Geopolitics

The Summit of the Americas Is Happening Without Latin America’s Most Popular Major Leader

Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who is sending his foreign minister in his stead, bucks the trend as Latin America’s leaders face high levels of discontent and tough social challenges

President Andres Manuel López Obrador
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a daily briefing at Palacio Nacional in Mexico City in December 2021. (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

As Latin America’s top brass gathers in Los Angeles this week for the Summit of the Americas, the region’s most powerful and popular leader, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, won’t be there.

Latin Americans mostly disapprove of their leaders
  • Two-thirds of Mexican adults approve of López Obrador’s job performance, a standing that puts him behind only Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi among all world leaders tracked by Morning Consult
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has the highest approval rating in South America, but is still 10 percentage points underwater, with 41% approval to 51% disapproval. He’s also trailing former President Lula da Silva by double digits in polling ahead of an October election.
  • Chile’s reformist President Gabriel Boric started strong after he was inaugurated in March, but chaotic tussling over efforts to rewrite Chile’s constitution rapidly plunged him underwater as well. 
  • Still, things could be worse: The presidents of Argentina and Peru draw disapproval from a comfortable majority of adults in their countries. Both countries have experienced pervasive political and economic instability in the last decade, with Peru going through five presidents in the past six years and Argentina again facing a financial crisis as inflation tops 58%
  • Colombian President Iván Duque is ending his term with 57% disapproval as both presidential hopefuls from both the left and right wing decry the brand of conservatism known as Uribismo, which is associated with Duque.
A tough decade for Latin America’s leaders

Things are pretty rough for ordinary people across much of Latin America right now. High inflation is eating away at savings, social inequality is pervasive and worsening, floods, fires and droughts associated with climate change are forcing people from their homes and jobs from Mexico down to the tip of Chile, while leaders can’t seem to deliver a better future. 

Those problems aren’t new, and neither is low leader approval in the region: According to polling firm Latinobarometro, which has surveyed regularly across Latin America since 1995, disapproval of leaders has been the norm rather than the exception in all six countries since 2010.

So what’s López Obrador’s big secret? Well, not belonging to the Institutional Revolutionary Party that governed Mexico as a one-party state for the majority of the 20th century seems to help. Mexican data analysis firm Oraculus shows that López Obrador’s ratings are bang on par with those of former presidents Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and Vicente Fox Quesada — both members of the rival National Action Party — at the same point in their terms. On the other hand, López Obrador’s immediate predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto, the only PRI candidate to win the presidency since 2000, was the least popular president in Mexico’s modern history.

López Obrador’s absence at the Summit of the Americas may not make a dent in his domestic position, but is likely to sting in Washington, with the Biden administration pushing for a joint statement on controlling illegal migration, to which the U.S.-Mexico border is key. A statement signed by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who is attending in López Obrador’s place, may not carry the same weight.

The latest surveys were conducted May 23-June 1, 2022, among a representative sample of at least 2,000 adults in each country, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult