Trump Invite Marks Mexican President’s Top Mistake, Poll Shows

  • Overture to GOP nominee was inappropriate to 75% in survey
  • Pena Nieto’s popularity rating sinks to its lowest level ever

Three quarters of Mexicans consider President Enrique Pena Nieto’s invitation and reception of Donald Trump last month to have been inappropriate, with the meeting ranking as the biggest mistake of his three years in office, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Pena Nieto’s popularity fell to 26 percent, the worst of his presidency and the lowest for any Mexican leader in data going back to 1998, according to the survey by agency GEA-ISA. That’s down from 35 percent in June and marks a drop of 20 percentage points from his approval level at the end of last year. The poll of 1,000 people, taken Sept. 3-5, has a margin of error of 3.1 percent. A poll from daily newspaper Reforma last month also showed Pena Nieto’s approval at a record low.

Public backlash to the Aug. 31 visit by Trump, who contradicted Pena Nieto on whether they discussed who would pay for a border wall that the U.S. Republican presidential nominee has promised, was followed by the resignation of Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray on Sept. 7. Videgaray came under criticism after Reforma and other national media reported that he advised Pena Nieto to meet with Trump against the urging of other advisers such as Mexico’s foreign minister, Claudia Ruiz.

"The Trump visit has definitely impacted his popularity," said Jorge Chabat, a political scientist at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, a Mexico City-based university. "People don’t understand why Pena Nieto sought to get closer to the candidate who has offended Mexico more than any other in recent memory. People see this as a government that is constantly committing errors."

Among a menu of issues the president is wrestling with, 15 percent of respondents saw Pena Nieto’s invitation for Donald Trump to meet with him as the biggest error of his administration.

Pena Nieto has repeatedly said he isn’t focused on public-opinion polls and makes decisions that are in the best interest of Mexico regardless of their popularity. His press office declined to comment.

Besides the Trump invitation, Pena Nieto’s popularity has been dragged down by perceived weakness against corruption and faltering domestic security; the peso’s drop to a record low, which has forced spending cuts to reassure investors about the health of Mexico’s public finances; and a deadly June clash between police and a union protesting his landmark education overhaul.

Declining popularity for Pena Nieto could hurt his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, next year, when residents of the state of Mexico, the nation’s most populous area, choose their governor, and in 2018, when Mexicans go to the voting booth to pick their next president. The GEA-ISA poll shows 67 percent of Mexicans would prefer having another party govern the nation, up from 59 percent in June. The National Action Party of Pena Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon, leads preferences for an alternative party in the GEA-ISA poll.