Report: Party Affiliations the Biggest Divider in NAFTA, Trade Opinions

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With renegotiation talks set to begin tomorrow for the North American Free Trade Agreement, a new poll reveals how Americans view international trade, in general, and this trade deal, in particular.

Despite the president’s statements to the contrary, more than half of Americans believe NAFTA is good for the U.S. economy, though party affiliations weigh heavily on their beliefs. Of the 2,020 adults polled in the 2017 Chicago Council Survey, 53 percent feel positively toward NAFTA, up from 42 percent in 2008.

A deeper dive shows that 71 percent of self-professed Democrats hold this opinion while only 34 percent of Republicans do. The partisan divide has grown steadily over the years with Republican opinions on the deal essentially flat around 43 percent from 2008 to 2013 after which it began to fall. On the Democratic side, approval of NAFTA has remained on an upswing from 41 percent in 2008.

Not surprisingly, given that the president once said, “NAFTA was the worst deal ever made in the history of the world,” Trump supporters find the deal least favorable.

“President Trump’s core supporters—those who express a very favorable view of him—are the least likely to say NAFTA is good for the US economy (23%),” the report noted.

[Read more about what to expect from NAFTA talks: Trump Rolls Out NAFTA Renegotiation Objectives to Support, Criticism]

When asked about each trade partner individually, core Trump supporters were the most critical of Mexico, a favorite punchbag of the president’s. Only 20 percent of this group see Mexico as a fair partner, compared to 28 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats. The country was pretty much in agreement on Mexico through 2006, after which parties began to diverge, with Democrats feeling more positive and Republicans more negative. The biggest and most sustained dip occurring after 2012.

Overall, 47 percent of respondents were pro Mexico, which stands in contrast to 79 percent who feel Canada is fair in its dealings with the U.S. Here, there’s little divide between parties with 75 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats in agreement.

When it comes to trade deals in general, 50 percent of those polled feel they’re beneficial to all countries involved. Thirty-four percent say only the other countries benefit while 7 percent say the U.S. is the only winner and 6 percent think no one comes out better. Democrats represent the largest group that tends to believe both countries share the rewards while 47 percent of Republicans say the U.S. gets the short end of the stick.

[Read about how protectionism is affecting sourcing: Has Protectionism Made Sourcing in America Great Again?]

Further, Trump supporters tend to share the president’s suspicious view of these aggrements.

“Reflecting President Trump’s statements about trade agreements on the campaign trail, a majority of core Trump supporters (58%) say that other countries make out better than the United States, and a plurality of Republicans (47%) agree,” the report stated.

Though the deals themselves may be divisive, Americans seem to be in agreement on the benefits of international trade. More than 70 percent of respondents feel international trade is good for the U.S. economy and consumers. Even more surprising, given the president’s contention that only protectionism can help protect U.S. jobs, 57 percent feel international trade is a job creator. Here again, party matters. The number of Democrats that feel this way outpace the number of Republicans.

More than 60 percent of those who support Trump agree that the economy and consumers are better off due to international trade and 48 percent believe it creates jobs.

“More Americans than ever are convinced that international trade is generally advantageous to the United States, despite some misgivings about the fairness of trade agreements,” the report said. “The 2017 results mark the first time since these questions have been asked that a majority credit international trade for creating jobs in the United States.”


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