Majority in Mexico Share Neighborhoods With Gangs

by Julie Ray and Jesus Rios

One in three say illegal drug sales are increasing

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nearly three years after Mexico launched its war against the drug cartels, Gallup data show drug traffickers and gangs remain entrenched in many neighborhoods -- particularly in Mexico's northern and central regions. More than half of Mexicans surveyed in August 2009 said gangs are present in their vicinity and 43% said drug trafficking takes place there.


Both figures remain slightly higher than what Gallup measured in the early months of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's declared war on drug traffickers in 2007, but were essentially unchanged from 2008. More than 18,000 Mexicans have reportedly been killed in drug- and gang-related violence since Calderon began the crack down on the drug cartels in late 2006 and deployed tens of thousands of troops.

Gallup found residents in Mexico's northern U.S. border states, as well as those in the central region, were more likely than those in the southern region to say drugs and gangs were present where they live. While the numbers remained relatively flat in the central region, and decreased in the South, the numbers in the North may reflect the increase in gang- and drug-related violence there. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of residents in the North who said gangs were present in their neighborhoods increased from 49% to 63%.


Last year, Gallup asked Mexicans for the first time about whether they think illegal drug sales were increasing in their cities or areas. One in three (33%) agreed that the sale of illegal drugs in their communities is increasing, while nearly as many (31%) disagreed.


Residents in the northern and central regions again were more likely than those in the southern region to agree, but like the rest of the population, they were more divided.

Bottom Line

Roughly three years into Mexico's drug war, Gallup finds no reduction in the number of Mexicans who say they share their neighborhoods with gangs and drug traffickers. The flatness in the overall numbers, however, may mask regional differences -- including the sharp increases in the northern regions -- that suggest the war on drug traffickers is having mixed results and that the situation in the North is perhaps proving much harder to contain.

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Survey Methods

Results are based face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in August 2009 in Mexico. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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