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International Trade

Overwhelming Support for Trade when Workers Are Helped

Some observers have speculated that Americans' stated reservations about trade based on concerns for workers, the environment and so on, are actually a cover for a more fundamental ideological opposition to trade--a covert form of protectionism. However, the way Americans respond to the prospect that their concerns will be addressed suggests the contrary--that there is the potential for overwhelming support for trade.

Data from PIPA studies support this interpretation. Most recently, in a January 2004 poll, when the possibility was presented of a government program to help workers who lose their jobs as a result of free trade, only 22% persisted in holding a protectionist view, while an overwhelming 73% supported free trade under some condition. This is only slightly lower than in October 1999, when 84% supported the free trade view and only 14% were solidly protectionist.

The question began:

As you may know, there are various views on the question of whether the US should promote freer trade. There are also different views on the question of whether the US government should have programs that try to

In June 2002 the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations/Harris Interactive, respondents were asked the same question. According to the poll, an overwhelming majority 89% support free trade. Of those respondents 73% "favor free trade" but "believe that it is necessary for the government to have programs to help workers who lose their jobs". Sixteen percent agreed that they "favor free trade" but do not "believe that it is not necessary for the government to have programs to help workers who lost their jobs." Only 9% indicated that they did not support free trade. [1]

Another June 2005 PIPA question found strong majority support for lowering trade barriers through free trade agreements, with a majority offering their support contingent on the government helping workers who lose their jobs. Given three choices, 55% chose, "I favor agreements between the US and other countries to mutually lower trade barriers, provided the government has programs to help workers who lose their jobs." Another 11% favored free trade agreements but opposed such government help - thus the total in favor of free trade agreements was 66%. Only 27% opposed agreements to lower trade barriers irrespective of government efforts to help those hurt by more open trade. In July 2004, CCFR ran a question with three very similar options. It found 48% in favor of lowering trade barriers along with programs to help workers and another 10% in favor of agreements to lower trade barriers irrespective of the government's actions. Thirty-four percent opposed lowering trade barriers.[2]

Further evidence is found in the October 1999 PIPA study, when an overwhelming 87% agreed (56% strongly) with the statement, "I would favor more free trade, if I was confident that we were making major efforts to educate and retrain Americans to be competitive in the global economy." Only 11% disagreed. [3]




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