Looks like the last time Gallup polled this question was 2004, if you can believe it, back when left/right opinion on NAFTA’s virtues was nearly identical. Thirteen years later, it is … not identical. The unspoken question is whether that divergence has come recently, possibly as a result of Trump, or whether it dates back years. My best guess is that it’s a combo — Republicans have been drifting away from trade for some time, but polarization over Trump may have exacerbated the trends on both sides. Here’s a different Gallup poll, taken last year, showing the percentage in both parties who view trade mainly as an opportunity for the U.S. rather than a threat. Democratic support climbs dramatically during the Obama years, when it was their guy at the helm making deals with American trading partners. You don’t see the same trend among Republicans during the Bush years, though. The share of GOPers who view trade mostly as an opportunity topped out at 57 percent during Dubya’s first term and then began to slide, recovering somewhat lately but not significantly. In hindsight, that was a sign of Trumpism brewing:
There were other signs. Here’s what YouGov found in April 2015, two months before Trump got into the race:
And here’s what they found when they asked whether NAFTA specifically had been good or bad for the U.S. economy in a poll published on June 17, 2015 — the day after Trump announced his candidacy:
Democrats split 49/27, Republicans split … 36/41. When you asked self-identified liberals and conservatives how they felt about NAFTA, the pattern repeated. Liberals split 34/33 while conservatives divided 36/46. Other questions related to NAFTA also showed Democrats feeling rosier about the deal than Republicans did. When asked if NAFTA was good for creating jobs in the U.S., Democrats were +2 while Republicans were -20. On the more basic question of whether the agreement was good for America as a whole, Democrats were +20 while Republicans were -8. Even when you removed NAFTA from the equation and asked about trade more generally, Democrats were more optimistic than Republicans. Thirty-nine percent of Democrats said free trade helped their household versus just 25 percent who said it hurt. For Republicans, that split was 26/36. And when asked broadly whether free-trade agreements have been good or bad for America, Democrats were +39 while Republicans were +4. Trump surely capitalized on this sentiment; he may, as noted, have even exacerbated it by making it mainstream and acceptable for Republicans to publicly question free trade. (Conversely, he may have made it more acceptable for Democrats to support free trade precisely because he’s skeptical of it.) But he didn’t create GOP antipathy to it. A party with a white working-class base was destined to experience that organically.
Exit question: How long will Democratic free-trade sentiment last with young Berniebros poised to take over the party? There’s every reason right now to believe that protectionism is America’s future, at least until economic pain starts being felt.