70% see foreign trade as opportunity, 25% as threat to economy
Opinions stable this year after shift toward more positive views in 2017
Views of trade related to health of job market
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' increasingly positive views of foreign
trade have stabilized after spiking last year. A strong majority of U.S.
adults (70%) see foreign trade as an opportunity for U.S. economic growth
through increased exports rather than a threat to the economy from foreign
imports (25%). Before last year, no more than 58% had held the positive
view of trade.
The results are based on Gallup's annual World Affairs poll, conducted
Feb. 1-10. The issue of trade received significant attention in the last
presidential campaign, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders criticizing
U.S. trade deals for their effect on U.S. workers and companies. Trump
said he would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with bilateral deals that would
better protect U.S. interests. In his first week as president, Trump announced
the U.S. was withdrawing from TPP, and his administration continues efforts
to re-negotiate the terms of NAFTA.
Since Trump took office, Americans' views of foreign trade have been
more positive than ever previously recorded, with a record 72% last year
seeing it as an opportunity for U.S. growth. That represented a 14-percentage-point
increase from the prior highs measured in 2015 and 2016.
Over time, Americans' views of trade have varied, with the public tending
to be wary of trade at times when the economy was weaker. In 1992 and
from 2005 through 2012, Americans were either divided on trade or tilted
toward saying it represented a threat to the U.S. economy. During the
mid-1990s through 2003 and from 2013 until now, when the economy was relatively
healthy, the public has been more positive about trade.
Since 1992, views of trade have varied along with changes in the unemployment
rate. When the unemployment rate has been higher, more Americans have
viewed trade as a threat to the U.S. economy. The statistical correlation
between those two measures is +.51.
Gallup has also seen a clear relationship between Americans'
evaluations of the job market and their opinions of foreign trade. On average since 2002, 66% of Americans
who said it was "a good time to find a quality job" have seen
foreign trade as an opportunity for growth, while 28% have seen it as
a threat to the economy. In contrast, those who believed it was "a
bad time" to find a job have been divided in their opinions of trade
-- with 47% saying it is an opportunity for growth and 45% a threat to
In the current survey, majorities of Americans view trade positively regardless
of their assessments of the job market, but a significant gap between
the two groups persists. Seventy-five percent of those who say it is now
a good time to find a quality job view foreign trade as an opportunity
for growth, compared with 61% of those who think it is a bad time.
Views of Trade Similar by Partisanship, Differ by Education
In contrast to what is seen on most issues, partisans show little difference
in their opinions about trade. Currently, 71% of Democrats, 71% of independents
and 68% of Republicans say foreign trade is an opportunity for U.S. growth.
The lack of party differences is consistent with what Gallup has seen
in most years. Since 2000, on average, slight majorities of all three
party groups have expressed positive attitudes about trade.
Opinions of Foreign Trade, by Party Identification
Opportunity for economic growth
Threat to U.S. economy
All three party groups are more positive about trade now than they were in
The lack of differences among Republican and Democratic identifiers may
reflect that the party organizations have not taken consistently opposing
sides on the issue, as they do on many others. Leaders in both parties
have promoted free trade deals (George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton favored
NAFTA, and George W. Bush and Barack Obama favored TPP) as well as criticized
them (Trump and Sanders).
Historically, education has been strongly related to views of trade. In
the current survey, 78% of college graduates and 66% of college nongraduates
see trade as an opportunity for growth. That 12-point education gap is
smaller than the average 18-point education gap since 2000 -- 66% vs.
Both college graduates and nongraduates soured on foreign trade between
2005 and 2012, but majorities of college graduates have always maintained
the view that it is an economic opportunity. In recent years, both groups
have become more positive about trade, though the increase has been proportionately
larger among college nongraduates.
Americans' opinions of foreign trade have varied over time, and the
health of the economy is one reason why. When Americans feel better about
the economy, particularly the job market, they are less likely to believe
trade is a threat to the economy and more likely to see it as an opportunity
for economic growth. Gallup has found similar shifts in
views of environmental protection versus economic growth, depending on the health of the economy.
Both Trump and Sanders raised the profile of the foreign trade issue, but
it is not clear that the public has adopted their more cautious attitudes
about foreign trade. In fact, Americans are now more positive about the
potential benefits of trade to the U.S. economy than they have been at
any point since 1992.
Recently, Gallup found Americans evenly divided in their opinions of
Trump's handling of the trade issue. So it is unclear to what extent his positions on the issue and his policy
actions have affected Americans' views of trade in comparison to the
larger economic forces affecting the country.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted
Feb. 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,044 adults, aged 18 and older,
living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results
based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error
is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported
margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone
respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas
by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are
selected using random-digit-dial methods.