Free Trade

Trump's Attacks on Free Trade Have Actually Made It More Popular With Voters

Thanks to a paradoxical Trump bump, nearly 90 percent of both Democrats and Republicans now say they support international trade.

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Speakers at the Republican Convention this week have routinely praised the success of Trump's economic policies, even though his record is, at best, mixed even if one discounts the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to the public's perception of Trump's trade policies, however, he seems to have accomplished something truly impressive, if a bit bizarre: almost the entire public—regardless of party—has now come to support international trade as a concept.

This differs starkly with the wide partisan differences that hold on many other foreign policy issues.

In a poll conducted last summer by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, 78 percent of Republicans said they considered immigration to be a "critical threat" to the country's "vital interests," while only 19 percent of Democrats were similarly alarmed. In contrast, 78 percent of Democrats found climate change to be a "critical threat" while only 23 percent of Republicans agreed. And 54 percent of Republicans, but only 36 percent of Democrats, said they found the development of China as a world power to be such a threat, even as 69 percent of Democrats, but only 37 percent of Republicans, expressed concern about foreign interference in American elections. The gap on whether the United States should share its "leadership role" with other countries was also wide: 75 percent of Democrats agreed, but only 51 percent of Republicans.

Ask those same people how they feel about international trade, and the picture looks much different. 

Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Until Trump, about 55 or 60 percent of the population supported trade when asked a rather standard and straight-forward question: "Overall, do you think international trade is good or bad for the US economy?" As you might expect, Republicans were a bit more supportive during the presidency of George W. Bush, while Democrats were more in favor of trade when Barack Obama was in the White House. 

However, under Trump, both percentages have abruptly soared to the point of almost complete consensus: nearly 90 percent of both Democrats and Republicans now say they support international trade, and the same holds for independents.

This remarkable phenomenon seems to have arisen from a difference in perception. Republicans conclude that, since Trump appears to support international trade, it must be a good thing. Democrats come to the same conclusion, but from the opposite direction. They look at Trump's tariffs and other anti-trade behavior and reckon that, since Trump appears to oppose international trade, it must be a good thing.

Some of that confusion is probably due to Trump's own mixed messages. The president has repeatedly characterized himself as a free trader. But, he says, he needs to engage actively to level the playing field by, for example, slapping tariffs on countries he judges to have broken the rules.

People tend to hear what they want to hear. In this instance, that has paradoxically enhanced support for international trade on both sides of the aisle. In some respects, it is the ultimate con, confirming, perhaps, that you can sometimes fool all the people some of the time—though in this case, the foolery is in a good direction.

But it is unlikely that Trump is doing this consciously. And whether this agreeable, if unintended, bump will outlive his presidency remains to be seen.

NEXT: Thursday Open Thread

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  1. Ha! Just as I predicted, the biggest ‘bump’ came from Democrats. Also, I’d like to know what that graph looked like before 2004, because Democrats have always been hostile to free trade as a principle.

    What I suspect is going on with Republicans and Trump supporters is something more nuanced: They believe, rightly or wrongly, that countries like China aren’t playing cricket on the world stage of trade. Whereas Democrats don’t like the idea of you being able to freely exchange goods and services at a rate freely chosen, but are only liking free trade 20 minutes ago because Orange Man Bad Trade War.

    1. Democrats are for free trade, except for areas of the middle colony that are “vital”, like housing, education, health care, and so on. Big coincidence — all those areas with heavy government involvement are the most messed up parts of our economy. Proposed solution: more government involvement!

      1. I’m old enough to remember their fighting NAFTA tooth and nail.

        Fuck that makes me feel old.

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        2. Didn’t Bill Clinton support NAFTA in the mid to late 90’s.

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    4. Idk, the Dems Bernie wing of the party opposes trade, but the Biden camp supports it. So far, Biden beat Bernie by a landslide, but that could be due to a multitude of issues. Interesting to see how things will play out in ’24 or ’28.

  2. Trade isn’t bad. Crony socialist interference with trade is. How, exactly, do you propose to hold other sovereigns accountable for their misdeeds?

    so, i can support all of international trade and tariffs and treaties without contradiction.

