PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual World Affairs poll shows Americans holding a slightly more negative than positive view of foreign trade, with more perceiving it as a "threat to the economy from foreign imports" (47%) than as "an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports" (44%). Americans' opinions on trade have been more negative than positive in recent years.
Increased trade with Asian nations is one of several items on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's agenda on her tour of Asia this week, along with the global economic crisis, climate change, and North Korean nuclear disarmament. President Obama will discuss trade on his first international trip (to Canada) on Thursday.
Gallup has documented a shift in Americans' perceptions on foreign trade in recent years. From 1994 (the year NAFTA went into effect) through 2003, the public was much more likely to perceive trade as an opportunity for economic growth, with a high of 56% taking this view in a May 2000 survey.
But in recent years, as the economy has had its ups and downs and Americans have wrestled with the economic implications of job outsourcing, illegal immigration, and the safety of many food and toy imports, those views have changed. Since 2005, Americans have become more likely to perceive foreign trade as a threat to the U.S. economy. That reached a high of 52% last February -- the only time a majority has held this perception -- before decreasing slightly this year.
One of the largest differences by subgroup in views of foreign trade is by household income. Wealthier Americans hold a much more positive view than do Americans with more limited financial resources.
There are only minor differences by party, as Republicans, Democrats, and independents are all slightly more likely to see foreign trade as a threat to U.S. imports than as an opportunity to promote U.S. exports.
Since 2000, when Gallup recorded the most positive evaluations of foreign trade, all key demographic and political subgroups have increasingly come to view foreign trade as a threat to the U.S. economy. This shift is particularly strong among middle-income Americans (from 32% to 53%), whose finances are probably more likely to be affected by trade developments than those of upper-income Americans. Also, many subgroups who held particularly positive views of foreign trade in 2000 -- including Republicans, upper-income Americans, and those with postgraduate educations -- have moved more toward an anti-trade position.
As with many policies, there are pluses and minuses to foreign trade. And while many economists and political leaders may hold a more pro- than anti-trade position, the public does not necessarily share that position. In fact, as the Obama administration seeks to preserve or expand current trade relationships, the public is slightly more likely to take a negative than a positive view of foreign trade.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,022 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.