- Fewer Americans now view foreign trade as opportunity for growth
- Decline mostly driven by Republicans and some independents
- One in three Americans view foreign trade as a threat to U.S. economy
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are far less likely now than they were a year ago to view foreign trade as an opportunity for U.S. economic growth rather than a threat to the economy. Sixty-three percent of Americans have positive views of trade, down from 79% in 2020. The current figure is the lowest since 2016, but majorities of Americans have viewed trade as an opportunity for growth since 2013.
Alternatively, nearly a third of Americans (32%) now view foreign trade as a threat to the U.S. economy. While almost twice as high as last year, negative views of trade are still well below the trend high of 52% in 2008, during the Great Recession.
Line graph. Americans views on foreign trade as either an opportunity for economic growth or a threat to the economy. Currently, 63% view it as an opportunity for growth, 32% as a threat to the economy.
These results are from Gallup's 2021 World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 3-18. Gallup first asked this question in 1992 when Americans were more divided on the impact of foreign trade on the U.S. economy.
A Third of Republicans Sour on Trade
Republicans' views on trade shifted notably this year, with half (51%) now seeing trade as more of a threat than an opportunity for economic growth. The 44% of Republicans who view trade as an opportunity for growth represents a 34-percentage-point drop and brings Republicans' views closer in line with where they were before the beginning of the Trump administration. Thus, it appears that Republicans' positive views of trade in recent years were tied to Trump's position on the issue and his handling of it.
Line graph. The percentage of Americans who view foreign trade as an opportunity for economic growth, by their political affiliation. Currently, 79% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans view foreign trade as an opportunity for economic growth.
While there was little change in views on trade among Democrats, independents also cooled on the benefits of trade, although much less so than Republicans. While 76% of independents viewed it as an opportunity for economic growth in 2020, 65% hold this view today. Thirty percent of independents now view foreign trade as a threat to the U.S. economy; last year, 18% held that view.
Notably, the parties' opinions of trade have shifted over time, with Democrats having been consistently more positive than Republicans toward trade for the past decade. Before 2009, however, the opposite was true. The fact that this shift persisted through presidential administrations of both parties suggests a more fundamental change in the parties' orientation to trade rather than a partisan reaction to which party occupies the White House.
Attitudes toward the benefits of trade for the U.S. vary across age groups in 2021. While younger adults (aged 18-34) show little change this year in their views of foreign trade as an economic opportunity, middle-aged Americans (aged 35-54) show an 18-point decline. Adults aged 55 and older show a 20-point decline from 2020 in the percentage viewing foreign trade as an opportunity for the U.S. economy.
There is also noticeable variance in Americans' views of trade based on educational attainment. Those with a postgraduate education are the most likely to see it as an opportunity (73%), while those with a high school degree or less are the least likely (56%), although a majority of them still view foreign trade as an opportunity for growth.
Perceptions of foreign trade as either a threat to or opportunity for the U.S. economy have fluctuated over the past few decades. While many Americans began the 1990s with more skepticism of its impact, most have viewed it as a net positive for the U.S. since 2013. With a massive economic recession and heightened unemployment resulting from the pandemic's impact on everyday life, more Americans this year view trade as a threat -- yet a majority still see it as an opportunity for the U.S. economy.
With Republicans bidding farewell to a Republican administration that championed the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and with the economy taking a serious downturn in 2020, perhaps it is more surprising that so few Americans have turned on foreign trade and that a majority still see it as a net positive for the economy.
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