere. Despite the growing influence of the region, only seven percent expressed interest in Asian affairs.
But Mexicans want increased trade and investment, the dissemination of foreign ideas and trends, and closer relations — with countries in North, South and Central America in particular.
And their view of the U.S. and its leaders is soaring.
In 2004, when asked which countries they felt positively about, the U.S. came in sixth. This year, it came in first. And President Barack Obama came in second in terms of a world leader they admired, just behind the Pope and ahead of Mexican President is Enrique Peña Nieto.
“They had a problem with President (George W.) Bush because of Iraq and the military action he took,” González said. “Mexicans reject war. And President Bush was closely linked to that war.”
A clear majority favors sending Mexican troops overseas for humanitarian purposes, but not into areas where there is conflict.
The only current U.S. policy that was derided by Mexican respondents was on Cuba. They were clearly against the U.S. embargo.
When it came to the struggle against drugs, Mexicans favor treatment and education over law enforcement crackdowns. However, the policy they least favor is legalization.
Finally, the survey found that 60 percent of Mexicans would like to see the U.S.and Mexico as one country.
Which makes you wonder: what would that survey reveal about U.S.attitudes?
González is just as curious. She conducted the survey in the U.S.in 2004 and 2006 (and also in China, South Korea, India and Japan that year). But hasn’t had the funding to come back to the U.S. since then. In 2008, she conducted it in Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. In 2010, it was done in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. And this edition was carried out in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. In all, the CIDE folks have interviewed more than 29,000 people in 11 countries, making it one of the few regional surveys.