By Gram Slattery
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About half of Americans support sending U.S. military personnel into Mexico to fight drug cartels, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, though there is less backing for sending troops without Mexico's approval.
The findings show broad public support for calls by most major candidates in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination contest to send special forces into Mexico, the U.S.'s biggest trading partner, or conducting missile or drone strikes there. Some of the candidates have said they would be prepared to send military forces without first receiving permission from the Mexican government.
With the United States experiencing a dramatic rise in overdose deaths related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, tamping down the flow of narcotics from Mexico has become a major theme among Republicans. Almost 80,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2022, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, with fentanyl being the primary culprit.
According to the seven-day Reuters/Ipsos poll, which closed on Thursday, 52% of respondents said they supported "sending U.S. military personnel to Mexico to fight against drug cartels," while 26% were opposed and the remainder were unsure. Republicans were supportive by a 64% to 28% margin; Democrats were narrowly opposed, 47% to 44%.
When asked if the United States should do so without the permission of the Mexican government, however, the numbers changed dramatically. Some 59% of poll respondents opposed unilateral action, while 29% were supportive. Fifty-one percent of Republicans opposed unilateral action, compared to 40% who supported it.
Terry Sullivan, who managed Republican Senator Marco Rubio's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2016, said Americans were likely open to sending the military to Mexico because the fentanyl overdose epidemic is affecting many communities across the country. Topics such as the Ukraine war do not have the same impact on Americans' daily lives, he said.
In a policy video released earlier this year, former President Donald Trump said he would direct the Department of Defense "to make appropriate use of special forces, cyber warfare, and other overt and covert actions to inflict maximum damager on cartel leadership, infrastructure and operations."
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said he would send troops to Mexico on "day one" of his administration, and he has not ruled out cross-border missile strikes.
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Tim Scott have also signaled a similar openness to a military confrontation with Mexican drug cartels.
Haley told Reuters in an interview last week she would send special operations forces over the border with or without Mexico's permission, a policy that does not appear to have broad support among Republicans.
Only former Vice President Mike Pence, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have stopped short of saying they support sending U.S. military personnel into Mexico.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, has repeatedly made clear that Mexico would not tolerate U.S. military action within its borders and has derided the calls as "irresponsible" and "pure publicity."
He has urged Mexican-Americans in the U.S. to vote against Republicans pushing such ideas and said that Mexico would react to any incursion, without giving details. Mostly he has dismissed the threats as electioneering.
"As we are in election season, they talk about intervening in Mexican affairs, about not respecting our sovereignty; They insult us, but one shouldn't take them too seriously," he said last month in one of his regular press conferences.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online and nationwide between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, gathering responses from 4,413 U.S. adults. It had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 2 percentage points.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Stephen Eisenhammer in Mexico City, editing by Ross Colvin and Grant McCool)