November 9, 2010

Public Support for Increased Trade, Except With South Korea and China

Fewer See Benefits from Free Trade Agreements

Overview

The public is of two minds when it comes to trade with other countries. Most Americans say that increased trade with Canada, Japan and European Union countries – as well as India, Brazil and Mexico – would be good for the United States. But reactions are mixed to increased trade with South Korea and China.

More generally, there is increased skepticism about the impact of trade agreements such as NAFTA and the policies of the World Trade Organization.Roughly a third (35%) say that free trade agreements have been good for the United States, while 44% say they have been bad for the U.S.

Support for free trade agreements is now at one of its lowest points in 13 years of Pew Research Center surveys. In 2008, an identical percentage (35%) said free trade agreements were good for the U.S. Support for free trade agreements had increased last year, to 44% in April and 43% in November, despite the struggling economy.

As in past surveys on trade, many more Americans say free trade agreements have a negative rather than a positive impact on jobs in the U.S., wages for U.S. workers, and economic growth in this country. And more say their personal finances have been hurt (46%) rather than helped (26%) by free trade agreements.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Nov. 4-7 among 1,255 adults, finds that just 28% of Republicans say that free trade agreements are good for the United States, down from 43% last November. Opinions among Democrats and independents have changed little over the past year.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party have a particularly negative view of the impact of free trade agreements. Only about a quarter of Republicans who agree with the Tea Party (24%) say that free trade agreements like NAFTA and the policies of the WTO have been a good thing for the United States, while 63% say they have been a bad thing.

Among Republicans who have no opinion of the Tea Party or disagree with the Tea Party movement, opinions are evenly split (42% good thing, 42% bad thing). Overall, about half (51%) of all Republican and Republican leaners say they agree with the Tea Party while 42% have no opinion; very few (5%) disagree with the Tea Party.

There are smaller partisan differences in opinions about increased trade with Canada, Japan, China or other countries. This question was included in a separate nationwide survey of 996 adults, which also was conducted Nov. 4-7.

For instance, while Republicans and Democrats have about the same view of increased trade with China, there are wide age and educational differences. By 56% to 37%, those under 30 say that more trade with China is good for the U.S. Those 30- 49 and 50- 64 are divided, but more of those 65 and older see increased trade with China as bad for the country rather than good (52% to 37%).

Roughly half of college graduates (50%) and those with some college experience (51%) say increased trade with China would be good for the United States. That compares with 39% of those with no more than a high school education.

Impact of Free Trade Agreements

The public continues to be skeptical about the benefits of free trade agreements to the United States, especially when it comes to jobs, wages and economic growth. Opinions about the impact of free trade agreements have changed little since last year, although they are somewhat less negative than in April 2008.

More than half (55%) say that free trade agreements lead to job losses in the United States, compared with just 8% who say these agreements create jobs; 24% say they make no difference. And while 45% say free trade agreements make wages lower, far fewer (8%) say they make wages higher. Similarly, the public does not see much benefit from free trade agreements for the overall economy – 43% say they slow the economy down while fewer than half as many (19%) say they make the economy grow.

Opinions are less negative about the impact of trade agreements on prices in the U.S.; as many say they make prices lower as higher (31% each). People in developing countries are widely perceived as benefitting from trade agreements: 54% say they are good for people in developing countries while just 9% say they are bad.

Roughly six-in-ten independents (63%) and Republicans (58%) say that free trade agreements lead to job losses in the United States; fewer Democrats (47%) agree. Independents (49%) and Republicans (48%) are more likely than Democrats (34%) to say that trade agreements slow the U.S. economy. There are only slight partisan differences in views of the other effects of free trade agreements, including their impact on wages in the United States.

There also are differences among Republicans over the impact of free trade agreements on economic growth, and wages and jobs in the U.S. Fully 62% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party say free trade agreements lead to slower growth in the U.S. That compares with 40% of Republicans and Republican leaners who either have no opinion of the Tea Party or disagree with the Tea Party.

More than half (54%) of Republicans who agree with the Tea Party say free trade agreements make wages lower, compared with 38% who have no opinion of the Tea Party or disagree with the movement. The differences among Republicans and Republican leaners are nearly as large about whether free trade agreements lead to job losses in the U.S. (67% of Tea Party vs. 55% of non-Tea Party).

Personal Impact of Trade Pacts

Nearly half (46%) of the public says they think free trade agreements have had a negative effect on their personal finances, 26% say they have helped, while 28% volunteer that they have neither hurt nor helped, they are not affected, or say they do not know. These views have changed little since 2008, but in December 2006, somewhat more (35%) said that free trade agreements helped their personal finances.

Young people, college graduates and affluent Americans are more likely than others to say their personal finances have been helped by free trade agreements. But even among these groups, roughly as many say they have been hurt as helped by trade agreements.

Among those with family incomes of $100,000 or more, for example, 33% say their personal financial situations have been helped by free trade agreements; 30% say they have been hurt; and 37% say they have been neither helped nor hurt, offer another response or say they do not know. Among those in lower income groups, about half or more say their financial situations have been hurt by free trade agreements.

On this question, partisans and independents have similar views: 51% of independents, 46% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats say their personal financial situations have been hurt by free trade agreements.