    1. “How, exactly, do you propose to hold other sovereigns accountable for their misdeeds?”

      You don’t. If you look at trade from a consumer point of view, free trade is a winner, even if it is unilateral. Using tariffs to punish other sovereigns hurts domestic consumers more than their intended target.

    2. Trump offered free trade at the G7 summit and his offer was rejected by socialists around the world.

      That is all you need to know about our trading partners and how they want have stacked trade deals and dont have to play by the same basic rules.

  3. 78 percent of Republicans said they considered immigration to be a “critical threat” to the country’s “vital interests,”

    WTF, Republicans

    1. Oh come on Jeff! Every female immigrant is looking for welfare while every male immigrant is looking to steal jobs! Immigration contributes nothing to our nation! Never has, never will!

      MAAA! 2020! Make America American again!

    2. If those numbers are representative, it’s so detrimental to “making America great”. Immigration is a big part of American prosperity, vitality — and fun.

      1. Awww you guys are really cute together.

    3. Finally some good news. Thanks Jeff.

  4. But it is unlikely that Trump is doing this consciously.

    Why else would he be doing it?

    1. Lefties try to publicly say that Trump’s fantastic actions are unplanned random events.

      Of course, then Lefties would have to admit that are losing on all fronts to unplanned Trump successes.

      1. Or that Lefties cannot even defeat Trump who is “incompetent”.

        Democrats are so horrible that they cannot even outsmart they call bad names. Hahahahahahah

  5. Poor hacks in academia who rely on faulty information to lie.

    Americans like Trump’s version of international trade. Trade where America doesnt get so fucked by Socialists around the World who want access to the greatest market in human history.

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  7. Wait a minute. The question didn’t ask anything about free trade or tariffs. It only asked about international trade. That could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

    International trade does not equal free trade.

    1. Compared to Trump’s economic isolationism.

      1. Here’s Biden’s webpage describing his trade policies:

        https://joebiden.com/made-in-america/#

        Which part is superior to Trump’s?

      2. I guess I’m not sure what you mean. I pointed out that a question about international trade is not the same as a question about free trade.

        Can you explain how the author arrives at that conclusion?

        1. No, he can’t.

      3. This comment just proves you’re a fuckwit who doesn’t understand what the trade policy actually is.

  8. Did Biden promise to make nice with the Chinese if he is elected?

    I’d love to think there was a big difference between Trump and Biden on the issue of international trade, but I don’t see it.

    Anybody who votes for Biden because they oppose President Trump’s trade policies should make sure they understand the differences between them, and anybody who thinks there are substantial differences between them should be ready to point them out and explain them.

    Seems to me that Biden hasn’t criticized Trump’s trade policies with respect to China because that wouldn’t play well in the rust belt.

    1. Does Biden need to say anything about that? His history with China is well known.

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  10. The same “republicans” and democrats vote for higher taxes, more spending, and want sleepy Joe to be their president. A guy who cannot even have a discussion with Anderson Cooper without reading off a goddamn script.

    Fuck the left, fuck the rinos, fuck the socialists, eat shit and die blm and antifa, and vote Trump.

  11. When people couldn’t find masks and toilet paper because trade was shut down, they suddenly started valuing trade a bit more. Shocker.

  12. “This remarkable phenomenon seems to have arisen from a difference in perception. Republicans conclude that, since Trump appears to support international trade, it must be a good thing. Democrats come to the same conclusion, but from the opposite direction. They look at Trump’s tariffs and other anti-trade behavior and reckon that, since Trump appears to oppose international trade, it must be a good thing.”

    So, the average American is a dimwit who “understands” and responds to issues according to their chosen tribe and personality cult.

    Tell me again how democracy helps.

  13. In our oppositional and contrarian system of government, one team arguing against something will naturally cause the other team to be for it, and vice versa. Thus the Democratic Party, once the haven of protectionists, anti-traders, and anti-immigrationists, are not becoming free traders. Well not free traders, no politician is actually ever for free trade. But they now appear to see some merit in the benefits of two people exchanging goods with each other. Gosh.

  14. There’s no way for the Republican base to conclude that Trump is any more supportive of international trade than any other recent president. Unless they’re complete retards. Trump was clear from Day 1, and every time he mentions trade, he portrays it a threat rather than an opportunity.

    More likely, the Republican base grew more supporting of free trade because it’s more at risk of losing it under Trump.

    1. *supportive

      Please do Disqus and make our lives easier over here!

  15. Trade agreements are nothing more than a list of taxes that vary by country. All are paid for by special interests. All are costly for consumers. Nothing can be done to fix agreements except remove the authority of politicians to profit at the expense of consumers. They will scream their heads off, but their greatest fear is that the public will discover they are hurt by govt. authority, the public sanction on a violent monopoly. Coercive govt. extortion would end with a rejection of rulers in favor of a voluntary political paradigm based on reason, rights, self-governance.

  16. “This differs starkly with the wide partisan differences that hold on many other foreign policy issues.”
    Is there a pronoun missing here, or have I just forgotten how to read my native language? Differences hold?

  17. Trump’s trade policy is self defense against China. The Chinese Communists are locusts who steal our technology and know-how and trade barriers are the least we can do next to outright military conflict (is that what Reason wants?). China also has higher trade barriers against many of our products brought into their country and they regularly shake down U.S. companies for their trade secrets to steal their ideas.

    The country has conducted economic warfare almost since we opened trade with them under Clinton. Even the E.U. and other European countries have trade restrictions on their markets while we have bilateral agreements with them allowing them access to ours. True trading partners trade equally, fairly and do not steal the other’s companies secrets. Yet Reason defends this fraud by default.

    1. Is it also a self-defense against Canada?

  18. I wonder how we ever survived prior to the 1980’s when EVERYTHING had a tariff on it!!
    Tariffs have protected wages, standard of living, and markets for hundreds of years. Heck the Boston Tea Party was over tariffs!
    It is indisputable economic fact, and has been for longer than any of us have been alive.
    The elite hate having to pay high American wages. They are screaming bloody murder and inundating us with propaganda over $3/hour Mexican labor! Do you want to work for $3/hour? That’s what it would take to compete. It is also where we are headed, where the world is headed if we do not act.

    There can be NO free trade with impoverished nations. Free trade can still exist, but only between countries with equal or very similar standards of living.

    Anything you read or hear to the contrary is elitist propaganda to keep their cheap, slave like, in some cases child slave like, foreign labor.

    Unless you want future American generations working for these garbage wages you must support FAIR trade. Forget your silly Republican or Democrat allegiances in this matter. It’s a fight between the globalists who want a one world government/wage & basic humanity

    1. But wages HAVEN’T gone down since the 1980s. They’ve gone UP! They’ve gone up at roughly the same rate of inflation, but that’s more an indictment to fiat currency than anything else.

      And what do you mean exactly by “standard of living”? In the 1950s, poverty rate was well into the 20%s. When LBJ went into his poverty tours, he was famously horrified by the levels of bummery he saw throughout the country.

      If you think wages would fall to $3/hour then you don’t understand economics. It’s like saying if rich New York opened the borders to poorer Mississippi, its wages would fall down. But the opposite happens; when people and goods are free to move, production increases, and with it new lines of businesses, and greater demand for labor. That’s why wages have never gone down.

    2. A guy names himself “freedom” and advocates for higher trade barriers.

      What do you those poor workers you’re talking about would rather have when they go shop? Cheap stuff made in a foreign country, or more expensive stuff made in the USA?

      There’s nothing more elitist than trade barriers and boycotts and whatnot. The low-income always favor whatever gives them the best bang for their bucks, whatever put the least dent on their wallets, whatever enables them to afford more stuff. “Ideological shopping” on the other hand, whether right-wing (for nationalistic affinities) or left-wing (for human right type of stuff) has always for the bourgeois who can afford less abundance in the market for the sake of their preferred ideology dominating.

    3. The Boston Tea Party was ANTI-tariffs.

      1. Nice to hear from some libertarians showing up here.

        ^

  19. Why is that ‘free’ trade only means ‘international’ free trade?

    Income taxes, sales taxes, zoning laws, FDA/SEC/EPA/etc regulations, minimum wage laws, agricultural subsidies, and many other restrictions/subsidies in existence at Federal, state and local levels, are gross violations of free trade.

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