The relationship between American President Donald Trump and his counterpart across the southern border, Mexican President Enrique Piña Nieto, has been complicated to say the least. Even though Trump was welcomed as a guest for an early visit to the country, his attitude regarding security on the southern border and illegal immigration concerns have led to a series of incidents of sparring between the two men. The general perception is that President Trump is highly unpopular in Mexico so one might believe that Nieto’s battles with the American leader have made him considerably more popular at home. The reality, as the Los Angeles times explains this week, is considerably different. The Mexican president’s current approval rating is almost exactly the same as Chuck Schumer’s is in the United States, which is to say… slightly better than having a bad rash.
How Mexico’s president saw his approval rating plummet to 17%
In December 2012, when Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, his approval rating was 54%. It was a modest but respectable showing, considering he’d been elected from a four-candidate field with about 38% of the vote.
The central concerns in the country at that time were violence — measured in homicides, extortions and abductions often linked to drug cartels — and the economy. Peña Nieto, who was the reform candidate of the notoriously corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, promised to address these concerns and promised that his government would be transparent and accountable to the people.
Now, with Peña Nieto two-thirds of the way into his six-year term, many Mexicans believe he has failed on all fronts and been incapable of meeting the new challenge from President Trump.
His approval ratings in polls have plummeted, even falling below 20%. Though many factors drive polls, here’s a look at some of the significant events that turned public opinion against Peña Nieto
So why is Nieto so unpopular? The linked article, lengthy though it may be, is quite a good read and provides a picture of a Presidency in decline. When Nieto was first elected he actually came into office with an approval rating somewhere around the 50% mark which isn’t really all that bad. Within the first two years however, things began to take a turn.
Donald Trump wasn’t even in the picture back when this downward slide was initiated. One of the chief complaints of the Mexican people was the massive amount of corruption and violence which seemed to be embedded in the government rather than fighting against it. The current president is the representative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). If you’re not familiar with them, this 2013 piece from The Atlantic provides an in-depth history of the founding of that group and how they came to power. I’ll leave the long version of it as extended reading should you wish to pursue it, but the thumbnail description is good enough. Formed in the 1920s, the PRI cobbled together a coalition of everyone they could find with any semblance of power. Sadly, this included notorious gangsters and other members of the criminal element. They won nearly every election for more than half century in a fashion which the Atlantic characterizes as being best defined by “massive electoral fraud.”
With that in mind, one is left to wonder why the Mexican people chose to elect Nieto in the first place. His reputation took a further beating when that busload of children infamously disappeared and the government was seen as being completely ineffectual in responding. Nagging rumors of corruption benefiting friends and family members compounded with the inexplicable escape of El Chapo drove the president’s approval numbers lower and lower. He was already down near 20 when the Trump visit was arranged and that was unpopular enough to drive him into the teens.
So if President Trump gets to feeling a little glum about his treatment in the press and the way poll results are handled, he can always take comfort in remembering that he’s not President Nieto. And given how well last night’s speech was received, perhaps the Mexican president could take a page out of Trump’s book and plan something similar in Mexico City.