It was pretty startling at the beginning of this year’s political debate to find all the major candidates pushing against trade agreements, and even trade in general. Considerable ink has been invested in suggesting what these positions might mean for support for agriculture’s main source of market growth, as well as numerous other markets. However, the Washington Post is reporting this week that these positions may not be as popular as once believed, and certainly may not fully reflect broad voter beliefs.
The Post notes that both candidates have taken stands against unbridled globalization, but to somewhat different degrees, most notably Republican Donald Trump who shifted his party’s standard rhetoric with his opposition to international trade agreements. Democrat Hillary Clinton has more subtly distanced herself from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Post says, but still is highly critical of trade deals.
So it is another surprise that, despite the negative rhetoric during the campaign, a new poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs “appears to show an American public with some surprisingly positive attitudes toward globalization,” the Post says. The Council found that some 65% of Americans said that globalization is mostly good for the United States while 34% see it as mostly bad, the Post reported.
“More remarkable still,” the Post thinks, “those positive feelings could be found across the political spectrum: 74% of Democrats said globalization is mostly good, and even core supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were mostly positive about globalization, the Post says.”
On the Republican side, 59% said globalization is mostly good, although that number dropped to 50% for core Trump supporters. Also, 61% of independents said that globalization is positive, the Post reported.
Looking generally over a history of attitudes toward free trade and globalization, the Chicago Council’s data seems to suggest that in the past 10 years Democrats have become more positive about free trade while Republicans have become more negative while Independents have largely stayed the same, the Post says.
If you found all this quite surprising, you would not be alone. But, but perhaps even more remarkable it the direction of the changes the Council found. It concludes that attitudes now “seem to be more positive toward trade than the 2016 election season rhetoric might lead you to believe,” and that even the controversial TPP pact is largely supported. And the Council found that the TPP had “a fair amount of cross-party support, with 71% of Democrats in favor compared to 58 percent of Republicans and 52% of independents. Only 47% of Trump supporters said they favored the agreement,” the Post said.
The Council suggests that American voters seemed to feel that trade was good for them personally as 70% reporting that “globalization made things better for them as consumers and 64% saying their own standard of living was improved by globalization. More generally, 59% of Americans said international trade was good for the U.S. economy and 57% said it was good for U.S. companies.
However, the Council found Americans less positive about international trade’s effect on jobs. Just 40% said international trade was good at creating jobs in the United States, while an even lower 35% said it was good for American workers’ job security. In both instances, Republicans were notably less positive than Democrats and Independents, although other demographic factors made little difference.
Well, the Post is correct that findings of the new poll contradict many of the common assumptions and proposals being offered during this debate. And the Council is not being bashful about its findings and has released a number of reports on these results, including in-depth looks at the views of supporters of both Clinton and Trump. So it is likely that the findings will be hotly contested.
Even if the study results hold up solidly, it seems unlikely that they will significantly change the focus of the current trade debates, nor the proposals being offered during the campaign. At the same time, they likely will be welcomed by the administration in its push for TPP approval later this year and could be used to counter those who hold that there is little prospect of winning that debate. This is an important aspect of the debate and one producers should watch closely as the political fights continue, Washington Insider believes.