Has Trade Policy Become A Voting Issue?


In an election year dominated by the illegal immigration issue, are there any other hot-button topics capable of moving the needle among America’s angry electorate?   Yes, according to a new survey from veteran pollster Pat Caddell.

Conducted on behalf of Americans for Limited Government (ALG), Caddell’s latest survey explored public sentiment regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a massive global trade deal currently being pursued by U.S. president Barack Obama and certain Republican members of Congress.  At first blush, a majority of respondents (51 percent) said they “didn’t know enough” about TPP to form an opinion of it – hardly qualifying the issue for “hot button” status.  Meanwhile 22 percent oppose the agreement (9 percent strongly) compared to 15 percent who support it (3 percent strongly).  Another 11 percent were undecided.

Informed of the deal’s potential to “open the door for more foreign workers to enter the American job market without any restraints” and to “benefit entrenched global corporations but hurt working Americans, small businesses and startups,” public perception on the agreement changes dramatically.  Even when coupled with positive statements about the TPP – including the claim that it will “lead to improved wages, economic growth, and access to other markets” – the informed vote on the trade deal becomes decidedly negative.

After hearing both positive and negative information on TPP, opposition to the deal more than doubles from 22 to 45 percent – including 17 percent who strongly oppose it.  Meanwhile the percentage of respondents who support the bill peaks at 32 percent – including just 5 percent who strongly support it.

That’s a big intensity gap – one that continues expanding the more people learn about the controversial pact.

Once voters discover what TPP entails, they oppose it no matter whether they are Republicans (66 percent to 15 percent), Democrats (44 percent to 30 percent) or Independents (52 percent to 19 percent).

“This issue of American Trade Policy has moved from a minor issue in the thinking of American voters to becoming a central issue as it relates not only to trade but to economic anxieties,” Caddell noted. “While TPP is essentially unknown to the American electorate, once informed about it they move very quickly and strongly against it.”

If framed within the context of these “economic anxieties,” can trade move voters?  Yes.

Earlier this month in Michigan, independent socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders scored a surprise victory over Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.  Exit polls showed eight out of ten Michigan Democrats agreeing that bad trade deals had moved American jobs overseas.  Six out of ten of these voters supported Sanders.

“I was on a picket line in early 1990’s against NAFTA because you didn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour,” Sanders said during a Democratic debate, accusing Clinton of “voting for every disastrous trade agreement.”

Similarly Donald Trump – an early opponent of TPP – used his tough talk on trade to cruise to a big win in Michigan.

“Michigan has been stripped,” Trump said.  “You look at those empty factories all over the place, and nobody hits that message better than me.”

For more information on the Caddell poll, click the link below …