The way that candidates on the campaign trail bat around the issue, one might think that trade is near universally accepted as a bane of the American economy. It is well known that a large majority of economists favor trade. I was surprised to discover that a slight, but not insignificant, majority of Americans currently favor free trade. NPR recently put up an article discussing data from Gallup that follows US public opinion on free trade matters over the last few years–what percentage of Americans many saw trade as a threat versus as an opportunity. Here is the chart NPR published:
The chart suggests that public opinions dances around being evenly split, with a slight majority favoring trade in the 1990’s, the first half of the 2000’s, and after 2012. Between approximately 2005 and 2012, a slight majority of Americans saw free trade as a threat. As of February 2016, approximately 58% of Americans describe trade as an “opportunity” while 38% describe it as a “threat.” Interestingly, both major political parties lean slightly towards favoring free trade. In that same article, NPR cites Gallup data showing that, as of 2015, approximately 61 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans saw trade as an opportunity.