A new Pew poll released today found that antipathy towards “free trade” agreements and the WTO is particularly intense among Republicans and Tea Party supporters. This finding reinforces the results of previous polls that popular concern for the direction of our trade policy is spreading far beyond just Democrats.
Republicans in the survey were more almost twice as likely to believe that “free trade agreements” (FTAs) like NAFTA and the policies of the WTO harm rather than help the United States (by a 54 to 28 percent margin). This opposition is more intense than that of the public overall, more of whom still believe the U.S. is hurt by such unfair trade deals (by a 44 to 35 percent margin).
Republicans who agree with the Tea Party (think of those who had more enthusiasm to show up at the election booth last week) viewed FTAs even more unfavorably: 63 percent of them thought that FTAs and the WTO were bad for the United States, in contrast to only 24 percent who have a favorable view.
More independents also believe that these trade deals have hurt rather than helped the U.S.
If the Obama administration thought that it would be easy to pass a Korea FTA through a Republican Congress, these new poll numbers prove that it is mistaken. The Republican and Tea Party voters who elected the new Republican majority in the House are deeply opposed to more NAFTA-style FTAs, and the new members of Congress will find it dangerous to cast votes on FTAs against their constituencies.
The poll also found that 55 percent of Americans think that FTAs have lead to job loss, while only 8 percent think that they have created jobs. This gap is even wider among Republicans and Independents. President Obama has said that his number one priority is job creation. If he is trying to convince Americans that he has his priorities straight, the last thing he should do is pass another NAFTA-style FTA, since most Americans believe that these FTAs are job killers.
What Obama must do is follow through on his presidential campaign commitments and reform the Korea FTA, including deep changes to the labor rights, investor-state enforcement, and financial services regulation provisions of the FTA. If his administration thinks it can make some cosmetic changes and get it approved by Congress, it is in for a rude awakening.