Raymond Richman - Jesse Richman - Howard Richman
Richmans' Trade and Taxes Blog
Recent polling data on trade
Public opinion on trade policy continues to be at substantial odds with most U.S. public policy.
A mid-March Bloomberg poll asked the following question: "Turning now to trade, generally speaking, do you think U.S. trade policy should have more restrictions on imported foreign goods to protect American jobs, or have fewer restrictions to enable American consumers to have the most choices and the lowest prices?" 65 percent supported more restrictions. 22 percent supported fewer restrictions.
Another question asked "Overall, do you think NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, has been good or bad for the U.S. economy?" 44 percent said it had been bad for the U.S. economy, and 29 percent said it had been good.
Bloomberg's analysis of the poll can be found here. They titled it "Free-Trade Opposition Unites Political Parties."
Although more Americans think NAFTA was a bad deal than good, and two thirds support increased restrictions on imports, some argue that the public is actually more positive on trade than this makes it seem. Writing for Gallup Frank Newport, Ph.D., (Gallup's Editor-in-Chief) argues that the Bloomberg questions paint a partial picture. He points out that Gallup's trend question on trade is in positive territory. This question asks: "What do you think foreign trade means for America? do you see foreign trade more as -- an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports or a threat to the economy from foreign imports."
The public arguably is not being inconsistent here. One way to make foreign trade more of an opportunity for U.S. workers would be to push for balanced trade. If Japan, China, Mexico and other countries running large trade surpluses with the United States began buying as much from the U.S. as the U.S. buys from them -- perhaps under the threat of "more restrictions on imported foreign goods" then foreign trade would be a much larger plus for the U.S. economy. Those who support imbalanced "free trade" would like to paint the trade debate as one between anti-trade and pro-trade. That is the framing the Gallup poll pushes. But a better and more accurate contrast is between a policy of balanced trade and a policy of imbalanced trade. Balanced trade is much more likely to realize the opportunities trade potentially provides for American workers and consumers. America has moved from being the workshop of the world to the spendthrift of the world. It is time to get things back into balance.
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