You may have seen the headlines about today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll and yesterday’s Pew poll, touted as showing public support for trade deals. A close look at the polls reveals that they did not even ask about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Fast Track, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), or any other element of the controversial current trade policy agenda.
The polls did confirm, however, what polling has consistently shown: the U.S. public likes the general notion of trade but opposes the documented results of past trade deals and the actual content of pending ones.
Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that a majority of the U.S. public “support[s] new trade deals to promote the sale of U.S. goods overseas.” This is not surprising. Who would be opposed to trade deals framed as simply boosting sales of U.S. goods? (Never mind that exports of U.S. goods have actually grown slower, not faster, under existing U.S. trade deals.)
The poll did not ask whether respondents “support new trade deals that could offshore U.S. manufacturing jobs.” We do not need to rely on hypotheticals to guess how the U.S. public would respond to this question. Just three weeks ago, another Ipsos poll stated: “International trade agreements increase Americans’ access to foreign-made goods and products but at the risk of American jobs being lost. What would you say is more important...?”
Eighty-four percent of the U.S. public said that “protecting American manufacturing jobs” is more important than “getting Americans access to more products.” Based on Ipsos' own polling, if today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll had presented not just the claimed upsides of trade deals, but the documented downsides, the results likely would have been quite different.
The same Ipsos poll from earlier this month also asked, “If the Obama administration supports an international trade agreement that does not specifically prohibit currency manipulation, do you think the United States Congress should support or oppose that trade deal?”
Seventy-three percent of the U.S. public said that Congress should oppose any trade agreement that does not prohibit currency manipulation. The TPP, of course, fits that bill. The Obama administration has repeatedly dismissed Congress' bipartisan, bicameral demand for the TPP to include binding disciplines against currency manipulation.
Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll did not address this fact about the TPP. Indeed, it did not address the TPP at all. Or Fast Track. Or TAFTA. Or anything other than the concept of “trade deals to promote the sale of U.S. goods overseas.” According to Ipsos’ own polling results, had today’s poll mentioned the actual content of the TPP (e.g. the lack of binding currency manipulation disciplines), the result would have been broad opposition.
Like the Reuters/Ipsos poll, yesterday’s Pew poll did not ask respondents specifically about the TPP, TAFTA, or Fast Track. It did ask respondents about the impacts of free trade deals generally, which produced some damning, if paradoxical, results. While the majority said they thought free trade agreements have been broadly good for the United States, the dominant opinion was also that free trade agreements have hurt the middle class and even the broader U.S. economy:
- 46% said that free trade agreements “lead to job losses,” while only 17% said they “create jobs”
- 46% said that free trade agreements “make the wages of American workers” lower, while only 11% said they make wages higher
- 34% said that free trade agreements actually “slow the economy down” and 25% said they do “not make a difference” for economic growth, while only 31% said they “make the economy grow”
- 30% said that free trade agreements actually “make the price of products sold in the U.S.” higher and 24% said they do not impact consumer prices, while only 36% said they lower prices
- Among those earning less than $30,000 a year, 44% said free trade agreements have hurt their financial situation and that of their family, while only 38% said they have helped their financial situation
- Among those who rated their personal financial situation as “poor,” 55% said free trade agreements have hurt their family’s finances, while only 27% said they have helped their family’s finances
Though Fast Track proponents will no doubt try, it's difficult to spin these results as a resounding endorsement of "free trade agreements" in general, much less the particularly expansive breed of "trade" agreement represented by the TPP and TAFTA. If anything, the most recent polls show (once again) that the status quo trade model that Fast Track would expand has hurt the middle class.