On Monday, Gallup released a new poll on America’s attitudes toward trade. Before getting too caught up in potential spin regarding the poll, it’s important that anyone interested in the state of public opinion on trade think about a few key points. Here are eight things you should know about the poll and what Americans think about trade-related issues.
1. The poll says little about people’s knowledge and understanding of current trade policy, and more about people’s perceptions about the improving state of the U.S. economy when compared to the Great Recession and related global financial crisis. Gallup explicitly says this: “Gallup has found that perceptions of foreign trade may partly relate to Americans’ confidence in the economy. And as the economy has improved significantly in the past year, it’s likely that public fears about foreign trade have diminished, partly because of Americans’ strengthening views of the U.S. economy.”
2. The poll, which is conducted annually, saw spikes in 2008, with the highest percent seeing trade as a threat to the economy and the lowest percent seeing trade as an opportunity in the poll’s history. The increases in the latest poll are simply a continuation of the trend away from the low point caused by the recession.
3. The poll doesn’t even ask respondents about current trade policy broadly or specifically. It doesn’t mention topics like Fast Track, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, job offshoring, currency, Buy American provisions, etc. It simply asks whether foreign trade is “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports or a threat to the economy from foreign imports.”
4. Other polls have shown a more complex reaction of the public to the topics of trade. A January 2015 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, shows that Americans support trade in general but oppose the current approach to trade (the rules of which are enshrined in the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent deals) that leads to jobs being shipped overseas, creates massive deficits, makes wages stagnant and has contributed to high levels of income inequality.
5. In the Pew Research poll, only 20% of Americans believe that trade policies, as practiced by the United States, have led to job creation. Only 17% think that such policies have increased wages in the United States. Only one-third say that trade has lowered prices for consumers.
6. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from 2014 found that a plurality of Americans would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”
7. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also found that a plurality believed the recent model of globalization has been “bad because it has subjected American companies and employees to unfair competition and cheap labor.”
8. A January 2014 poll by Hart Research Associates and Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that 62% of Americans oppose Fast Tracking the TPP.