Trump & Sanders: Actually, Americans [Heart] Trade

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/21/2016 01:30:00 AM
Americans are anti-trade? Whatever.
With the US primaries underway to select the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, you'd be in pretty good company if you believed that Americans have turned decisively against trade. To blame trade with other nations as an all-purpose scapegoat has, indeed, become quite the pastime when hard left (Sanders) and hard right (Trump) candidates both bash it quite lustily. Such may be the conventional wisdom these days.

Or is it? NPR points out that, actually, a recent Gallup poll indicates that public attitudes towards trade Stateside have taken a turn for the better. That is, rather more folks believe that trade benefits rather than harms them.
[A]s it turns out, Americans as a whole seem to feel pretty good about foreign trade. Gallup found in February that 58 percent of Americans see trade as more of an opportunity than a threat.

Interestingly, polls also show that Democrats right now are slightly more in favor of free trade than Republicans. In the early 2000s, Republicans were more likely to see trade as an opportunity than a threat, according to Gallup. But around 2011, Democrats surpassed them. Around 61 percent of Democrats saw trade as an opportunity as of 2015, compared to 51 percent of Republicans.

This bucks conventional wisdom that Republicans are more the party of free trade. (After all, big business interest groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, who support trade pacts, tend to support Republican politicians, while unions — major Democratic supporters — oppose many trade pacts). Indeed, both parties appear to be (moderately) the parties of free trade.

The bottom line, according to one public-opinion expert, is that Americans' views on trade may shift back and forth, but they never really get that extreme. "Trade is never wildly popular, but sometimes it's less unpopular," said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow and public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, DC.
To me, what is remarkable is that, in the Gallup poll series at least, pro-trade attitudes appear to be at a quarter-century high. If so, are Trump and Sanders delivering the wrong message? I don't actually think so. They're not really after the "mainstream" of voters--that much should be pretty obvious by now--but rather the disaffected ones. As such, their putative "base" is really of the veritable losers hankering for a time when the US was much less open than it is now. Resentment can be a powerful driver of human (mis)behavior.

To the rest of us around the world, they're not really who we would find favor with since they would not like to consider us anyway. But, in reality, opinion polls may reflect a more, ah, progressive American view of conducting economic relations with furriners.