Americans on International Trade Policy

Author data: 
Evan Fehsenfeld Evan Charles Lewitus
Publication Date: 
June 2019

Program for Public Consultation Report

The Program for Public Consultation
Publication File: 
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

Summary of Findings


Promoting the Growth of Trade Through an International Rules-Based System
Respondents were introduced to the international system for promoting international trade—twothirds said they were familiar with it. Evaluating arguments for and against continuing to seek to further the growth of international trade through international agreements, in most cases large majorities from both parties found both pro and con arguments convincing, with Democrats responding more to the pro arguments and Republicans responding more to the con arguments. Nonetheless, in the end an overwhelming bipartisan majority approved of United States, together with other countries, promoting international trade through a set of agreed-on rules that seek to lower barriers to trade and to ensure trade is done fairly.

The World Trade Organization
A very large majority approved of the US continuing to be part of the World Trade Organization, though for Republicans this was only a modest majority, while Democrats approved overwhelmingly.


Increasing Unemployment Benefits
As a means of addressing some of the negative effects of trade, a bipartisan majority favored increasing unemployment benefits, with a majority favoring increasing the amount from 39% to 50% of previous earnings. However, a bipartisan majority did not support increasing the maximum period of unemployment benefits beyond the current average of 26 weeks.

Worker Retraining and Education
Presented several proposals for job training and education under consideration in Congress, very large bipartisan majorities favored proposals to increase spending on training for jobs in cybersecurity and the energy industry, and a proposal to provide employers a tax credit for apprenticeship programs.

Trade Adjustment Assistance
A majority of six in ten favored expanding the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to more people who get laid off from their job directly because of an increase in trade, however six in ten Republicans were opposed. Just four in ten, but a modest majority of Democrats, favored extending such assistance to all people who get laid off from their job.

Labor and Environment Standards in Trade Agreements
Overwhelming bipartisan majorities favored including in new international trade agreements the requirement that countries abide by both the labor and environmental standards they have committed to, that they do not lower their standards to attract business or to get a competitive edge, and that there is an effective system for enforcing these requirements.

Impact of Mitigating Negative Effects on Attitudes About Trade
Respondents who disapproved of promoting greater trade through international agreements, while also favoring steps to mitigate the negative effects, were asked how they would feel about the promoting trade if the mitigating steps they favored were adopted. About half said that they would then favor promoting greater trade through international agreements.


Steel Tariffs
Voters divided sharply along party lines on the US administration invoking the national security exemption and imposing tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports, with a large majority of Republicans approving and a large majority of Democrats disapproving. Overall, a very slight majority approved.

Tariffs on China
Voters divided along party lines on whether the US should have imposed tariffs on China without first getting a WTO ruling. Going forward, a modest majority opposed imposing additional tariffs on China to get them to change their trade practices, but instead favored working through the WTO to get a ruling against China. Views on both issues are highly polarized along partisan lines with large majorities of Democrats favoring working through the WTO and large majorities of Republicans favoring imposing tariffs.


Asked about the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) agreement, a very large majority, including a majority of Republicans, expressed approval. Told about the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) agreement, a slight majority favored it, with large majority of Republicans in support and a modest majority of Democrats opposed. If Congress does not approve the USMCA deal, a large majority favors staying in NAFTA. Those who favored the new USMCA agreement and approved the steel and aluminum tariffs were asked whether they would be willing to lift the new steel and aluminum tariffs on imports from Canada and Mexico if it appears necessary to get agreement on USMCA; most said they would.