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International Trade

Low Support for Trade Promotion Authority ("Fast Track")

However it is described, the public shows low levels of support for the idea of giving the president the power to negotiate trade agreements that cannot be revised by Congress, but can only be approved on an up-down vote. This is consistent with the public’s lack of eagerness to promote the growth and a readiness to forgo the rapid growth of trade in favor of other concerns.

In the most recent poll conducted in May 2002 by Investors Business Daily/TIPP, a plurality showed opposition to grant the president such authority. Respondents were asked if the President should be given “special authority to negotiate free trade agreements, with a straight Yes or No vote from Congress to approve or disapprove trade agreements in their entirety.” A plurality of 49% believed the President “should not be given” this authority, while 42% believed he “should be given” this authority, and 9% are not sure. [1]

However, in another poll by EPIC-MRA in October 2001 that the president would consult with Congress, a plurality favored giving the authority. When it was specified that “This authority would allow the President to negotiate trade agreements in consultation with Congress (emphasis added), 46% favored “having Congress act to grant a President authority to negotiate new free trade agreements.” Thirty-seven percent opposed giving trade promotion authority to the President and 17% were undecided or did not know. [1a]

Thus, a comparison of the findings of these two polls suggests that a plurality of respondents favor giving the President the authority to negotiate trade with special authority if Congress is given a role. (Note: In actuality the president is required to consult several committees with jurisdiction over free trade and the congressional oversight committee established by the act. The content of those negotiations, however, is neither specified nor formalized.)

In the same EPIC-MRA poll, respondents were also asked how much they knew about “trade promotion authority.” Only 14% knew “a lot” or “some.” Not surprisingly, 56% knew “nothing at all” and 25% knew “only a little.” [1b]

Polls taken through the year 2000 used the term “fast track” to describe trade promotion authority. It engendered little support, perhaps because "fast track" sounds as if the purpose is to have trade move forward rapidly, unburdened by other considerations - something respondents clearly opposed in other questions. Perhaps as a result, the Bush Administration decided to forgo "fast track" and employ the term "trade promotion authority".

The form of the question that engendered the highest level of support was one that put fast track in historical context and implied it was business as usual. Nonetheless, support dropped from a high of 53% in 1998 to just 40% in May 2000. It read:

“Presidents since 1974 have had trade negotiating authority known as "fast track", which means the trade agreements the President negotiated are considered in Congress within 90 days and put to a simple yes or no vote, without any additions that could upset the agreement. The authority to do this expired in 1994, and President Clinton no longer has such authority. Do you strongly support renewing President Clinton's fast track trade authority, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose it?”

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Mark Penn

The lack of support for fast track is striking, particularly since this question, which puts fast track in historical context and implies that it is business as usual, has done somewhat better than other questions on the issue.

Another question described the fast track legislation but did not put it in a historical context, perhaps giving respondents the impression that it would give the President new, unprecedented powers:

"As you may know, President Clinton has asked Congress to give him 'fast track' authority to negotiate more free trade agreements. The 'fast track' authority would mean that once the negotiations are completed, Congress would take an up-or-down vote on an agreement as a whole, but could not vote to make any amendments or changes in an agreement. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose having Congress grant the President 'fast track' authority to negotiate new free trade agreements?"
In the October 1999 PIPA poll, only 32% said they favored Congress granting the President such authority, while 65% were opposed. This is consistent with most other polls that used the same or similar questions in the late 1990's. When NBC News/Wall Street Journal asked the same question in October 1997, 35% supported the idea and 56% opposed it. In August 1998, Market Strategies found 36% in favor of fast track, with 58% opposed. That same month, in a poll by President Clinton's pollsters, Penn and Schoen, 38% said the president "should be given fast track negotiating authority," but 53% opposed the idea. Over the last several years, questions of this type have revealed support for fast track extension ranging from a low of 27% to a high of 44%; during that time, it never reach plurality or majority support. [2]




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