President Donald Trump is not tapping into a broad backlash against globalization
By C.K. | The Economist
WHILE Donald Trump’s policies on the international flow of goods, services and people have oscillated between cosmetic and consequential, his speeches about globalization have carried a consistent message. America, he says, suffers from unfair trade deals and unproductive immigrants, both of which take jobs from Americans and weaken the economy.
It is often assumed that Mr Trump is tapping into a broad-based backlash against globalization with this rhetoric. But research suggests the opposite: trade and immigration are at a peak of popularity.
The Pew Research Centre has polled Americans on their opinions about growing trade and business ties with other countries since 2002. The proportion suggesting such ties were very good has never been higher than in 2018, and the proportion suggesting they were either somewhat or very good, at 74%, was only surpassed in 2002. Gallup, meanwhile, has asked if trade is primarily an opportunity for economic growth or a threat to the economy since 1992. Before 2015, the proportion suggesting it was primarily an opportunity had never risen above 56%. It reached 72% in 2017 and was still at 70% percent in February 2018.
Gallup has also asked Americans if immigration should be increased, decreased or kept at the present level since 1965. The proportion that wants to see immigration increase has never been higher, nor has the proportion calling for a decrease been lower. Over two-thirds of Americans polled in June 2018 wanted to keep immigration at its current level or increase it. Asked if immigrants mostly helped or mostly harm the economy, the majority of those who offered an opinion in 2017 thought that immigrants mostly helped. This was the first and only time that the positive view has been in the majority since the question was first asked in 1993.
Increasing partisanship might be expected to have affected opinions on globalization. On that, the evidence is mixed. Surveys suggest little difference between Republicans and Democrats in their views regarding foreign trade in general—Republicans have traditionally been strongly in favor of the idea it strengthens the economy and Democrats have increasingly agreed. But on immigration, party partisans began to diverge a decade ago. In 2006, Republicans and Democrats were broadly indistinguishable on their views as to whether immigrants strengthened or weakened the country, but since then Democrats have become considerably more pro-immigration while Republicans have become marginally more opposed.
The role of partisanship on views of particular policies is more pronounced. In 2009, Republican voters backed free-trade agreements with greater fervor than Democrats, but that support collapsed in 2016. While Pew polling in July this year suggested that 49% of all Americans thought increased tariffs would be bad for the country compared to 40% who thought they would be good, the considerable majority of Republicans backed tariff increases.
The closer a survey question approaches specific policies, the more survey answers are likely to be driven by partisan loyalties. But the answers to more general questions about globalization do not come close to suggesting that most Americans have turned towards economic isolationism—if anything, the reverse. The policy backlash against globalization in America is not based on a popular revolt; rather, it is pandering to a dwindling minority.