I’m blown away, and I say that knowing these numbers are influenced, probably strongly, by partisanship. The guy in the White House has spent the past month pounding the table for free trade; he’s a Democrat, so wavering Dems will break for him while wavering Republicans will break against him. On the other hand, the same guy has been running the military for the past six years and Republicans are still reliably hawkish in polls notwithstanding their antipathy to Obama. Why assume that they’re standing on principle when it comes to counterterrorism but not when it comes to trade? Maybe this is who we are now, a protectionist party. Which raises the question: Trump/Huckabee or Huckabee/Trump?
Here’s what you get when you ask people whether they think free-trade agreements have been good or bad for the U.S.:
Dems are +39. Republicans are … +4. When asked whether free-trade agreements make U.S. wages higher or lower, 33 percent of Democrats say “lower” compared to 44 percent of Republicans (and 55 percent of independents). When asked whether they lead to job creation or job losses, 36 percent of Dems say “losses” compared to 48 percent of Republicans. Turning to family finances, 39 percent of Democrats say free trade helped their household versus just 25 percent who say they hurt. Among Republicans, that split is 26/36. Looking at the economy as whole, Dems split 33/27 when asked if free trade helps the economy as a whole or slows it down. Republicans split 22/42.
When you ask specifically about NAFTA, a Clinton legacy, the numbers are similar. Dems are enthusiastic, GOPers are equivocal at best and sour at worst. Democrats split 49/27 on whether NAFTA was good or bad for the economy; Republicans split 36/41. On whether it was good for American consumers, Dems stand at 57/22 versus 41/37 for GOPers. Was it good for American companies? A majority of Democrats say yes (53/28) while a plurality of Republicans say no (37/39). More dramatically, while Dems are almost evenly split on whether NAFTA was good for creating jobs in the U.S. (39/37), Republicans decidedly say that it wasn’t (30/50). And on the topline question of whether NAFTA’s been good for the country overall, the partisan divide is stark — 50/30 among Dems, 32/44 for Republicans.
As for TPP, no surprises:
Twice as many Dems say TPP is good for the U.S. than Republicans do. You tell me, then: What’s driving this? If you think it’s pure partisanship, here’s some support for your theory — the numbers when people are asked whether they approve of how Obama’s handling free trade:
That helps explain why Republicans are so down on agreements like TPP lately, although the Democratic numbers here are more tepid than they are for some of the broader questions about free trade that I wrote about above. If this was a mostly partisan phenomenon, I’d expect to see enormous Dem support for how O’s handling the subject and then more qualified support for individual trade deals. Instead we see the opposite. Hmmmmm. So, once again, if it’s not just partisanship at work, what’s driving the greater GOP opposition to trade? Is it the fact that working-class red-staters suffer more when manufacturing jobs are exported than the liberal professional class? Is it an artifact of opposition to amnesty, with border hawks like Jeff Sessions increasingly framing trade agreements as a form of ceding sovereignty to foreign powers? All theories welcome.