It seems to be conventional wisdom that Bernie supporters are against the TPP, given the anti-TPP signs carried by some at last night’s Democratic convention and Sanders’s clear opposition to the trade deal. But what do the public opinion surveys show? Do Sanders’s supporters really dislike TPP — and free trade more generally — so much more than Clinton supporters?
Wait, who supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and when?
When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton supported a trade agreement with 12 Pacific nations. During the primaries, she said the final agreement doesn’t meet her standards. Most observers have concluded that the shift was designed to win over Sanders supporters who, like the senator himself, were outraged by the loss of jobs to trade deals.
Kaine had voted for fast-track authority to expedite trade deals like the TPP through Congress, though it was unclear whether he would vote in favor of the actual agreement. Over the weekend, Kaine clarified his position — saying now he opposes the TPP. This seeming reversal was likely an effort to win over Sanders’s base support as well as an attempt to reach out to Rust Belt voters who may be tilting toward Donald Trump for president.
But do core Sanders supporters fervently oppose the TPP and free trade?
No. A June 2016 Chicago Council Survey of a nationwide sample of Americans shows that while core Sanders supporters are more economically pessimistic than core Clinton supporters, their views about globalization and trade are not really that different.
We’re defining “core supporter” as the portion of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents who say that Bernie Sanders (36 percent) or Hillary Clinton (47 percent) was their “top choice” for president, regardless of how they would eventually vote in the general election.
Core Sanders supporters are less likely than core Clinton supporters to say that international trade is good for creating U.S. jobs (51 percent core Clinton supporters vs. 41 percent Sanders). But beyond that, on trade in general, the differences between the two groups are surprisingly small. Both Sanders and Clinton supporters think that international trade is good for the U.S. economy (71 percent Clinton, 67 percent Sanders) and their own standard of living (75 percent Clinton, 70 percent Sanders). They both say that globalization is mostly good for the U.S. (76 percent Clinton, 75 percent Sanders). And finally, fewer Sanders supporters — but still a majority — favor the TPP (56 percent, vs. 74 percent of Clinton supporters).
Nor are there many differences between Sanders and Clinton followers on more basic economic issues, like government responsibility for health care and Social Security. For instance, according to a March 17-27, 2016, Pew survey, similar majorities of both Clinton and Sanders supporters believe that Social Security benefits should not be reduced (71 percent Clinton, 72 percent Sanders) and that health care is a government responsibility (77 percent Sanders, 82 percent Clinton).
Here’s the bigger difference between the Clinton and Sanders camps, the Chicago Council Survey found. In a question designed to tap into the idea of the American Dream, 57 percent of core Sanders and 41 percent of core Clinton supporters say that “the next generation of Americans who are children today” will be worse off economically than “the generation of adults who are working today.”
As discussed in an analysis released July 25, Clinton supporters are more likely to think that the United States needs to safeguard its military and economic influence. Core Sanders supporters are more likely to think that what’s most needed is a focus on domestic problems like economic mobility and inequality.
In other words, whether Kaine changed his stance on the TPP, trade was never going to be the issue that would keep Sanders supporters from voting for Clinton, as he urged them to do at the Democratic National Convention on July 25. We will find out in the months to come if anything will.
Dina Smeltz, senior fellow of public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, contributed to The Monkey Cage’s new book “The Science of Trump.” Find her on Twitter handle @roguepollster.