Hillary Clinton's announcement on Wednesday that she did not support U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) dealt a blow to the Obama administration's efforts to push the treaty forward -- if not a personal blow to Barack Obama himself, coming as it did from his former secretary of state.
Clinton's full rationale for announcing the decision at this point is not known, but with the Democratic debate forthcoming Tuesday night, the fact that fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has been strongly opposed to the TPP most likely did not escape her and her campaign team's attention.
Prior to Clinton's announcement, we added the TPP into our economic proposal database.
The format for our measures of economic proposals is to ask Americans how effective they think each proposal would be in improving the U.S. economy. The TPP item was phrased as follows: "Removing the U.S. from the 12-country free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership." Interviewing was conducted Sept. 23-27.
The results show that 16% of Americans think removing the U.S. from the TPP agreement would be very effective in improving the U.S. economy, 24% somewhat effective, 22% not too effective and 24% not effective at all. About 15% of Americans didn't have an opinion on the issue.
This 16% "very effective" rating places this item at the bottom of the long list of economic proposals in the Gallup database, lower than any of 61 other proposals tested except one.
We also tested this economic proposal: "Ending U.S. participation in free trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, or the Central America Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA," and it also tested very poorly, coming in with 18% "very effective."
There is little significant difference by party within the sample of 816 people who were asked the TPP question -- even though it has been two Democratic presidential candidates who have most vocally now come out against U.S. participation in the deal.
Our question asked about the impact of U.S. withdrawal on the economy, and apparently few think that it would be positive. This in part reflects the nature of the question and timing. The partnership has not yet begun, so for even the most well-informed American, it might be difficult to assess what the impact would be on the U.S. either way. Sanders and now Clinton have, however, argued that the partnership would in fact be injurious to the U.S. economy, with a negative impact on U.S. workers specifically. Thus, the reaction of the public at this early stage tells us that the proposal to withdraw from participation does not seem to resonate positively with Americans when they are asked about the economic impact of this type of action.
It is worth noting that Pew Research asked U.S. residents last spring a more direct question about the TPP. Pew's question asked if the TPP would be a good thing or a bad thing for the U.S. They found 49% saying good thing and 29% bad thing. They too found little meaningful partisan difference in these attitudes.
Pew provided an explicit "or have you not heard enough about" and found that 22% either took that option or didn't make a choice for other reasons. Our question had a smaller 15% who didn't give an opinion, although we did not offer an explicit don't know option.
Gallup's question asked about the impact on the U.S. economy of dropping out of participation, while Pew's asked if it would be a good thing or bad thing for the U.S. But, and this is the important factor, both responses tend to point to the same reaction on the part of the America public; few think that dropping out would help the economy, and a plurality think that the partnership would be good for the U.S.
Where does that leave us in terms of direction from the people on this issue? I would say that there is only very minimal support for the Sanders/Clinton position that the U.S. should drop out of participation in the partnership, although we need to keep in mind that many Americans almost certainly know little at this point about the specifics of the planned agreement.