President Trump’s trip to Argentina for the Group of 20 summit this weekend will be the first time he has visited Latin America as president.
His two immediate predecessors, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, had already visited Mexico multiple times by this point in their first terms, and Bush had visited Peru and El Salvador. But Latin America probably isn’t feeling aggrieved, given Trump’s broad unpopularity in the region.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Global Research in spring 2018, 91 percent of Mexicans said they had no confidence that the U.S. president would do the right thing when it comes to world affairs. The figure was not much better in Argentina, which will host Trump this weekend, or Brazil: 78 percent of respondents in each country said they had no confidence in Trump.
Although Pew’s historical data has gaps, the numbers clearly show that confidence in U.S. presidents has dropped significantly in all three countries — the largest economies in Latin America — since the Obama era.
Gallup polling data from last year also found declining approval of the U.S. presidency under Trump across a wider range of countries. Among almost 20 countries polled, Trump’s approval was never above 40 percent. And in all but one — Venezuela — a majority of respondents said they disapproved of him.
Why is Trump unpopular in Latin America? The easiest answer is obvious: He’s unpopular pretty much everywhere. Gallup’s poll found that global approval of U.S. leadership, taken by polling 134 countries, dropped from 48 percent in 2016 to 30 percent in 2017.
But Latin America may also be a special case. Trump has been particularly harsh on immigration, sometimes insulting people from Latin American backgrounds. His business dealings with some Latin American countries, like Panama, also haven’t been successes. And there are still many leftist leaders in Latin America who are — in theory, at least — major critics of Trump’s brand of freewheeling capitalism.
Despite the Buenos Aires location, the G-20 summit is unlikely to focus heavily on Latin American issues. The most anticipated meeting for the U.S. leader is one with Chinese President Xi Jinping, focused on the worrisome trade war between the two countries. But Trump’s troubled relationship with Latin America can hardly be ignored — even when it comes to China.
Brazil, for instance, has been one of the major beneficiaries of that trade war, with soybean farmers stepping in to fill China’s demand after U.S. agriculture was barred from doing so. Indeed, Latin America is a key battleground for influence between Beijing and Washington. Pew’s polling from earlier this year found considerable minorities in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico would prefer China to be the world’s leading power.