WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans tilt toward the belief that trade with other countries has a positive (51%) rather than a negative effect (42%) on jobs for U.S. workers. Larger majorities see trade as benefitting product innovation, U.S. economic growth, prices, American businesses and product quality.
The results are based on a Feb. 12-28 Gallup poll, which probed Americans’ views on trade. Americans make little distinction in the extent to which trade influences each of these aspects of the economy — between 56% and 64% say trade affects each “a great deal,” including 63% saying it has this much impact on jobs for U.S. workers.
Americans’ broad perspective on trade has become increasingly positive in recent years. This year, 74% say they view trade more as an opportunity for economic growth than as a threat to the U.S. economy from imports — the highest Gallup has measured to date by two percentage points. As recently as 2012, Americans were divided on this question, and in 2008 the majority viewed trade as more of a threat than an opportunity.
Party, Union Membership Not Strongly Linked to Opinions of Trade
Republicans, Democrats and independents all view trade as an opportunity for the U.S. and have similar attitudes about the effects it has on the U.S. For example, 70% of Republicans, 75% of independents and 79% of Democrats believe trade represents an opportunity for the U.S. rather than a threat. Typically, there have not been large party differences in views of trade.
With respect to the impact of trade on jobs, 54% of Republicans, 51% of independents and 50% of Democrats believe trade has a positive effect rather than a negative effect.
Union membership also does not relate strongly to how one assesses the impact of trade on job opportunities. Americans living in households in which at least one resident is a union member are evenly divided as to whether trade has a positive (47%) or negative impact (47%) on jobs for U.S. workers. Among those in non-union households, 52% believe trade benefits the U.S. job market while 41% disagree.
Opinions about the impact of trade on jobs do show meaningful variation by gender and age, with men more positive than women, and older Americans more positive than younger adults. Consequently, there are large differences in the way younger women and older men assess the impact of trade on jobs — 67% of older men, but only 39% of younger women, believe trade has a positive effect on U.S. jobs.
Men and women also differ in their assessments of whether trade benefits other aspects of the economy beyond jobs, however, there are not consistent age differences. Education and income are also related to views of trade on each of the dimensions, with college graduates and upper-income Americans more likely to see trade as being beneficial. Over time, opinions about trade have consistently varied by educational attainment.
The largest subgroup difference is a 22-point difference between upper- and lower-income Americans in their beliefs that trade has a positive impact on prices for products sold in the U.S.
Public Says U.S. Should Consider Non-Economic Factors in Trade Decisions
Americans believe the U.S. should take other factors into account beyond the potential economic benefit when deciding to trade with other countries. Seventy-two percent say the U.S. should take a country’s child labor laws into account “a great deal.” Two-thirds say the same about a country’s record on human rights, and slightly less say it should take account of a country’s laws on worker health and safety. A slim majority believes a country’s record on the environment should be taken into account a great deal.
To a large degree, Americans in different subgroups exhibit similar attitudes on how much the U.S. should take these factors into account when trading with other countries. However, there are some notable subgroup differences, including:
68% of Democrats, but only 40% of Republicans, believe the U.S. should factor a country’s record on the environment when contemplating new trade deals.
Women (69%) are significantly more likely than men (55%) to say a country’s worker health and safety laws should be a major consideration.
Democrats (69%) and Republicans (56%) differ on the extent potential trading partners’ worker health safety laws should be considered.