Public Skeptical of Free Trade

November 15, 2010

While the US public favors more trade in general, the general viewpoint is less favorable toward free trade agreements, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Majorities Favor More Trade with Numerous Countries

Most Americans say that increased trade with Canada, Japan and EU countries, as well as India, Brazil and Mexico, would be good for the US. Majority percentages in favor of increased trade with different nations range from a high of 76% with Canada to a low of 52% with Mexico.

However, reactions are mixed to increased trade with South Korea and China. Less than half support increased trade with South Korea (45%), although this still beats the 41% opposed. Slightly more oppose increased trade with China (46%) than support it (45%).

Only 1/3 of Americans Favor Free Trade Agreements

More generally, there is increased skepticism about the impact of trade agreements such as NAFTA and the policies of the World Trade Organization. Roughly a third (35%) say that free trade agreements have been good for the United States, while 44% say they have been bad for the US.

Support for free trade agreements is now at one of its lowest points in 13 years of Pew Research Center surveys. In 2008, an identical percentage (35%) said free trade agreements were good for the U.S. Support for free trade agreements had increased last year, to 44% in April and 43% in November, despite the struggling economy.

Free Trade Agreements Seen Cutting US Jobs

More than half of Americans (55%) say that free trade agreements lead to job losses in the US, compared with just 8% who say these agreements create jobs; 24% say they make no difference. And while 45% say free trade agreements make wages lower, far fewer (8%) say they make wages higher.

Similarly, the public does not see much benefit from free trade agreements for the overall economy, as 43% say they slow the economy down while fewer than half as many (19%) say they make the economy grow.

Opinions are less negative about the impact of trade agreements on prices in the US; as many say they make prices lower as higher (31% each). People in developing countries are widely perceived as benefiting from trade agreements: 54% say they are good for people in developing countries while just 9% say they are bad.

Many Think Free Trade Hurts Personal Finances

Nearly half (46%) of the public says they think free trade agreements have had a negative effect on their personal finances and 26% say they have helped. Meanwhile, 28% say that they have neither hurt nor helped, they are not affected, or say they do not know.

pew-trade-financial-agreement-nov-2010.JPGYoung people, college graduates and affluent Americans are more likely than others to say their personal finances have been helped by free trade agreements. But even among these groups, roughly as many say they have been hurt as helped by trade agreements.

Among those with family incomes of $100,000 or more, for example, 33% say their personal financial situations have been helped by free trade agreements; 30% say they have been hurt; and 37% say they have been neither helped nor hurt, offer another response or say they do not know. Among those in lower income groups, about half or more say their financial situations have been hurt by free trade agreements.

Economy Leading Source of US Anger

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of all US adults are angry about the economy, according to a recent BBC World News America/Harris Poll. When given a list of current issues that make some people angry, 63% of US adults said they are angry about the economy. This barely beat the 62% of respondents who said they are angry about the government in general and about unemployment.

Other things that majorities are very or somewhat angry about are taxes (58%), immigration (56%), education (51%) and big business (52%). Fewer people are angry about same sex and gay rights (33%), the environment and energy issues (47%) and foreign policy (48%).

About the Data: Most of this analysis is based on telephone interviews conducted November 4-7, 2010 among a national sample of 1,255 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental US (828 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 427 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 189 who had no landline telephone). Interviewing was conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International.


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