Even though politicians as disparate as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders deride free trade these days, a record number of Americans say international trade is good for the United States, according to a new poll by a nonpartisan think tank.
When Americans are asked about specific trading partners and trade agreements, however, opinions start to become more negative and partisan divides loom, the survey shows.
The poll, from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual survey of more than 2,000 adults around the country in late June and early July, comes as the United States prepares for talks this week to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The pact, which President Trump memorably called the worst trade deal in history, covers nearly 30 percent of U.S. exports and 14 million jobs.
According to the survey, 72 percent of respondents said trade is good for the U.S. economy, while 78 percent said it is good for U.S. consumers, both record highs in the survey's history. And for the first time since the think tank first asked the question in 2004, more than half of Americans — 57 percent — also agreed that trade is good for creating U.S. jobs.
Majorities across party lines say trade is good for the U.S. economy and consumers, though Republicans and independents are split on whether it creates American jobs. All groups are more positive toward trade this year than last year.
For Republicans, this positivity could be a reflection of their confidence in Trump’s ability as a dealmaker, the researchers say. Even more than 6 in 10 core Trump supporters – those who said they have a “very favorable” view of the president — said that trade has a positive effect on the economy and consumers.
Once the survey dives into the specifics of trade deals and trading partners, however, it begins to reveal more negative views and partisan division.
In contrast to Democrats, Republicans didn't typically describe trade as a win-win situation. Nearly half of Republicans said trade deals mostly benefit other countries, and only 28 percent of Republicans said Mexico trades fairly with the United States, a record low. In contrast, 60 percent of Democrats said Mexico trades fairly with the United States, a record high, and a similar share of Democrats said trade in general benefits both the United States and other nations.
On NAFTA, overall opinions today are actually more favorable than they were nearly a decade ago, as the chart below shows. Yet the survey found that the views of Democrats and Republicans have diverged significantly since 2008, when both parties held roughly the same views.
In June and July of this year, 71 percent of Democrats surveyed said they support NAFTA, compared with just 41 percent in 2008, while Republican support fell to 34 percent from 43 percent in 2008. Voters who expressed the most favorable view of Trump were also the least likely to support NAFTA, with only 23 percent saying it is good for the U.S. economy.
The Chicago Council Survey was conducted June 27 through July 19 among a sample of 2,020 adults sampled through GfK’s national online research panel, which was recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points for overall results; the error margin is larger for subgroups.
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