June 4, 2019 / 6:39 PM / a month ago

Support for Mexican president grows after Trump tariff threat

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Support for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has grown since his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump threatened to slap tariffs on U.S. imports of Mexican goods to pressure Mexico into adopting tougher migration policies, polls showed on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Trump said on Thursday all Mexican goods would pay escalating tariffs of 5% from June 10 if Mexico does not halt a surge in U.S.-bound immigrants, mostly from Central America.

A poll for newspaper El Financiero said Lopez Obrador’s approval rating had risen to 72%, from 67% in the days before Trump’s announcement, based on a June 1-2 telephone survey of 400 Mexicans. The poll had a margin of error of +/-4.9%.

A separate daily tracking poll by pollster Mitofsky showed Lopez Obrador’s approval rating had climbed to 64% on Tuesday, up 1.9 percentage points from a week earlier.

Jorge Buendia, head of polling firm Buendia & Laredo, said he expected Lopez Obrador to benefit in the short term from the dispute as Mexicans “rally around the flag.”

But the longer the spat persists, the more at risk Lopez Obrador would be to a public backlash if the tariffs take hold and the economy and peso currency began to suffer, he added.

The Mexican president has sought to ease tensions by insisting he wants to remain friends with the United States and Trump. He expressed confidence a deal could be brokered between the two sides before June 10.

A delegation of top Mexican officials is now in Washington trying to reach an agreement to defuse the tariff threat.

A few hours after the threat was announced, Lopez Obrador sent Trump a letter containing conciliatory language. But he also criticized the U.S. president’s “America First” policy and said it was wrong to stigmatize migrants.

Lopez Obrador has received backing from some prominent Mexicans for his response to Trump, while others have taken the view that he should have been tougher.

The poll in El Financiero said 84% of respondents believed Mexicans should be united in the face of pressure from Trump.

But they were divided on whether Lopez Obrador had reacted wisely to the American leader. Some 37% said the president’s response had been “firm and correct,” while 35% felt it was “bland and insufficient.” The rest offered no view.

Some 57% of those polled felt that Mexico should retaliate in kind to U.S. tariffs, while 59% supported the position that Mexico should “cease to be partners with the United States and should seek other trade partners like China.”

Only two in five of those surveyed agreed with the statement that Mexico should heed Trump and stop Central American migration. By contrast, 54% disagreed.

A veteran leftist, Lopez Obrador has been a polarizing figure since assuming the presidency in December.

He has dedicated considerable time in his daily news conferences to attacking his “adversaries” - generally identified by him as conservatives, privileged elites and critical media - as the source of Mexico’s problems.

Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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