Opinions on Free Trade in Flux

According to The Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling, since November 2014 public opinion on whether free trade with foreign countries helps or hurts the US have been in flux, corresponding with a national debate over a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact with 11 other select Asian and Pacific Rim countries that Congress has been struggling to pass.

As the Senate holds a crucial procedural vote on granting President Obama fast-track trade authority to negotiate the pact today, here are a few interesting findings and data from the trio of tracks tested over the last seven months with comparative data from 2010.

  1. In the WSJ/NBC April poll, a plurality (37%) of adults said free trade with foreign countries has “helped” the US while 31% said it has “hurt” the US. That was the most positive opinion had been on this question since 1999. In June, the topline result snapped back to a net negative – 29% helped/34% Hurt.

WSJ/NBC NEWS

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  1. As the charts below shows, Republicans are more likely now to say has “hurt” the U.S. than in April. So are Democrats, though we still see a plurality of Democrats in April saying free trade has “helped.”

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  1. Interestingly, core partisans on each side, those are respondents that “strongly” identify as either party, are about in the same place – hovering around an even split between these two positions. Soft partisans for each side, consisting of those who identify as a party but “not-so-strongly” and independent leaners, are much further from one another. On this broad question, Independents the most negative political sub-set.

    In terms of public policy, this is an unusual way for the data to be structured and it points to how different this issue may play than the normal partisan-driven battles our politics have been dominated by recently.

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  1. Higher income and higher education respondents are more likely to see free trade with foreign countries as helping the U.S.
  1. Respondents who report being or living with union members are consistently pessimistic. In this month’s poll 23% of union households say free trade has helped and 45% say it has hurt the US – which is more negative than opinions held by respondents from union households in April (31% helped/41% hurt).

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