06 March 2013

Why Have Americans Become More Positive About Free Trade?

It’s the question posed by Erik Voeten:


This is a pretty major shift that could bode well for President Obama’s announced plans for a new transatlantic trade deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So why such a big shift? Dan Drezner suggests that this reflects public enthusiasm for trade exports, which itself may be a spillover from greater consumer confidence.
This may well be part of it but there is also a partisan story to be told here. Back in 2009, 43% of Democrats and 45% of Republicans saw trade as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat to the economy. In 2013. this is 66% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans.  In other words, most of the change has come from Democrats following President Obama’s prominent endorsement of new trade deals in the State of the Union address. The consequence is that  Democrats are now 15 points more favorable towards free trade than Republicans in this poll.

So why are Americans more positive about “free” trade?  My guess is that people have started to believe the propaganda.  For the last 25 or so years, Americans have been told what a great idea free trade is.  Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t, but the current trade policy is anything but free.  Hamstringing domestic businesses and then giving special trade advantages to foreign companies that don’t face near the same amount of environmental and labor regulations or taxes and regulatory compliance costs that domestic businesses face simply is not free trade.  Compensating for the continued assault on domestic businesses by allowing foreign businesses to trade freely or at minimal cost is simply a recipe for disaster, and it is a credit to the myriad Cathedral propagandists for convincing the American people to support a policy that is clearly detrimental.