Majority in U.S. Still See Opportunity in Foreign Trade

Justin McCarthy

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

As they have for the past two years, a majority of Americans (58%) continue to view foreign trade as an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports, while 33% view it as a threat to the economy from foreign imports. The third of Americans who see foreign trade as a threat is on the low side of what Gallup has measured in the past two decades. The greater optimism on trade from 2013 to 2015 comes after a stretch of skepticism between 2005 and 2012.

Trend: What Americans Think Foreign Trade Means for the Country

These data come from Gallup's World Affairs poll, conducted Feb. 8-11 with 837 U.S. adults.

The slight decline since last year in the number of Americans who view foreign trade as a threat could reflect lower oil prices and a stronger U.S. dollar. The findings also come as President Barack Obama seeks to reach the multinational Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. If the deal is struck, it will be the largest trade agreement in U.S. history, surpassing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

Hope in Foreign Trade Rebounds Among Democrats and Independents

From 2001 to 2011, spanning the entire presidency of George W. Bush and the first two years of Obama's presidency, the percentage of Republicans seeing foreign trade as an opportunity was higher than that of Democrats -- in several cases, by double-digit margins. In 2012 and 2013, Democrats grew sharply more positive about trade, even as Republican views languished in the 40% to low 50% range. Opinion among the two party groups converged in 2014, but this year, Republicans' optimism about foreign trade is flat at 51%, while Democrats' has increased slightly, to 61%.

Trend: View Foreign Trade Mainly as an Opportunity for the U.S. -- by Party ID

Despite the increase in Democrats calling foreign trade an opportunity, the TPP deal has arguably encountered the greatest resistance from some Democratic members of Congress, who have concerns about its effect on U.S. jobs and regulations.

Bottom Line

Gallup has found that perceptions of foreign trade may partly relate to Americans' confidence in the economy. And as the economy has improved significantly in the past year, it's likely that public fears about foreign trade have diminished, partly because of Americans' strengthening views of the U.S. economy.

While opinions of the TPP among members of Congress may differ largely along party lines, there is some bipartisan support for the proposed pact, with the Democratic president and GOP congressional members finding at least one area of common ground. Majorities of Americans from both parties -- including six in 10 Democrats -- appear to agree, seeing opportunity more than they see threats from foreign trade.