American attitudes toward globalization are changing under the pressure of the financial crisis. While 64% of adults thought globalization had been mostly good for the U.S. in 2004, only 58% thought so last July, and only 56% (still a majority) felt that way in September.
Almost two-thirds of survey respondents thought that U.S. income and wealth distribution had become less fair. Of this two-thirds, about 80% thought that globalization and trade had played either an important or somewhat important role in making the distribution less fair.
Americans don't think all impacts of globalization have been bad. Majorities thought it had been good for consumers like themselves, for American companies, and for their standard of living. But - as shown in this figure - almost two-thirds thought it had been bad for job security:
The table below lists 20 polls of U.S. adults or voters from the first half of 2008 that asked questions about about trade. This follows up on a similar table I prepared for 2007: What did Americans think about trade in 2007.
The survey doesn't include polls dealing with related issues such as
foreign direct investment, immigration, the Federal budget deficit, and
so on. This is not a complete list of surveys, but includes what I was able
to find during a relatively brief period of time. The list only includes polls that had relatively
detailed summaries of results available on the Internet. I
probably haven't found all relevant polls, or even necessarily all the
important ones. I often searched poll results looking
only for the key word "trade" and thus may have missed relevant
questions, or polls that had relevant questions. For example,
questions framed using other words, such as "globalization," might have
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has just updated its survey of trade polls: Polls on NAFTA and Free Trade (Karlyn Bowman, Adam Foster, Fowler Brown, June 29, 2008). The survey includes data from trade polling questions by a number of polling organizations from the early 1980s to 2008. Where possible, the AEI analysts have pulled together time series for questions asked by different polling institutions.
Do you think it should be the policy of the United States to restrict foreign imports into this country in order to protect American industry and American jobs, or do you think there should be no restrictions on the sale of foreign products in the United States in order to permit the widest choice and the lowest prices for the American consumer?
NOTE: *Asked of registered voters. +Asked of registered voters who said they planned to watch the Sep. 25, 1988 presidential debate. ^Reinterviews of registered voters who were originally interviewed Sep. 23-25, 1988 and who watched the Sep. 25, 1988 presidential debate. #Asked of registered voters who said they planned to watch the Oct. 13, 1988 presidential debate. %Asked of registered voters who watched the Oct. 13, 1988 presidential debate.
Ben's note - where multiple years are shown, the question was asked at different points in time.
U.S. voters are almost (but not quite) evenly divided on free trade in the abstract (36% think free trade is bad for the economy, while 34% think it is good), but a majority would like to see NAFTA renegotiated (New findings from two Rasmussen polls conducted this June: 56% Want NAFTA Renegotiated, Americans Divided on Free Trade, report, June 20).
The free trade percentages show a falling off in support for free trade since last October, when a Rasmussen poll found that 41% thought free trade was good while only 31% thought it was bad.
The proportion of the public that thinks trade agreements have been good for the country (35%) is near the low end of the range it's occupied since 1997, according to a survey conducted for the Pew Foundation. The proportion that thinks agreements are bad (48%) is very high: since 1997, no more than 35% had previously said these agreements were bad for the country. The proportion who "don't know" is at its lowest level for this period. The specific question asked was "In general, do you think that free trade agreements like NAFTA, and the policies of the World Trade Organization, have been a good thing or a bad thing for the United States?"
As recently as November 2007, opinion was split between those who felt trade agreeements were good, and those who felt they were bad (40% to 40%). So over the period of the primaries opinion shifted quite a bit. I assume that the impact is mainly due to the attacks on trade launched by Obama and Clinton during that time. The economic situation has also gotten worse since November. (The November results are in the April 2008 Final Topline).
The New York Times published new polling results today. Three of the questions dealt with trade. Here's the link to the polling results: The New York Times/CBS News Poll. The pollsters contacted 1,368 adults by phone between March 28 and April 2.
When the respondents were asked, "On balance, do you think trade with other countries — both buying and selling products — is good for the U.S. economy, or is it bad for the U.S. economy, or does it have no effect?" they tended to think it was good. The Times supplied the answers to these questions from four previous years. Here they are:
In each year a majority answered that trade was good. There was a slight decline from the early and mid-nineties to 2006, and a stronger decline in the last two years. The 2008 results look distinctly different from the others; this is the only year in which there was widespread concern that we were entering a recession.
These results are consistent with this conclusion reached by Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter in their survey of trade polls back to 1938 (Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers, Peterson Institute, 2001), who found that "Respondents are more likely to support international trade when it is described broadly either without direct reference to US trade policy or without any reference to policy at all."
All the responses they report came from polls in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Although the results are from different polls conducted over more than 10 years, they treat the results as if they came from a body of persons at a given point in time.
In 2001 Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter took a look at 60 years worth of U.S. opinion polls with questions on trade - over 500 questions asked between 1938 and 2000. They what they found in a short book published by the Peterson Institute in 2001: Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers.
Most of their conclusions are illustrated with questions from the 1990s, and are not related in detail to the broader set of questions examined. That makes it hard to tell how much their conclusions depend on the few questions they use for examples, or on a broader review of the complete set of questions. Also, a lot has also happened in the last seven years. That said, here are 15 of the things they found: