Clinton vs. Trump: What Mexicans think about the US election

Mexico Fin Min: US economy will be OK
Mexico Fin Min: US economy will be OK

The U.S. presidential primaries are essentially in the books and people around the world are watching closely as the general election draws closer. And nowhere may that be more true than in Mexico.

It's not surprising that Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, has gotten a lot of attention south of the border. The candidate has broadly attacked Mexican immigrants as a group in an effort to play to anti-immigration sentiment in the United States.

"From the moment Mr. Trump began his campaign calling Mexicans rapists and criminals; they didn't take too kindly to that," said Shannon O'Neil, senior fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

A dummy made by Mexican craftsman Felipe Linares representing US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen at his workshop in Mexico City on March 24, 2016.
Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP | Getty Images

People in Mexico agree with O'Neil's assessment.

"Regardless of where in Mexico, the people here don't want Donald Trump to win," said Eloisa Hernandez, a 29-year-old restaurant owner from Queretaro, Mexico, nearly three hours outside of Mexico City.

"He's a person who is not qualified to hold the presidency of the most powerful country in the world, as is the U.S," she told CNBC via telephone. "The racist comments he made when he began his campaign were obviously not received well by us."

Carlos Ramos Linares, a 27-year-old community manager for Tribuna Comunicacion, a media outlet based in Puebla, about two hours outside of Mexico City, told CNBC that a Trump win could have repercussions not only in Mexico, but across all of Latin American.

"If he wins, I think that, because of all his threats — like making us pay for the wall — there would be a political conflict that would take place not just in Mexico, but all over Latin America. Trump's racism isn't just against Mexicans, but rather against all of Latin America," he told CNBC by telephone.

Mexicans' views on Clinton are more mixed.

"I think Hillary Clinton is the best option for Mexico," Hernandez said. "Having a woman as a U.S. president would empower women across Latin America, in terms of politics."

However, a Clinton presidency could stir up bad memories, especially for those living near the border.

"It was the Clintons who put up the fence that we currently have," said Manuel Ocano, a freelance journalist living in Chula Vista, California, just seven miles north of the border. In 1994, President Bill Clinton's administration began the construction of the fence that divides the U.S. and Mexico.

Ocano added, however, that "Donald Trump doesn't know anything about the border. People here live with one foot on each side of the fence."

In 2007, Tecate firefighters crossed the border to put out the wildfires in San Diego County and saved an Anglo woman, Ocano said. She thanked the firefighters by making them a home-cooked meal. "She didn't speak a word of Spanish … but they didn't need words to communicate."

He noted that there are people who go across the border — from both directions — for work, shopping and other matters.

But regardless of who wins, the ongoing election could have serious consequences for relations between the United States and Mexico.

"We have a high-level U.S.-Mexican relationship going back a few years now," O'Neil from the Council on Foreign Relations said. Mexico is one of the United States' biggest economic partners, with bilateral trade totaling at least $500 billion each of the past three years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

"In the last 10 to 15 years, the U.S.-Mexico relationship has grown exponentially," Peter Schechter, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, told CNBC by telephone.

From 2000 to 2015, Mexican-imported goods increased by nearly 120 percent and, from 1990 to 2015, they rose about 882 percent, Census data showed. Exports from the U.S. to Mexico, meanwhile, rose about 112 percent from 2000 to 2015 and more than 730 percent from 1990 to 2015.

WSJ columnist asks if Trump even wants to be president
WSJ columnist asks if Trump even wants to be president

"And yet ... Mexico has become the poster child for everything wrong with trade and immigration," Schechter said. "With all of these facts, it is amazing to me that Mexico has become the poster child for everything wrong with trade."

Trading relations between the two countries could suffer dearly under a Trump presidency, said Carlos Cardenas, head of Latin American country risk analysis at IHS, a Colorado-based research firm.

"The relationship [between Mexico and the U.S.] will be affected if Trump persists with his rhetoric against Mexico, but the Mexican government will take a wait-and-see approach," he told CNBC. "But it depends on how far his rhetoric goes" and whether he takes a more pragmatic approach.

On the flip side, a Clinton presidency could look a lot like President Barack Obama's from Mexico's perspective.

"The leadership in Mexico with a Clinton presidency would be a continuation of many of the things that are already under way," O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations said.

IHS' Cardenas echoed O'Neil's remarks, adding he expects more dialogue on fighting narcotics and strengthening trade and investment between the two countries if Clinton wins.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Council's Schechter said, "I'm very hopeful that if Clinton does win, there would be continued improvement in U.S.-Mexican relations," but the negative rhetoric against Mexicans will not be entirely forgotten.