On Monday, Trump touted Mexico and Canada’s agreement to modify the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he had labeled one of the worst trade deals in U.S. history. The survey found support for the original deal rising from 53 percent last year to 63 percent this summer, the highest level in Chicago Council surveys since 2004.
The shifts away from the president’s foreign policy agenda have come during a year in which Trump has imposed tariffs on U.S. allies and on China, continued to pressure NATO allies over defense spending and begun engagement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to rid that country of its nuclear weapons capability.
The survey, conducted in July among 2,046 U.S. adults, found that 70 percent of Americans say it is best for the United States to take an active part in world affairs, up from 63 percent in 2017 and 58 percent in 2014. At the same time, 57 percent say that this country has been losing allies over the past year, while 56 percent say relations between the United States and other countries have been worsening in general.
A separate question finds nearly 3 in 4 saying that it is more important for the United States to be admired than feared around the world. Yet when asked how the world sees the United States today, by 39 percent to 20 percent, more say it is feared than admired. Four in 10 picked neither of those two choices, preferring different characterizations. Overall, 13 percent volunteered that the United States is “laughed at” by other nations.
Sixty-four percent say they “agree” the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the United Nations even if they are not America’s first preference, a figure that is up from 59 percent in 2014 to its highest level since 2004, a year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The annual study found that some of the largest shifts in attitude came on the issue of trade, which has become one of the most controversial aspects of the Trump foreign policy. The share of Americans saying international trade is good for the U.S. economy stands at 82 percent in the new survey, up from 72 percent in 2017 and 59 percent in 2016.
Positive views of trade grew by double digits among both Republicans and independents in the past year and today. Just over 8 in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents now call trade good for the U.S. economy.
Americans have been more skeptical about trade’s benefit to U.S. job creation, as opposed to its effect on the economy overall. But from the time of the 2016 campaign to today, there has been a sharp increase in those who take a positive view. Two years ago, just 40 percent of Americans said trade was good for U.S. job creation. That jumped to 57 percent last year and today stands at 67 percent.
Democrats are generally far more positive about the value of NAFTA and have been for some years. But even among Republicans, the percent saying the agreement is good for the economy rose from 34 percent in 2017 to 43 percent in the latest survey, which is about where it was in 2013.
The Pew Research Center, in a newly released survey, provides some corroboration but also a caveat on public optimism about trade. Pew’s survey, taken this spring and released last week, found that 74 percent of Americans say international trade is good for the United States, up from 68 percent in 2014. But fewer than 4 in 10 believe it creates jobs (36 percent), increases wages (31 percent) or lowers prices (37 percent).
Trump has broken with other countries in two major agreements, pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and later the Iran nuclear deal. Despite those moves, public support for those arrangements has increased in the past year, each by six percentage points.
The Chicago Council survey was conducted online July 12 to 31 among 2,046 adults nationwide. The sample was drawn through GfK’s KnowledgePanel, an ongoing survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.